Friday, May 11, 2012

What does it look like when higher education gets it right?

If you are one of six people who occasionally read this blog, you have probably picked up on the fact that many of my posts are critiques of things I have observed.  I've felt guilty about this recently and been wondering why I am so cynical (some might way negative) at times.  I'll never escape my desire to provide commentary on what I see as shortcomings of society, systems, programs, etc.; however, I have made a conscious effort to try and look for the good a little more often (if for no other reason than that it helps me offer more thoughtful critiques of the "less than good" I see).  

On that note, a couple of days ago I read about the BYU New Horizons Orchestra and was struck with the thought "this is the sort of thing that should be happening a lot more often."  And, I felt better knowing that I had, at least for a moment, allowed myself to acknowledge something good in the world.

The New Horizons Orchestra is sponsored by the BYU School of Music and provides seniors in the community surrounding BYU with the opportunity to learn to play a stringed instrument (or, in some cases, to relearn to play one of these instruments).  This fact alone (i.e. that BYU is providing a great service to the local community) would be enough for me to trumpet this program as worthwhile and beneficial.  However, the other great thing about the orchestra is that it provides opportunities for music education students to hone their craft as they direct and conduct these orchestras.  Students get real laboratory teaching experiences, but with motivated, mature learners who aren't likely to present the behavioral challenges that might come up in a real classroom of pre-pubescent kids trying to learn to play the cello (although they'll need that experience, it's probably better if it comes a little later on, after they have had success teaching a pleasant 75 year-old woman who smiles a lot).  Finally, the orchestra is also providing research opportunities for both faculty members and students in the School of Music.

So, in the context of this small orchestra, made up of white-haired folks from around the Provo-Orem area, you can see each of the major missions of higher education being fulfilled:

1.  Teaching -- Students in the School of Music get an invaluable field experience that builds their confidence and provides opportunities to connect and apply principles and pedagogical strategies from their coursework.

2.  Research --  Because of the unique make-up of the orchestra (senior members and student conductors), there are multiple unique research questions that can be explored in this context (e.g. how do senior learners progress from novice to capable instrmentalists?  How does this process differ from the way young musicians learn to play?  How does bringing seniors and young adults together in a learning environment impact their perspectives of one another?  etc.).

3.  Service -- The university provides a service to the local community that both improves the lives of orchestra members and improves the public's view of the university and it's place in the local community.

It wasn't until I was sitting at my computer typing out this post that I made the above connection (i.e. that the New Horizons Orchestra was bringing together teaching, research, and service all in one place).  But, it seems like an excellent example of what should be happening in every department on a college campus.


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