Relevance and the Connection to Academic Rigor

2006 Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium Unicoi State Park and Conference Center April 14-15, 2006
TASK: In preparation for the Academic Affairs Faculty Symposium, the organizers invite you to share with fellow participants some brief reflections on the concept of academic rigor. We would appreciate receiving by Friday, April 7th, your perception of academic rigor, your personal experience with academic rigor as a teacher or student, and/or your thoughts on what faculty and the University should do to promote rigor in our academic programs

Essay ID:285666

Relevance and the Connection to Rigor

As James Beane (1997) has argued, the most powerful sources for curriculum are the concerns of students about themselves and about social issues. Relevance as Beane defines it, connecting curriculum to students’ concerns and interests about themselves and the world, may seem irrelevant to rigor, with all rigor’s implications of rigidity and definitiveness. Students’ concerns and interests, by definition, are not rigid or definitive. However, if by rigor we intend to call for meaningful, substantive, and useful knowledge and skills, then we can hardly expect relevance to be irrelevant to our students. If students see knowledge and skills as relevant to their concerns, relevant to real-world tasks required for success in a course, relevant to their capacity for success in their chosen field, then relevance and rigor are, in fact, intertwined. What does that mean in practical terms in college courses?

It means making efforts to connect coursework to community, to have students put theory into practice in the real world. It means involving students in decisions about what and how they learn and involving students in making decisions about how they will be evaluated. Service-learning—intentionally connecting academics to community issues, problems, or needs—can provide both the theory and the pedagogy to connect rigor and relevance.