President Benjamin speaks at international education conference

October 15 2007

Better preparation of future educators, ongoing faculty development, and creating a campus culture that supports the scholarship of teaching were among U.S. initiatives Indiana State University President Lloyd W. Benjamin cited Monday (Oct. 15) at a workshop on science, research and higher education policy in Germany.

Also representing the International Association of University Presidents, Benjamin was the sole U.S. speaker at the event, which took place at the Canadian embassy in Berlin. In addition to Canada and Germany, higher education leaders from Australia and Great Britain also spoke.

Benjamin was invited to participate in the workshop by the British Council Germany, German Academic Exchange Service, the German-American Fulbright Commission, the Australian Group of Eight, the Canadian Embassy, and the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

Higher education in the United States is changing in response to demands for greater accountability and a decline in government funding, Benjamin said.

“In the 1970s, we didn’t give much thought to the importance of effective teaching in our universities. We taught and students learned - or so we thought. But for the past 30 years we have seen unprecedented changes in the U.S. that impact institutional mission and faculty responsibilities,” he said, suggesting the same forces have also been at work in Germany.

Benjamin noted faculty tenure is under attack in some states and senior research professors teach lower-division undergraduates less frequently. Higher education no longer enjoys a monopoly on research as private educational programs and laboratories promise greater productivity and convenience at a better price, he said.

“This has driven governments to impose greater control through the imposition of accountability measures, and the public to question the return on their substantial investment in their children’s education. Policymakers question the configuration of schools, the autonomy of universities, unnecessary duplication of non-workforce related programs and the time it takes for the average student to complete a degree,” Benjamin said.

“Poor retention rates, students arriving at universities in need of a year of remedial work or, ironically, better prepared to use new technology than the faculty teaching them, and workplace complaints about the lack of preparation or unnecessary professional skills of college graduates have challenged the traditional approach of teachers lecturing to passive students.”

Saying American universities have “begun to wrestle with the question of ‘Do we need to physically exist and what will our role be over the next 25 years'’” Indiana State and other U.S. institutions are turning their communities into classrooms - places where theory can be put to practice with the result of deeper learning, Benjamin said.

“We know that students learn better when they have to take responsibility for their learning, when they have to put theory to practice, when they have to think critically and problem solve. As a result, greater emphasis is being placed upon out-of-class learning through joint research as undergraduates with faculty, community service, group work and discussion,” he said.

Benjamin said faculty members also must be better prepared for teaching. He cited the success of the national “Preparing Future Faculty” program, which trained more than 4,000 new college and university teachers during its more than 10-year run.

While that program has ended, several U.S. universities - including Indiana State, the University of California at San Diego and the University of New Hampshire - have successful programs in place to teach future faculty what to expect in university life and what their responsibilities will be, emphasizing such areas as student advising and engaging in service activities as well as traditional research, Benjamin said.

“Most discipline-based graduate programs do not teach their students to teach. They value research, and teaching as a scholarly discipline is not studied. As a teacher, it is important to begin to think in terms of student learning outcomes rather than ‘coverage’ and then to understand what methods best meet the needs of learners,” he said.

As for the ongoing debate over assessment of college and university faculty, that is one area where there may be more questions than answers, Benjamin said.

“I think teaching, research and service are all aspects of professional responsibility and they are not uniquely separable acts. A faculty member who engages his or her students in their discipline uses the place of practice as the classroom for authentic learning. How do you measure that' Finally, is evidence that students actually learned considered part of the evaluation of teaching, and if so, can that be attributed to a single faculty member'” he asked.

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Lloyd W. Benjamin III, president, Indiana State University

Contact: Lloyd W. Benjamin III, president, Indiana State University, president@indstate.edu

Writer: Dave Taylor, media relations director, Indiana State University, (812) 237-3743 or dave.taylor@indstate.edu

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Indiana State University President Lloyd W. Benjamin III was the sole U.S. speaker at an international workshop in Berlin that addressed science, research and higher education policy in Germany. Better preparation of future educators and creating a campus culture that supports the scholarship of teaching were among U.S. initiatives Benjamin discussed.

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