Friday, August 8, 2014

Three BYU images that made me cringe (and laugh) this week

Image #1:  The Presidential Inauguration Invitation (Are there storms ahead for BYU?)

On September 9th, Kevin Worthen will be inaugurated as the 13th president of BYU.  I know this because I received a formal invitation to the inauguration activities in my campus mail box last week.  Like most of the communications that come from the President's Office at BYU, the invitation was highly formal and signaled the formality and tradition associated with the event.  Like most formal invitations, it was also highly impersonal and forgettable, except for the curious image that appeared on the front cover (see below):

I didn't notice it at first, but the tone of the cover raises some funny (if not alarming) questions about the next few years at BYU:  Is there a storm brewing?  Are dark clouds ahead? I wasn't worried about the new President, but should I be?

It's a nice enough image of an iconic aspect of BYU, but it's a strange image to select to announce this particular event.  Dark, ominous clouds aren't really what I would use to represent an event that most would associate with new beginnings, renewal, and optimism.  I'm actually looking forward to President Worthen's administration and have no reason not to be optimistic, but optimism isn't what I feel when I look at this invitation.

Image #2:  The 2014 BYU Football T-Shirts

After I read this story, I started to wonder if BYU Athletics and the President's Office might have been using the same marketing intern this summer.  In what I see as delicious irony, it was revealed this week that BYU Football's anticipated 2014 slogan ("Rise as One") has already been used by. . .wait for it. . .Budweiser of all corporations (you couldn't make this stuff up), not to mention by Nike the year before .  Not really the association the athletic department was going for.  Apparently, no one had the 12 seconds it would have taken to do a google search of the slogan before printing thousands of t-shirts.

Image #3:  "Please tell me he's not one of our alumni" 
People tend to turn into idiots when they have a microphone, news camera, or reporter in front of them, as demonstrated very well by Cliven Bundy over the last few months.  Not only are Bundy's views on government extremist and skewed, it appears that he is also racist and somewhat deluded.

I cringe anytime I see any news story associated with he or his family, but especially when I saw this accompanying photo this week (look at the t-shirt his son has on).

I don't know if Cliven Lance Bundy (the son) ever attended BYU, but just him wearing the shirt in front of reporters is probably enough to make the Alumni Association pretty nervous.

So, to the President's Office, BYU Athletics, and the Bundy clan--thanks for making me laugh this week!  Here's to hoping the press for BYU is a little less embarrassing next week.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Ohio State Marching Band: The underbelly of tradition and ritual

I've written several times about the role of ritual and tradition in higher education.  I'm a big believer in the miseducative if they marginalize certain members of the community, silence diverse perspectives, or send mixed or conflicting messages about institutional values.
power of traditions to connect members of a community, communicate key community values, and facilitate learning.  However, traditions and rituals also have the potential to be

Over the last week, +The Ohio State University Marching Band has received a great deal of attention surrounding some of the rituals and traditions that are, allegedly, part of the culture of the band in Columbus. On one side of the debate OSU administrators claim the band has developed a hyper-sexualized culture, while others argue that the practices in question were both harmless and unifying.

While I'm not sure how much recently-fired band director Jonathan Waters had to do with the culture and whether his firing was justified (he claims he was working on changing the culture of the band, but wasn't given sufficient time to do so), I will say very emphatically that I do not endorse the types of hazing practices that were well documented at OSU.  There is a very vocal contingent of band alumni that will disagree with me who disagree with me.  A group of 15 former band members (mostly women) marched on OSU's campus earlier this week to protest Waters's firing and sing the praises of the OSU Marching Band.  In her statement to the press she claims to represent the "women's side" of the issue and goes on to say that the actions of band members were appropriate because they "acted like college students."

Cohen's statements represent one of the fundamental dangers with any tradition or ritual.  In asserting that she and her 14 companions represent the "women's side," Cohen fails to acknowledge that her views do not necessarily represent those of the hundreds of other current and former band members.  It's a bit laughable for her to claim that a group of 15 people represent anything other than a very narrow perspective on a very complex issue.  Additionally, she makes a gross overgeneralization in equating "acting like a college student" with the behaviors outlined in OSU's report of the problematic practices taking place among band members.

While traditions and rituals are ideally meant to have a unifying effect within an organization, claims that hazing practices achieve this outcome are naive.  Furthermore, claims that hazing is an acceptable practice that unites a community are always made by a particular segment of that community:  those with privilege and power.  It's safe to say that Cohen was part of the inner circle during her time as a band member.  She didn't have a problem with the practices because they didn't marginalize her, silence her voice, or make her feel unsafe.  But, there is another segment of the OSU Marching Band who feel very differently about these practices and I'll bet the farm that there are more than 15 of them.

