How do we Transform Higher Education…Inquiring Minds want to Know

September 18, 2023 Marilee Bresciani Ludvik

“Transformation requires accessing a different mindset than the one that created the situation which needs to be transformed.”

Is higher education preparing our students for a world that is increasingly complex and volatile, and in which they will have to contend with uncertainty and ambiguity? Are we addressing the concerns of employers who complain that graduates do not possess the creative, critical thinking, and communication skills needed in the workplace? In the face of the evidence and public opinion that our colleges and universities are failing to do so, we suggest that we harness what we have learned from innovations in teaching and out-of-classroom experiences, high impact practices, and student success research. And we suggest we integrate those discoveries with emerging neuroscience to transform how we design, deliver, and gather evidence that our students are transforming, thus developing their capacities for adaptive boundary spanning.

Starting from the premise that our current linear, course-based, educational practices are frequently at odds with how our neurological system facilitates learning and personal development, we posit an alternative model that emphasizes a holistic approach to education that integrates what is known from classroom and co-curriculuar learning with attention, emotion, and cognitive regulation practices as the cornerstones of learning. Such cornerstones allow students to engage in mindful inquiry in order to embrace the ambiguity of the unknown, suspend judgment born from pre-conceived habits of mind in order to consider something that they never considered before; in order to resolve wicked problems.

We are challenging us to move away from the degree constructed of a combination of several courses and an accumulation of credit hours as the commodity of higher education to focusing on the learning and development process itself as our primary higher education commodity. We challenge ourselves to organize around the process of learning and development, as opposed to the course. We challenge ourselves to look in-depth at our federal, state, and institutional policies and practices that are restricting our ability to fund the design, deliver, and evaluation of substantive learning and development. And we are challenging ourselves to be forthright about what we do and don’t know about the complex process of trait learning.

Emerging neuroscience may provide us with clues to key learning and development constructs plausibly missing from today’s educational systems. And it may only lead us to more questions. Nonetheless, we challenge us to no longer ignore the emerging science that explains the very real benefits of intentional movement and mindful inquiry and its application to the classroom, the co-curriculum, as well as its implications for administrative leaders who make the decisions that impact student learning and development including the environment within which faculty, administrators, and students reside.

So, we invite you to suspend your judgment (for just a moment – whatever that means to you), to suspend your habits of mind, long enough to engage in inquiry in order to determine whether and how providing seemingly unintellectual learning and development opportunities for students actually stimulates portions of the brain that are needed in order for students to become adaptive problem-solvers, creators of knowledge, and effective compassionate social collaborators, promoting responsible use of resources to enhance sustainable change.

For those attending Taskstream CollabEx Live! next week, we are looking forward to your joining us in New York for just such a conversation! Safe journey!

Marilee Bresciani Ludvik, Ph.D. serves as Professor of Postsecondary Educational Leadership at San Diego State University, where she coordinates the masters in postsecondary educational leadership program in student affairs, the multi-disciplinary leadership minor, the mindfulness-based integrative inquiry program, and the Institutional Research, Planning, and Assessment Certificate. Marilee’s most recent research focuses on using translational neuroscience to inform the design and evaluation of workshops and curriculum to decrease students’, faculty, and administrators’ stress and anxiety and increase their attention, emotion, and cognitive regulation, as well as enhanced critical thinking, compassion, and creativity. Marilee can be reached at

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