Faculty gathers to redefine academic rigor

During the second week of August, 30 to 40 John Brown University faculty members came together for a Summer Institute to rediscover what it means for a Christian university to be academically rigorous.

Faculty members could choose between two workshops. One workshop discussed the spiritual formation of students. The second workshop was led by Rob Norwood, Cal Piston, Mandy Moore and Nick Ogle, and focused on the topic of academic challenge.

Attendees of the second option read a rather controversial book, “Academically Adrift,” which takes a cynical look at the academic structure of American collegiate level learning.

While “Academically Adrift” contends that a college degree is worthless and students who attend a university do not actually grow in their critical thinking levels, writing skills or basic reasoning, the workshop dissected and attacked these ideas.

Norwood, Piston, Ogle and Moore discussed the areas where higher education impedes student learning, explored effective communication methods, presented various resources available to faculty and students and described ways to increase student success, such as Student Support Services or faculty assistance.

According to Cary Balzer, director of faculty development, the goal of this redefinition of academic rigor is to “improve student learning at JBU.”

Becci Rothfuss, who attended both workshops, said that the Summer Institute is one of her favorite parts about being on staff at the University because it is the only time that faculty members from all different departments get together.

Rothfuss said she had fun learning about techniques used by math and English professors that she can apply to her discipline—leadership—when the different departments discussed how academic rigor relates to their specialties.

During one of the workshop’s group sessions, the presenters challenged attendees to implement a variety of changes into their own system of teaching.

Rothfuss’ final project was a revolutionized syllabus, which demonstrated the style of academic prowess that she expects from her leadership students.

Rothfuss said she is excited to see the ways that the new definition of academic rigor will help to “stretch students beyond their original capacities to do something that they didn’t think they could do.”