In a comment on a post I wrote nearly four years ago, a good friend and colleague +gary daynes pointed out that one of the characteristics of a ritual is that it contains multiple meanings.  And, this is what is often looked over when those in power institute rituals, even well intentioned rituals.  OSU's hazing rituals hold multiple meanings for members of the band.  For some, those meanings include fun, unity, and feelings of belonging.  For others (those whose voice is silenced when these rituals become formalized and part of the culture), these practices mean shame, marginalization, fear, and immorality.

I say this as someone who, 15 years ago, would have sided with Cohen and her group.  During my freshman year of college, I was hazed as part of my initiation to the men's soccer team.  While it was uncomfortable and a little embarrassing for me, I wasn't overly bothered by it because I wasn't on the margins of the team--the team leaders liked me and I didn't feel threatened (it was also fairly mild as far as hazings go).  But, I clearly remember two of my teammates who were very shook up by what went on.  And, it's no coincidence that they were the two members of the team who, even before the hazing, were on the outside looking in (it's also no surprise that they left the team after their freshman year).  From where I sit now, and as someone who has hopefully developed a bit of appreciation for diversity, I see how divisive that hazing was.  

Ritual and tradition should always be a part of campus communities.  But, institutional leaders (like Jonathan Waters) have a responsibility to (a) ensure that campus rituals do indeed have a unifying effect and (b) educate members of the community (especially students) about what constitutes a truly unifying ritual.  As higher education professionals, one of the outcomes we claim to be promoting for students is an appreciation for diverse perspectives.  Those advocating for the appropriateness of OSU's hazing practices clearly haven't learned that lesson.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Peer Leadership as an Emerging High-Impact Practice

Like many, my college years (interrupted by two years of missionary service) were transformative for me. Mars Hill University, the University of Utah, and Brigham Young University (yes, I transferred twice) were all tremendously impactful.
 By the time I had graduated I had new intellectual skills, had learned what it meant to be part of a diverse community, and had a much clearer idea of who I was and who I wanted to become (both vocationally and otherwise).  As with any kind of learning, there were a number of factors that contributed to my growth during this period, but my undergraduate experiences at

To be more specific, there were particular aspects of my experiences at these schools that were impactful.  At +Mars Hill, intercollegiate athletics helped me feel a sense of belonging and identity on campus, the common "Liberal Arts in Action" curriculum gave me a chance to reflect on and have conversations about big questions, and an internship in the Athletic Training department was my first taste of authentic experiential learning in the college setting.  I was only at "the U" for a semester, but it was impactful in that I figured out (a) that I really didn't want to be a doctor (thanks to 1,000 seat "weeder" classes in biology and chemistry) and (b) that I was really going to hate my college experience unless I found a way to really immerse myself in the experience, which was hard to do living at home with my parents.

Eventually I ended up at +BYU.  While I enjoyed many aspects of my BYU experience, it wasn't the classes I took (although I took some great ones) or my major (which I enjoyed immensely) that most influenced me during my three years on campus.  Instead, it was the two years I spent as a peer mentor in what was then known as "Freshman Academy."

More than any other experience I had as an undergraduate student, being a peer mentor met the criteria for high-impact practices put forth by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).  It provided me with meaningful interaction with faculty members, engaged me in critical thinking about important issues, provided me with undergraduate research opportunities, and taught me to work collaboratively with others on sustained projects.  In fact, in the recent alumni survey I completed, I cited it as the single most impactful aspect of my experience at BYU.  I say this because it made a more meaningful contribution to my realization of essential learning outcomes than any other part of my experience, and, more importantly, launched me on a career trajectory in higher education that I would never have imagined.

AAC&U has defined 10 discreet high-impact practices (HIPs) that are widely-tested and linked with substantial educational benefits:

  • First-year seminars/experiences
  • Common intellectual experiences
  • Learning communities
  • Writing-intensive courses
  • Undergraduate research
  • Collaborative assignments and projects
  • Diversity and global learning
  • Service and community-based learning
  • Internships
  • Capstone courses/projects
I'll argue, both here and hopefully at AAC&U's Centennial Annual Meeting next year, that peer leadership should be included on this list because of it's potential to contribute to 21st Century Learning outcomes and provide for a transformative undergraduate experience.  National studies of peer leadership point to this practice as an emerging HIP with potential to fulfill the promise of a liberal education (e.g. Keup, 2012).  Indeed, peer leadership promotes the hallmark outcomes that characterize liberal learning by integrating many of the characteristics of the more established HIPs llisted above.  

