With the cost of college rising, many conversations have started regarding the true value of a university education. The growing popularity of online courses complicates this issue further. If students can learn the same material from the same professors online, why pay tens of thousands of dollars to attend a university?
Besides the social, networking and experiential benefits of attending a school like Duke, there are also academic distinctions that help answer this question.
Education has come a long way since the days of seemingly endless lectures delivered by real life imitations of the teachers from Charlie Brown cartoons. Innovators, such as Duke, have developed models that actively engage students in the learning process and allow them to construct knowledge rather than simply receive it. Duke’s commitment to progressive learning manifests itself in a variety of ways, from flipped classrooms to service learning courses, these avenues of education all stray from traditional lecturing and note taking.
To maximize learning, students should therefore take advantage of these unique opportunities that Duke has to offer.
It can be all too tempting to go through the mad rush of bookbagging season only picking up classes that fill major requirements, while performing the delicate balancing act of avoiding 8:30s and Friday classes. You then might throw in a couple easy T-Reqs you heard about from a friend, take a screenshot and post your work of art schedule to Facebook. Many Duke students navigate their academic career this way, and in fact many of them may still end up with a fulfilling postsecondary experience. The path is straightforward, simple and proven to work, so why deviate from it?
Just like when British mountaineer Gregory Malloy was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest he responded, “Because it’s there.” Duke students should want to take intellectual risks and try new academic programs because they’re there. We are unbelievably lucky to attend a university that is willing to create so many opportunities for us, at no additional cost, so why not jump right into as many as you can?
Last Tuesday, I sat in my Bass Connections research project team meeting and listened to four professors discuss with four students about how their previous research on gifted curriculums have led to statewide educational policy changes. Next Thursday, my best friend will travel with her DukeImmerse program to South Africa for a three-week trip to complete a comparative analysis of the civil rights movements they have been studying in class, both in the American South and South Africa. This semester, a portion of students in my public policy class will be completing research projects in order to help local community partners with their service and non-profit work.
These are the educational opportunities that Duke provides. These are the educational innovations that Duke uses to change the face of higher education. Sadly, many students do not take advantage of these opportunities. Even worse, many students do not know about many of them. In fact, the most common question I hear after I tell my friends that I am in Bass Connections is “What is it?” And after I tell them that it is a “vertically integrated, research project based learning program focused on solving real world problems with an interdisciplinary curriculum” the next question I usually hear is “How can you fit that many buzzwords in one sentence?”
Oftentimes, we get so excited about a program that we forget how to effectively communicate to others about what it actually is. Whenever I realize this, I try to explain it better by saying that my Bass Connections program in education involves taking a course with a cycle of professors from different departments ranging from economics to developmental psychology. These classes are then supplemented by work with individual research project teams comprised of undergraduates, graduates and professors. In addition, the program brings in guest speakers such as city council members or researchers from other areas of the school. We also travel with our teams to conduct research in the field and eat weekly pizza dinners together. After I explain all of this, the next question I usually get is “Where do I sign up?”
Bass Connections is only one of a myriad of unique academic programs Duke has to offer. So I encourage you take an intellectual risk and try something new. Travel to South Africa with DukeImmerse. Learn to effectively make a difference with Hart’s Service Opportunities in Leadership. Come back early from winter break for Winter Forum. And when it comes to doing next semester’s bookbagging song and dance, turn up the Bass.
Ray Li is a Trinity junior and the DSG vice president of academic affairs. His column is the seventh installment in a semester-long series of weekly columns written by members of Duke Student Government. Send Ray a message on Twitter @DukeStudentGov.