UW News

February 21, 2008

Colleges combine for new minor in Education, Learning and Society

News and Information

The creation of an education minor is no minor event.

For the first time, UW undergraduates will be able to choose a set of courses that will lead to a concentration in education — specifically, in education, learning and society — in a program developed by the College of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences. Among the ideas that students can explore in classes are the scientific view of learning, using moral and ethical standards to understand equity, issues surrounding diversity, and the concept of citizenship.

The partnership between the two colleges has grown out of a grant, Teachers for a New Era, that urged grantees to share responsibilities across units in providing new pathways for would-be teachers.

“Traditionally, we think of teachers coming from undergraduate majors in English, history or maybe science and math,” says Erasmo Gamboa, associate professor of American ethnic studies and director of the education minor. “Locating the academic adviser for the minor half-time in our department is very appropriate and it helps diversify the pool of those who are considering the teaching profession.”

At the UW, for a number of years there has been no undergraduate degree in education, until a B.A. in Early Childhood and Family Studies was recently approved. When the education minor was announced this quarter, there was an immediate surge of interest, says Jenee Myers, the program’s adviser and a graduate student in education. “Before, students would usually make a decision about teaching late in their undergraduate experience, usually in their senior year,” she says. “Having an education minor allows units of Arts and Sciences, and their advisers, to identify early those undergraduates who are thinking of teaching and help them prepare for a graduate degree. We can create a seamless pathway for them to a UW master’s in teaching degree, even qualifying for early entry to the program in their last undergraduate quarter.”

The first day of winter quarter, just after the minor became a reality, there were 12 declared education minors; by the end of the quarter, Myers expects at least 40 — this, with the announcement being spread largely by a network of advisers and by word of mouth. “The students were very ready for this minor,” she says.

The minor requires that students take at least 31 credits from five categories: learning and development, schools and society, field experience, electives and a colloquium. The courses all examine educational issues in some way — including socially, culturally and psychologically. Achieving the minor ensures that students meet the prerequisites for entering the UW’s master in teaching program. Currently, students have over 60 courses, about 50 of which are electives, from which to choose in fulfilling requirements.

“The minor is another positive example of our collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences,” says Tom Stritikus, associate dean for academic programs in the College of Education. “We hope that the minor will inspire UW undergraduates to consider career pathways in education. Over the past year, we’ve redesigned our graduate level teacher education programs to more easily and flexibly include UW undergraduates. The minor is one pathway for that to occur.”

The education minor appears to be tapping into pent-up student demand from a number of directions. The Pipeline Project, which ties community experience in elementary education with on-campus seminars, now serves about 300 undergraduates a year. It provides a rich array of field experiences in tutoring and mentoring for students from a variety of majors, as well as a series of courses that help place field experiences in an analytic and societal framework. Christine Stickler, who directs the Pipeline Project, believes that about 40 percent of students who enroll in the program will pursue master’s degrees in teaching, so an education minor should be an attractive option for many of them.

The Dream Project is a student-initiated high school outreach effort that also operates as a UW undergraduate course. It creates relationships between UW students and Seattle-area high school students from low-income backgrounds as well as those who would be the first of their family to attend college. Myers, who was a member of the first executive committee of the project, believes that many of the UW undergraduates who have participated as mentors will choose education minors and pursue graduate degrees in teaching.

People often wonder what students will do after college with a degree in American ethnic studies,” says Lauro Flores, chair of the department. “One logical avenue is to pursue a graduate degree in education.” At one time Flores and other faculty in the department were part of a project to teach “cultural competency” to public school teachers. “I realized that cultural awareness as a major issue in education. So when the opportunity arose for our department to be the link in the education minor, I was very supportive. Erasmo is providing leadership to ensure that this program continues even if the funding dries up.”

Only two courses have been specifically designed for use with the education minor. One is taught by Rick Bonus, associate professor of American ethnic studies. The course title is “Special Topics: Education, Difference, and Power.” It focuses on how issues of diversity and the dynamics of power relationships play out against the background of the increasingly diverse demographics of students, teachers and parents. Bonus, who has been organizing mentorships on campus for diverse populations, had been considering the creation of this course for a while. He had been involved with Teachers for a New Era and also with writing a report for the Seattle Public Schools on meeting the needs of its diverse population. So when Gamboa requested that he teach this course, he was more than halfway there.

One of Bonus’s interests has been in making school meaningful to all students. His thinking has been influenced by research on “subtractive schooling,” which in too many schools attempts to remove education from any cultural context. “But we know that if students bring their culture to the classroom, they are more likely to succeed,” he says. For Bonus, the course provides a nearly ideal opportunity for mixing his research and teaching with service, using the classroom as a laboratory for building “meaningfulness” into education.

As part of the course, students have to model teaching strategies for different populations, and the student “audience” is required to play the part of students in that particular demographic stratum — for instance, if the strategy is to engage eighth-graders, the class is to behave as a room of eighth-graders.

“My goal is to inspire these students to become teachers,” he says. “I try to provide them with a feel for the situation they will be entering as a teacher — the kind of politics, the bureaucracy. But I also want them to be hopeful and to find pleasure from their career choice. They, too, need to find meaning in what they are doing, so we talk about the pleasures and non-monetary rewards of teaching.

Bonus has been pleasantly surprised with the level of engagement of his students. But in a way it’s understandable: This is one of the few opportunities for an undergraduate to engage in the subject of teaching. Many of them have worked in the schools on internships and volunteered through the Carlson Center. “Many are already well-versed in the history of public education, not just in Washington but elsewhere in the country,” Bonus says.

John Bransford, the James W. Mifflin University Professor in the College of Education, is teaching the second course specifically designed for the education minor, Educational Psychology 304. The goal of the course is to introduce students to key ideas about how people learn and the implications of this information for teaching and assessment. 

The course is organized around the book How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School.  Information in the book is enhanced by introducing students to recent work from the LIFE Center (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments, see www.LIFE-slc.org) that is conducting groundbreaking work on the learning that occurs outside as well as within schools, and is demonstrating the importance of helping students connect their lifewide and lifelong learning experiences so that their cumulative impact is enhanced. 

A simple but powerful method used in the course is to have all students post their questions about the readings prior to coming to class. UW Catalyst tools have proven to be extremely helpful in this regard.  Bransford says, “The questions posted by the students are extremely impressive and deep. Class discussions are lively and informative even to me and the graduate student teaching assistants who are helping me (Amit Saxena and Tiffany Lee). Being able to see the questions ahead of time helps us tailor what we do each class period. The teaching assistants and I are very impressed with the students and excited that they are becoming interested in teaching and learning research.”

This course will continue to be offered in the College of Education and is open to students in the education minor and Early Childhood and Family Studies major, as well as other interested UW students.