Yet, the quality of the PL experience varies across campuses.  But, when institutions merely cobble together sexy “best practices” rather than intentionally inter-weaving established HIPs to form a focused and intentional educational environment, the potential for the PL experience to yield substantial educational benefits is lost.  In contrast, when stakeholders thoughtfully integrate established HIPs into the PL experience, students are positioned for tremendous growth.

What are the characteristics of a high-impact peer leadership experience?

Close ties to the academic curriculum.  Peer leadership comes in a number of flavors, with peer leaders being used to support student athletes, first-generation students, and women in STEM.  And, at some level, any type of peer leader experience can be impactful.  But, peer leaders are likely to experience greater gains when their work is aligned with a credit-bearing course that is part of the required curriculum.  Required first-year seminars are a great setting for this type of peer leadership, but it could also take place in another substantial academic course that is a required part of the curriculum.  This alignment brings validity to their work, while also providing opportunities for peer leaders to engage with course content and pedagogies in ways that promote critical thinking.  Even better -- embed peer leaders as part of a learning community where peer leaders and students engage "big questions" and work to integrate their learning across courses.

Meaningful engagement with faculty members.  A big part of the reason I was changed by being a peer mentor was that it brought me into a situation where I was being mentored by full-time faculty members who were interested in my development and new how to challenge and support me.  Too often, peer leaders are hired or selected, provided with minimal sub-par "training," and then set loose to somehow figure out how to "lead" their peers.  In these cases, being a peer leader isn't likely to lead to much growth.  Worse--there's a decent chance it will do more harm than good.  Peer leaders should be provided with opportunities for regular and meaningful interactions with the faculty members who supervise them.  Even better -- engage peer leaders in research and assessment examining the impact of the peer leadership initiative of which they're a part.

Make it academic.  Peer leadership is often critiqued by those who view it as nothing more than taking students on campus tours during new student orientation or organizing weekend social events.  There isn't anything wrong with peer leadership experience that is firmly grounded in the social aspect of college; However, peer leadership that takes on a more "academic" tone, will both be viewed more favorably by the academic officials on campus, and contribute to the academic outcomes of the institution.  Whether it's substantial writing assignments or tasks completed by peer leaders, undergraduate research, capstone projects that invite peer leaders to integrate and articulate the learning they've experienced in their role, or an academic course that they register for as part of the experience, the peer leader experience needs to have some kind of connection to the academic life of the university.

Clear learning outcomes and focused assessment.  It isn't enough to just claim to be providing a great learning experience for peer leaders.  It needs to be directed by well-articulated learning outcomes and documented by high-quality assessment.  

High-impact peer leadership experiences are already happening on a number of campuses, but for peer leadership to really emerge as a truly high-impact practice, institutions need to approach it as such.  Considering the above issues will be a great start.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Power of Productive Time Off: What would a sabbatical for undergraduate students look like?

I have a confession -- I'm really bad at relaxing, taking breaks, going on vacation, or anything else that means
just slowing down.  Case in point:  I haven't eaten yet today, am not likely to stop for lunch (or even eat anything for that matter), and will probably get home later than I'm planing.  It's bad and I should be different.
This malady isn't unique to me, and is particularly prevalent in high intensity work environments where there is an expectation to continually crank out new ideas, products, and programs.  A few weeks ago, I watched a TED talk from +Stefan Sagmeister, in which he argues for the value of extended periods of time off and shares his practice of taking every seventh year off to rejuvenate his creative outlook as a designer.  Sagmeister's shop shuts down completely every seven years and he takes off for some kind of exotic place.  But, he isn't just lying on the beach sipping fruit drinks.  He's relaxing in productive ways that mean he comes back at the end of the year with ideas and projects that drive his work for the next six years.

Watching the talk did two things:  (1) made me feel guilty for not being better at taking time off and (2) made me wonder what an undergraduate student sabbatical might look like.

Sabbaticals (or "professional development leaves" if you're at BYU where we rename everything), have been a long standing tradition in for faculty members in academia. The goal is to provide time and space for a faculty member to increase expertise, enhance creativity, or take a deep dive into research.  Because I'm not in a faculty position and never been on one of these leaves, I can't comment on whether or not they are truly renewing in the hoped for ways (I'd imagine that varies from person to person), but I'm willing to believe that it's a good thing.

