December 18, 2002: President's Page
Changing Face of Pedagogy
In early November the members
of the Board of Trustees held a two-day retreat focusing on three topics
that are central to the Universitys teaching and research mission:
the changing face of pedagogy; the role of the University in the nations
science, technology, and engineering infrastructure; and Princeton as
an international university. The retreat was an opportunity to educate
the trustees, and to lay the intellectual groundwork for future decisions
involving these topics. With readings assigned in advance that would have
challenged even the most diligent student preparing for precepts, the
trustees heard from distinguished experts invited from both outside and
within Princeton. These lectures helped to frame the questions that were
then explored in small group precepts led by Princeton faculty and administrators.
Indeed, the retreat was a whirlwind reprise of a Princeton education!
Given the importance of the
questions we considered, I will be using the next several Presidents
Pages to describe briefly some of the retreats main deliberations.
The retreat opened with a series of broad questions focused on the essential
features of a Princeton education, our priorities for what the faculty
should be teaching, and the impact that information technology is likely
to have on pedagogy.
We were privileged to have
Howard Gardner, the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor in Cognition
and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, give opening
remarks for this topic. Professor Gardner suggested that universities
educate for multiple reasons: to prepare individuals to have broad learning
and reasoning abilities, to produce citizen-leaders and critics of society,
to prepare individuals for future professions, and to promote good
work, which he defined as work that is both excellent in quality
and also exhibits a sense of responsibility with respect to implications
and applications. This phrase resonated with the group throughout the
retreat as one that is consonant with our informal motto, In the
nations service and in the service of all nations.
When I first asked Professor
Gardner to participate in this part of the retreat, he blurted out, Well,
I hope you are not planning on changing the way you teach! He noted
in particular the accessibility of the faculty at Princeton to students
at all levels. Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel made the same point in
her description of the changes in the ways we teach at Princeton during
the 30 years since she arrived as an assistant professor. She pointed
out that as we have aspired to become one of the great research universities
in the world, the Universitys scholarly expectations for the faculty
have increased. Yet this has been accomplished without losing our unique
identity. As she eloquently said, Princeton is a research university
with the soul of a small liberal arts college. As we go forward
we need to recognize that the faculty are a precious resource, and consider
how to make the best use of their time in teaching.
The trustees concluded that,
with respect to teaching, the highest priorities should be the bookends,
that is, the beginning and end of an undergraduates career at Princeton.
The highest quality experience for freshmen as they are being introduced
to college-level work is essential for success over all four years. Freshman
seminars are one way that we achieve true excellence in the first year,
but the large lecture courses that are the gateways into the
disciplines also require special attention. Students should have opportunities
to hear the brilliant lecturers those faculty legends who
can inspire students to pursue subjects they are only dimly aware exist.
This could help to resolve an asymmetry in the way students currently
choose their majors. As is the case at many of our peer institutions,
the majority of our A.B. students about 55 percent major
in only five departments: history, politics, economics, Woodrow Wilson
School, and English. Princeton has over 30 other excellent departments,
including some whose concentrators number in the single-digits. Exciting
first- or second-year undergraduates about these other fields of knowledge
would ensure that the resources of the University are more effectively
being used, and give students currently in over-subscribed departments
a more individualized education. The other bookend of the Princeton education
is the senior thesis, which also should be overseen by regular members
of the faculty.
The trustees considered how
we can use information technology to improve the quality of our instruction.
Technology should enhance rather than distance the relationship between
the faculty and students. For example, technology can help faculty tailor
teaching to fit what Professor Gardner has called multiple intelligences,
the variety of ways of learning our students exhibit. The group thought
that technology may be a very effective tool in some areas of the curriculum,
for example in introductory mathematics courses, but less so in others.
The importance of giving our
graduate students mentored experiences in teaching, primarily through
opportunities to precept courses taught by seasoned faculty and to oversee
the teaching laboratories, was enthusiastically endorsed by the trustees.
There is also a place for lecturers and visiting faculty in our teaching
mission, for example in teaching policy task forces in the Woodrow Wilson
School. The challenge ahead as we plan for the expansion of the student
body beginning in 2006 is to deploy strategically all of the talent and
skill in our faculty to continue our tradition of providing a stellar
education for all our students.