News Article

Terenzini’s Guide on Dealing Students the Best Hand


April 04, 2016

“If you’re gonna play the game, boy, you gotta learn to play it right,” said Professor Terenzini. Referencing the singer Kenny Rogers, Terenzini hoped this statement would invoke thought into how to approach educating current college students.

In the latest Division of Student Life Speaker Series Lecture, Professor Patrick Terenzini, addressed a room full of educators and student affairs professionals from various Boston institutions. A distinguished professor of higher education emeritus at Pennsylvania State University, Terenzini presented research on the effect of college on students and the implications this knowledge has for practitioners in higher education. Bottom-line: learn to play it right.

Professor Terenzini, along with Professor Ernie Pascarella from the University of Iowa are the co-authors of “How College Affects Students,” which summarizes the findings from more than 6,500 studies published in the past 45 years on the impacts of college on students.

During his lecture, Terenzini distilled the method of “playing it right” into six factors that should be incorporated into student programming. By doing so, it will maximize academic and cognitive outcomes as well as psychosocial growth, attitude improvement, amendment or change to values, and elevated moral reasoning skills in students:

  1. Present some form of a challenge through encounters with either ideas and/or people.
  2. Facilitate constructive student engagement to this challenge to create a “provocative moment.” It is not enough to merely experience the challenge; the student must also respond intellectually to glean maximal benefits.
  3. Host such activities in a supportive environment where students are not handheld, but provided with resources to achieve a standard of expectation. Emphasize that it is okay to take a risk and fail as long as it is a teachable moment promoting forward motion. Terenzini provided the metaphor, “Remember the turtle, for the turtle can only advance by sticking its neck out.”
  4. Emphasize how the exercise relates to a meaningful real-world context.
  5. Invoke interpersonal dynamics through chosen activities.
  6. Incorporate or promote reflection and analysis by the student. 

Terenzini cautioned professionals not to compartmentalize their focus to their area or unit but to interact and collaborate. Educators should not accept the status quo of best practices. Best practices cannot be copied and pasted from one campus to another. Terenzini suggests educators to think systemically of the role and utility of a program within the institution as opposed to provincially about the structure of the program itself.

“Just like with organs, transplantations are often unsuccessful,” compared Terenzini. “Institutions have antibodies: cultural, student type, resource availability, readiness of the institution to change, and differences in the priorities of an institution.”

Learn the collegiate, political, and bureaucratic landscape of an institution to be more effective. With this knowledge, Terenzini left the audience with an urging to “align what we do with what we know.”

More information, including the slides and transcript from Professor Terenzini’s lecture can be found on the DSL Speaker Series page.

Additonal contributions by Stephanie Tran.

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