So, if it's good for faculty, might it also be good for students?

An initial response from many might be that we already provide students with these opportunities through study abroad programs and internships.  Fair enough.  I'm willing to accept that some of these opportunities have the effect of truly being renewing and rejuvenating for students in ways that truly contribute to their academic experience.  But, the reality is that study abroad programs and internships touch only a small segment of the student population and, in many cases, are cost prohibitive.

What I'm softly arguing for is consideration of some sort of extended sabbatical as a required aspect of  the undergraduate experience and that drives students toward more productive outcomes in the one, two, or three years after their sabbatical experience.  My sense is that this sort of thing is happening in pockets on innovative, small, liberal arts campuses.  So, if you know about those schools, please let me know so that I can learn from them.

Until then, I'll just have to guess at what the characteristics of this kind of experience might be:

1.  Intentional alignment with institutional goals.  Because we've been told we have to by accrediting bodies, we all have learning outcomes and institutional aims.  The sabbatical should provide an opportunity for students to both explore these outcomes and demonstrate their progress toward fulfilling them.

2.  Flexibility.  For the undergraduate sabbatical to hold meaning for students, they need to take personal responsibility in crafting their experience (just like a faculty member would).  While study abroad or an internship might be what they select, students will come up with much more educative experiences if they are given the autonomy to design their own experience.

3.  Accountability and Support.  This characteristic serves as the necessary balance to #2 above.  Most students will need some guidance and support in developing a sabbatical experience.  Further, a simple set of criteria for evaluating and approving proposed sabbaticals will provide helpful constraint to students as they are making decisions, as well as ensure that sabbaticals meet their educational purposes.  Some kind of formal proposal process should be developed (perhaps a simplified version of the thesis/dissertation defense process).

4.  Accessibility.  Well resourced and well connected students are already having these kinds of experiences.  Institutions need to find ways to extend this opportunity to the rest of the student body.  This, of course, will involve finding ways to provide funding for experiences that take a student off-campus.  But, it also means providing advisement support (either through professional advisors or faculty advisors) to help students explore and identify suitable experiences, and then navigate the process.

5.  Immersion.  For a sabbatical to be both restful and impactful, it needs to be long enough and involved enough that a student truly becomes immersed in a project, new way of living, etc.  A year might be too long, but two weeks is definitely too short.

6.  Thoughtful consideration of timing.  Taking a sabbatical during a student's first semester or first year might be too soon because they may not have a refined enough idea for what type of experience they need and want.  Likewise, a sabbatical too late in a student's experience means they won't be able to bring their learning back to campus and use it to shape and inform the rest of their experience.  The ideal time seems to be after the first year, but before the fourth year.

7.  Bookends to both prepare and debrief students.  The first year could be spent helping students develop a plan and proposal for their sabbatical.  This would also engage them with faculty members and staff who serve as mentors, involve them in consideration of key questions about what they want to learn and how, and provide direction for decisions about first-year course registration -- all things we want first-year students doing anyway.  So, in many ways, providing students with the responsibility of developing this kind of plan can nudge them toward a whole constellation of  high-impact practices and behaviors during their first year.

When students return, they can be involved in a similar set of high-impact practices, including developing an integrative report/portfolio/project that reports on their learning and maps out next steps for using their sabbatical as a springboard toward future learning (both at the institution and beyond).

It would be a lot of work and take adaptation for each individual practice, but the "undergraduate sabbatical" would be a way of transforming the undergraduate experience and bringing new meaning and relevance to everything else that a student does during their experience.

Friday, July 11, 2014

New Student Orientation as an "Inoculation" for the realities of the college experience

As I've argued before on this blog, student affairs and higher education professionals are often overly
preoccupied with making new students feel comfortable when they arrive on campus for new student orientation.  Of course, it's important that students feel safe and supported as they begin their college experience.  However, we often have a fairly narrow definition of what a safe and supportive environment looks like--one that emphasizes comfort, hyper-positive messaging, and reassurances that "things will be fine" and "you'll do great."

While this approach to orienting new students provides initial feelings of safety, it fails to consider what is required for newcomers to feel safe and supported after the honeymoon phase has ended and they find themselves in the midst of the realities of the college experience.  At that point, what new students need is an accurate understanding of what to expect, including the "warts and all" description of the challenges that they're likely to face.

