What is a “quality” student?

What is a “quality” student?

I know, it is around 2am. I picked such an ungodly time to re-check the reflection papers of my students. For context, I asked them to reflect critically on their journey so far in their degree program and their self-discovery.

I find myself compelled to write a reflection too. (Or, since it is the wee hours of the morning, I’m writing less of a reflection but more of a word vomit… or maybe even a sort of stream of consciousness! Maybe once I fall asleep then wake up tomorrow I might cringe at what I’m writing now, but at this moment, I’m willing to take a risk being vulnerable with my thoughts!)

The past few weeks have been quite fascinating. As we exit the pandemic, we are enjoined by the university to undertake curriculum review. We are also having discussions about refining the Expected Lasallian Graduate Attributes (ELGA 2.0), and furthermore, our college is gearing up for accreditation exercises. Set at the backdrop of super fast-paced developments in AI technology (which is said to disrupt knowledge work and education), I find myself musing about the role of education and how we should rethink pedagogy.

But a more pressing question begs to be answered these wee hours of the morning: what is a “quality” student?

If we peruse formal documents from regulatory bodies and accreditors, the word “standards” seem to stand out. Have students succeeded in meeting certain standards of learning outcomes? Can students demonstrate certain skillsets that industry and society value? Are they “employable”? Can they start their own businesses or organizations viably?

You see, my reservation (I think it’s better to use the Filipino word “agam-agam”) about “standards” is that it may overly reduce “student learning” into something more measurable or quantifiable (e.g., grades). Standards (or even the word “quality”) for that matter might imply an either-or: either you meet the standard or you don’t; either you are “quality” or not. (Maybe there’s room for “partially meeting” the standard or quality?)

The reason why I feel compelled to write this reflection is because I’ve asked my students to be vulnerable in their attempt to strive for authenticity. To recap, the way we operationalize authenticity in our course and degree programs is inspired by Bernard Lonergan’s transcendental precepts and the general empirical method (which closely parallels the Lasallian Reflection Framework): be attentive to experience, be intelligent in understanding/insighting, be reasonable in judgements (or validation of initial insights), and be responsible in deciding and acting.

In my re-checking of the reflections, I was amazed by the revisions of my students, especially those who were able to articulate their unique journey and how the Applied Corporate Management program helped them discover not only their skillsets, but their initial purpose (subject to change and evolve, of course). The reflections are a major individual requirement for the course I’m teaching so I must assess them based on how well they articulated their insights, but the uniqueness of their respective journeys are made salient by their exercise of trying to be authentic. Putting a number on these 60+ papers feels insufficient. I’ve tried giving personal comments on each, and maybe this reflection I’m writing now is a way for me to process the overload of richness I have read. I don’t know how to fully process or digest what I have read but I want to.

Because understanding the uniqueness of their journeys and embracing authenticity provides hints on how we (or at least I) should define what a “quality” student means.

My short answer is that a “quality” student should not lose their “self” in pursuit of acquiring skills that can serve them in their careers. In other words, a quality student is an authentic student.

The challenge: in the age of AI where it’s more tempting to relinquish one’s thoughts and agency to a generative AI tool for convenience, how can educators nudge students to still be authentic?

How can higher education institutions meet the standards of regulators and accreditors without getting in the way of students discovering how they can uniquely be the best versions of themselves?

In encouraging students to be authentic, how can we nudge them to find spaces where they be part of something greater than themselves?

How can we demand growth and accountability without neglecting mental health and safe spaces?

There is no easy answer nor a formula. But if I were to extrapolate from the experiences of my students, providing opportunities for active and iterative learning with multiple opportunities for reflection and feedback are a great start.

To end this sort of word vomit, I arrive at an uncomfortable conclusion: teachers must resist the temptation to just be “graders”. We must accompany students in their experiencing, insighting, judging, and acting. This is uncomfortable because it’s hard to do at scale given the uniqueness of each student’s journey.

But there’s still some comfort: if we treat some of the students who seem to figure things out more than their peers, they can be our co-creators. Our partners. An insight some of my students shared is that there are times they treat their peers as role models. At the very least, these role models can inspire; and ideally, they can be tutors or even “mentors”.

It’d be quite cheesy to end this reflection this way, but I find some peace in the core values of DLSU: we can have faith that we’ll figure things out; hope that the spirit of service can manifest not only in educators but in students too; and we can take solace in the fact that we don’t need to do things alone… we can have communion in mission.

It turns out this may not be such an ungodly hour after all!

Back to checking papers 🙂

(If you’re at this point, that means you’ve taken the time to read my word vomit, and for that I thank you so much!)

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