The New College Classroom

Isamar Brito

College students are changing. Higher education must follow suit. 

“The New College Classroom” is a book written by Professor Cathy Davidson and Dr. Christina Katopodis imploring higher education educators to reimagine how students are taught and treated in colleges. At their book launch event, Professor Davidson and Dr. Katopodis review their book’s key strategies and their importance in academic spaces. 

Among the first concepts to understand about the modern-day classroom was that the classroom had been structured and based around the industrial age. The classroom had begun to reflect a need for efficiency rather than the need to breed an environment of understanding and learning. This underlying impact on higher education has remained embedded in the way in which college students are taught to this very day. And its existence poses a threat to the future of higher education as a whole. In order to combat this, the authors emphasized a need to not only transform their ways of educating but also transform society as a whole. Their strategies and overall ideology is focused primarily on catering to students directly. Making sure that no one gets left behind and that everyone has the opportunity to learn. 

Both Professor Davidson and Dr. Katopodis shared personal experiences implementing new and inclusive strategies for changing the classroom for the better. One story, shared by Dr. Katopodis, truly struck me as powerful. The approach she shared surrounded a collaborative effort to create a syllabus. She explained that she had gone with a majority rules approach to its creation. On one hand, students could vote for the option of doing a reading-based assignment a set number of times throughout the semester, and on the other were no reading-based assignments and only one midterm paper that would count heavily towards the student’s final grades. All but one student raised their hand for the first option. The one who hadn’t shared that it was too many due dates for them, a midterm paper would be better for them. Following this interaction, Dr. Katopodis revealed that her way of structuring syllabi changed. She realized that creating a more inclusive community meant creating more options. In particular, she emphasized the use of the word “or” is a great aspect of creating a great syllabus. Ultimately, what Dr. Katopodis decided was a syllabus that gave students the option to choose based on their needs. No one would be left behind this way.

Likewise, Professor Davidson shared an anecdote regarding a specific class of hers that seemed to deeply impact her. Along with a former Chancellor and President of the Graduate Center, she created a course that she vaguely recalls as “Future of Higher Education”. This course was student-designed and fully committed to ensuring that students were present and active in their own learning. It resulted in a course that was almost completely run by them. These students worked with undergraduates creating projects and activities that connected them to different communities and family members. 

Their approach zeroed in on inclusivity and really demonstrated a love for what they do. Seeing two people so dedicated to ensuring that their lessons and words have an impact on their students truly does give me hope for the future. A future in which professors across the nation learn to accommodate their students, include them, and send them off with the knowledge that they really did learn something. Even, as they had put it, the simple statement that you do not know is powerful in and of itself. The fact that a student is able to identify that is key to a step in a better direction.

 Professor Cathy Davidson and Dr. Christina Katopodis’s book and presentation truly did feel like a step into a new age of higher education.

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