In their most recent book, Decisive, the Heath brothers describe the idea of the "realistic job preview" and its value in combating the problem of employee turnover and hiring mismatches.  The idea behind this approach is to make sure that job applicants really understand what they're getting into, by providing cautions, warnings, and simulations that "expose people to a small dose of organizational reality" (see Jean Phillips research in the Academy of Management Journal).

Realistic job previews have been proven by a large research literature to reduce turnover.  Like I did, you're probably thinking "of course turnover went down--people stopped taking the job."  While that's true in some cases, the effect of "dropouts" in the recruitment or new hire phases is actually quite small.  In fact, in many of the studies reviewed by Phillips, people more no more likely to drop out of the recruitment process that recruits who weren't exposed to the realistic preview.  

Instead, realistic job previews seem to be effective because of the way that they "inoculate" new hires against shock, disappointment, and frustration.  In short, when new members of an organization have a realistic view of the challenges they should expect, they aren't quite so alarmed or taken back when they encounter hard experiences.

Here's the interesting implication for New Student Orientation:  realistic job previews seem to reduce turnover even when they're given after an employee is hired.  The message here is that realistic previews don't just help people make better choices about what job to take (or, for those in higher ed, which school to attend), they help people more effectively cope with the difficulties and challenges that they are certain to encounter.  Not only do realistic previews decrease turnover, they increase satisfaction.

So what does this mean for New Student Orientation programming?  First, we should do a better job of talking about the hard things that we know (from both experience and the research) students will encounter (time management struggles, homesickness, issues in the residence halls, substance abuse, etc.).  This should move beyond discussion of abstract challenges and include real stories, of real people, and the real challenges they've faced.  Whether it's orientation leaders sharing stories of the challenges they've faced (if you go this route, be sure to provide training and scaffolding so that they're sharing the kinds of stories you want) or faculty members and administrators sharing stories from their own undergraduate experience, students need to be exposed to the hard things they'll be facing during their first year (check out what Stanford is doing to leverage the power of stories in preparing students for challenges).

Second, and more importantly, new student orientation (whether you define that as a one or two day program or a more extended orientation in the form of a first-year seminar or peer leader program) should trigger students coping mechanisms by engaging them in thinking and planning about how they'll react when the challenges come.  These mental simulations and reflections are what really provide the inoculation students need because it prepares them with a concrete plan they can implement when they've failed their first exam, heard about a tragedy at home, or realized their roommate is an alcoholic.

So, to sum up, here's a set of recommendations for student affairs professionals who want to "inoculate" students during new student orientation:

  • Be real -- make sure students understand what to expect during their first year of college

  • Use stories to provide understanding of (a) what to expect and (b) how others have responded to the challenges they should expect to face

  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on the challenges they anticipate facing and, most importantly, how they'll respond
Clearly, what we're currently doing to retain students and encourage persistence isn't working.  And, I can't help but wonder if part of the problem is that students haven't been sufficiently inoculated for the college experience.  Ultimately, a safe and supportive environment includes a clear understanding of expectations, not just well-meaning (but hollow) messaging about how "you're great," "you'll do fine," and "don't worry."

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Summer Reading List

When I was an undergrad I got into the habit of using the extra time I had in the summers to read as much as I could.  Some of my fondest memories of my time in college are of summer afternoons in the basement of the Harold B. Lee Library, reading books that were recommended to me by my first intellectual mentor.  Since then, I've made it a bit of a tradition to put together a summer reading list for myself.  I try to read books that, while entertaining, also change my perspective on my work, my relationships, or the world at large.

If you're looking for your own summer reading list, here are a few I'd recommend:

The Tipping Point.  I almost hesitate to list Gladwell's first best seller because it is so well known.  While not a "classic" in the traditional sense, it's what I'd call an "oldie but goodie" in terms of the recent wave of popular psychology books.  This was the first book I read during my first foray into summer reading.  Reading it was like being handed a new set of glasses because I suddenly saw everything differently.  It's especially useful for anyone who wants to understand how ideas disseminate and get adopted.

The Talent Code.  This is the best book I've read that I never hear anyone talking about.  Dan Coyle does as good a job as anyone at telling the story of talent and skill.  He draws from very sophisticated lines of research in neuroscience, instructional design, organizational behavior, and educational psychology, but writes in ways that make critical research accessible to nearly anyone.  His suggestions for the design of learning and practice environments are second to none.  While Outliers and Talent is Overrated get more press, I think Coyle's book is the best from this genre.  

