Navigation, Advising, and Compassing


Among the often-conflicting goals of an undergraduate education is the desire to expose students to many disciplines and ways of thinking while also presenting an educational experience that is coherent and understandable. Students at BU can explore a wide range of ideas, disciplines, and approaches to knowledge. Yet, unless thoughtfully approached, this “wide range” may lead to aimless wandering among many attractive offerings. When we are asking students to diversify their interests and synthesize learning from various disciplines, we must help them make informed, thoughtful choices about their education framed by a vision of a BU education.

At the core of BU’s Strategic Plan is a conviction that the diversity of BU’s intellectual enterprise is a central strength and mark of distinction. The One BU Task Force discussed undergraduate education, and ways in which undergraduates could take full advantage of all that BU offers. This report details ideas from these discussions: multidisciplinary course clusters, integrated living-learning environments, and more uniform class schedules. If we take a premise that these strategies—in some combination, over time—will add a critical dimension to undergraduate education that will enable, even demand, that students are competent in multiple fields and that such students are ready to meet whatever the world demands of them as a result of their time at BU, then a number of questions arise. From the student’s perspective, one might ask:

  • How can I navigate through BU? How do I find my way?
  • Beyond my transcript, how do I synthesize and demonstrate my capabilities?
  • How will I know that I am getting the most out of my BU experience?

From the faculty member’s perspective, one might ask:

  • Are students benefiting from their exposure to and participation in multidisciplinary educational opportunities? If so, how?
  • How can I follow and assess students’ progress?
  • What are the leading practices for effective multidisciplinary teaching or for utilizing multiple learning pedagogies within a course or program?

Finally, the University might ask:

  • What are students gaining from their undergraduate experience? (from these investments in undergraduate education?)
  • Are these initiatives effective? Do they accomplish what we said they would? Are there any unintended consequences or unanticipated benefits?
  • What are the most effective ways to implement and sustain these ideas?

Moving forward, our approach to the undergraduate educational experience at BU must address not only the content of that experience but also questions such as these. This section encapsulates our research, discussion, and thinking about these issues in relation to the themes within this report.

Recommendations for Navigating, Advising, and Compassing

  • Add professionally trained academic advisors—a process already begun by the College of Arts & Sciences—as complements to faculty advising and mentoring. Advising entails both: 1) form, the nuts and bolts of registration and degree completion, and 2) substance, the conceptual/intellectual give-and-take about aspirations, strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities. Given the complexity of the University’s undergraduate system, the degree of exploration we encourage in our students, and increasing demands on faculty time, can we continue to rely solely—or principally—on faculty advising? We say, emphatically, “No!”
  • Expand advising to include more across-the-discipline approaches to fulfill requirements within major areas of study and to remove real and perceived barriers that inhibit a student’s intellectual and socially responsible curiosity.
  • Encourage advisors to recommend that students pursue leadership positions, whether through on-campus positions, extra-curricular responsibilities, or community and civic service, to illustrate the vital links between the actual classes they take and these volunteer or work-study roles.
  • Provide for co-curricular advising and mentoring, especially around service and its relationship to academic and postgraduate goals. As the University makes investments in career services and academic support, and as those functions begin to work more closely together, we begin to create a “home base” for students’ co- and extra-curricular experiences. The Task Force suggests that this home base should provide room for students to explore and receive guidance on how their lives outside the classroom can complement their academic goals and develop habits of civic engagement and leadership.
  • Add capacity within the Center for Excellence & Innovation in Teaching to support, through grants and workshops, the integration of novel teaching, systemic change, and assessment modalities into courses and programs.
  • Provide additional support for expanded use of technologies such as BlackboardTM in assessment of student engagement and progress across the curriculum.

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