Caring for Our Community - Life-Long Learning in a Time of Challenge

Caring for Our Community - Life-Long Learning in a Time of Challenge

By Janice Tupaj-Farthing, Vice Principal of Academic Affairs

In the midst of the third week of Notre Dame’s Flexible Learning Environment, teachers and students are creating a learning community that exists virtually but is grounded in Notre Dame’s mission and delivers on the graduation outcomes. As we shift the delivery of class material and adjust projects to work in a virtual environment, we are carefully working to ensure that students continue to develop the abilities and skills articulated in each of the graduation outcomes. This piece highlights the first outcome:

A Notre Dame graduate is a life-long learner.

Today’s life-long learner is one who needs to develop what Tony Wagner, senior research fellow at the Learning Policy Institute and Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, calls the “Seven Survival Skills for Careers, College, and Citizenship” (Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, 2012). These skills are at the core of 21st century education and schools preparing students for their future worlds. They are considered a set of core competencies essential to life-long learning. Simply stated they are:

  • Critical Thinking & Problem-Solving
  • Collaboration Across Networks & Leading by Influence
  • Agility & Adaptability
  • Initiative & Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral & Written Communication
  • Accessing & Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity & Imagination

When Notre Dame designed its Career and Life Success program, the team, led by Michelle McGovern and Cecilia Perkins, articulated a set of essential skills based on the work of Tony Wagner and the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning. These skills are reinforced throughout our curriculum. In today’s virtual learning environment, they are key to student success.

In what currently seems like an imperfect environment, that of online learning, it is important to focus on what our students are taking away from their virtual learning experiences. The work  they are doing with their teachers, their peers, and individually, aligns with Wagner’s core survival skills, the ND graduation outcomes, and the Career and Life Success Essential Skills. 

In the new reality of remote learning, students are learning to pivot, to be flexible and adaptable in a rapidly changing environment. While this new environment may not be the familiar world of school they have known all of their young lives, our students are quickly learning to remote-conference with tools like ZOOM, tools that are regularly utilized in the corporate world. With these new tools they are demonstrating their ability to collaborate and to demonstrate their learning in a variety of formats--written and oral; traditional and alternative. They are accessing information from a variety of different resources and making decisions about the information they encounter. They are raising questions and learning to reach out to their teachers and peers for assistance and clarification. 

While we recognize that students are going to differ in their comfort with new skills and different ways to learn, the best response is to remind them that they are learning new skills and, like any muscle or exercise, it will require stretching and moving in ways that are new and may be uncomfortable. However, over time, they will be more flexible, agile and better able to maneuver in their world. As teachers and parents, it is our task to provide support; to encourage students to seek help; and, to be self-agents for their own success. The landscape that we are in provides the opportunity to stretch; to have some pitfalls; to try a new approach; and, to acquire new skills.

As teachers have been meeting with their mentees, they have shared some of what the students are thinking--both successes and challenges. It is their thoughts and observations that continue to guide our thinking and direction going forward. Sharing some thoughts from the past week:

“Using Zoom is just like being on a business conference call. Now I know that I will be able to list this as a skill when talking to future employers or professors.”

“This is just what I imagine college will be like--flexible schedule; managing my own time; office hours with my professors.”

“I’ve had to find new ways of showing my friends how to use technology and to do something new. And, because I can’t be next to them, I need to think differently about how I explain what I mean and demonstrate what they should do.”

“Meeting with friends has a whole different meaning. We have to organize ourselves to meet at a specific time and use different tools to arrange these simple meetings.”