11/22/63.  I don't read much fiction, and I tend to stay away from uber popular fiction writers, but this historical thriller from Stephen King had me skipping meals and staying up all night.  It's a bit of an intimidating read at 850 pages, but it felt much shorter because it was so engaging.  King captures the social, political, and popular culture of the JKF, as well as an intriguing view of Lee Harvey Oswald.  My guess is it's only a matter of time before Hollywood picks this one up, so read it before they ruin it.

Give and Take.  If you write in your books, be prepared with lots of extra lead when you this one from Adam Grant.  He makes a refreshing and optimistic argument for the value of unselfishness, charity, and relationship-building.  It's a book that will make you feel guilty for the times you've been a selfish jerk, concerned only with  your own well-being; and, more importantly, help you see how being a "giver" isn't just the nice thing to do--it's the path to success.  I'd say this is the best book I've read in the last five years.

Mindset.  Carol Dweck's book on the psychology of success has impacted my thinking about teaching and learning as much as nearly any book I've read in the last decade.  It changed the way I see and understand myself and my own tendencies (for instance, I came to see very clearly that my perspective on my artistics abilities was very fixed, while I was very growth-oriented when it came to athletics).  What's more, it's just as applicable and useful for a teacher as it is a parent or a friend.  Mindset is required reading for all the students I hire to work as peer mentors and 9 out of 10 report back to me that it has transformed their view of their educational experience.  The short of it is that everyone should read this book.

What's on your list for this summer?

Friday, May 23, 2014

The danger of eclecticism in learning (or, an argument for the virtue of syncretic learning)

One of the best parts of working on a college campus is that, almost by definition, my job is to be a learner. And, in addition to traditional courses, college campuses offer a wide variety of learning opportunities, from theatrical performances, art exhibits, lectures, and (one of my personal favorites) afternoons reading in the library.  At BYU, this list also includes weekly campus forums and devotionals.  This past week's speech was given by John Lamb, BYU's Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2014.  I shouldn't hold this stereotype, but because Lamb is a scientist, I was expecting a highly technical and uninteresting talk.  I was pleasantly surprised.  It was one of the best talks I've heard at BYU in recent memory and Lamb made a strong argument for the value of a university education and the importance of being a deep and broad learner.

But, there was one aspect of Lamb's remarks that I think is potentially problematic, and that represents a more general problem in higher education.  Toward the end of the talk, Lamb told students:  
Let me encourage you to be not only diligent, but to be eclectic (emphasis added) in your learning.
 Like many others, Lamb is encouraging students to learn as much about the world as they can.  It's good advice and aligned with the mission of nearly every institution of higher education.  So, the problem I see isn't so much in what Lamb said, but in how he said it.

Eclecticism is characterized by the absence of any kind of guiding system, philosophy, or theoretical framework.  This can be quite advantageous in situations in which breadth and variety are the only concerns, precisely because eclecticism provides the "flexibility" to select from a variety of sources, without any concern for the relatedness of the things that are selected.  So, for casual decisions about tastes and preferences--e.g. where to go to dinner tonight, what movie to pick from Netflix, etc.--eclecticism functions perfectly well.  Unless I happen to be a film critic or restaurateur, there's no need for me to make these decisions based on any kind of underlying philosophy, or to try connect my various decisions into some kind of integrated framework.

Similarly, eclecticism is sometimes touted as a virtue in learning because it conveys the sense of breadth and well-roundness that we strive for in university education.  However, while eclecticism as an approach to learning does achieve the breadth we hope for, it's failings come with regard to the way in which learners connect and integrate their learning.  Eclecticism makes no attempt to provide a sense of coherence, integration, or alignment.  And, this same disconnectedness is one of the primary problems with formal education, particularly the general education experience on college campuses.  Far too many students approach their education eclectically, picking and choosing courses haphazardly and never participating in any kind of integrative experience that helps them connect their learning across their varied experiences.  Consequently, their learning remains superficial and disconnected from their lived experience.

What I wish Lamb would have told students was to be syncretic learners.  Syncretism allows for breadth and variety, but is ultimately focused on reconciliation, union, connectedness, and integration.  A syncretic learner still reads broadly, takes a variety of classes, and  seeks out a diversity of ideas.  However, this learner moves beyond eclecticism by looking for connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, theories, or concepts.

Capstone projects, theses, internships, and other culminating learning experiences are really about leading students to syncretism.  While eclecticism sounds nice and gives learners the freedom to dabble in a variety of areas, a university education isn't simply about a disconnected, albeit pleasurable, learning experience.  Our goal as educators is to move beyond providing variety for students, and to engage them in the hard work of achieving cohesion, wholeness, and integration.