Supporting Liberal Education for Divergent/Convergent Student Populations

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 22–23, 2013

University of Miami
Miami, Florida


This document represents the collective interests of teaching diverse student populations by three faculty members from multiple disciplines (speech communication, sociology, and reading/English). Together they explore collaborative methods and reflective practices for building liberal education. They give insights to cumulative problem-solving practices, recognizing cultural capital, and introspections of teaching.

Cultivating Problem Solvers in the Classroom to Actively Engage Lifelong Learners

Joanna Davis-Showell, Bethune-Cookman University

There is no shortage of approaches to conceptualizing, categorizing, assessing, and utilizing relevant methods that build standard frameworks for advancing students’ problem solving skills in the classroom and supporting their success in careers and personal relationships. Pivotal to cultivating problem solvers in the classroom are three essential components introduced to anchor teaching and learning in liberal education: 1. Collaboration, 2. Creativity and 3. Connecting Theories and Practice. Stimulating intellectual growth and personal change, students seek to understand human experience through historical, cultural, and aesthetic studies, using varieties of core communication activities and critical competencies to achieve classroom proficiency. Lafferty (2004) suggests that problem solving strategies are part of the curricula across a number of disciplines including accounting, advertising, business, communication, education, English, human resources, journalism, mathematics, nursing, pharmacy, psychology, speech communication, veterinary medicine, sociology, and the like. Aldous (2005) says that thoughts and actions must produce outcomes that are both original and of value as higher education curricula is vital to building generations of savvy, thoughtful, creative, and innovative thinkers and entrepreneurs. Strategies ensuring students learn content and are fueled by complexity have the potential to make college learning more engaging, more hands-on, and more empowering.

First, collaboration engages college students in activities situated in group learning, group teaching, cooperative learning, and work groups for the purpose of maximizing the learning experience. It involves a deliberate act of placing students together to accomplish a task. Students engage in various aspects of group development through a) sharing prior experience to create sense-making of content knowledge, peer/member communication, resource regulation of time and task completion — for structuring the big picture, and b) directing the goal’s larger focus to expand tasks facilitated in the community of work within the group. Bailey-Crawford (2004) notes in her study that students who work together to solve mathematic problems stimulate participant recall as they use opportunities to examine, represent, transform, solve, apply, prove, and communicate within their learning environment. Overall, teacher dependency is removed as peer dependence becomes instrumental to fostering climates of discussion, debate, philosophy, and creative thinking. Consequently, students become comfortable with one another as collaboration is engaged around problem-solving activities that shape their thoughts. Additionally, collaborative learning cuts across boundaries and opens opportunities for sharing diversity of ideas, intercultural frontiers, and interdependence. Students develop essential communication skills and a sophisticated sense of how to collaborate in a competitive world.

A second component of cultivating problem solvers is accomplished in professors’ use of creativity. Creativity considers instructional methods as means to challenging students’ abilities to uncover deficiencies as students prepare for “real world” experiences. Once students leave college they should be sufficiently prepared to embark upon the always-changing environments of information, culture, technology, diversity, and beyond. Students’ future learning and productivity is supplemented with life experience, work experience, and individual understanding of how to produce in a competitive world, says Hamza and Griffith (2006). Factors influencing creativity are imbedded in professors’ character and attitude toward fostering classroom climates supportive of teacher-student relationships. Professors’ interactions and communications with students are integral to developing problem solvers. Creativity is denoted in character as personality, and in attitude as knowledge and interaction. Hamza, (2006) list common and valuable qualities in teaching as: a) passion for teaching and learning, b) care for students’ successes and failures, c) interest demonstrated in subject matter, and d) knowledge of subject taught. Despite individual differences in teaching styles, professors are responsible for building platforms for creative expression to exist – as can often reflect in student/teacher evaluation feedback.

The third component for discussion includes connecting theories to practice in preparing students for the complexities of classroom and social change. Reforms in education include inquiry-based courses encouraging students to be reflective problem solvers and change agents. Connecting theory and practice links high standards for learning to social change (Donnell & Harper, 2005). Today’s college campuses are dotted with vibrant new generations of innovative teaching and pedagogies providing multiple, structured opportunities for students to engage their own lived experiences in the context of what they are learning. Many entail critical methodologies for developing today’s highly diverse populations of students. Rather than mastering skills and applying them, students are engaged in resolving problems utilizing properties of critical application. This particular problem solving component enables students to make connections across multiple disciplines, from general education courses to capstone projects and field-based learning.

For example, utilizing Bloom’s Taxonomy, students generate, categorize, and make generalizations as they strategize to connect theory to practice. Problem solving is optimal to using constructs of critical thinking, infusing knowledge acquisition to application. The following new version of Bloom’s Taxonomy model proposes actively engaging students in the process of self-inquiry. Students may apply classroom knowledge to solve problems and discern viable solutions by analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information with support of peers and instructors through class assignments/activities. However, facilitating students’ own understanding of course content, using Bloom’s older version – mainly assesses knowledge and comprehension through testing. Fusing both models creates a more rich learning experience. This approach ideally advances class discussion and extends understanding of information generated, as it is more proactive than reactive. Opportunities to explore and examine the interests of today’s students are expanded as professors connect theories to practice.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Bloom's Taxonomy NewBloom's Taxonomy Old
New VersionOld Version
Remembering: can the student recall or remember the information?define, duplicate, list, memorize, recall, repeat, reproduce state
Understanding: can the student explain ideas or concepts?classify, describe, discuss, explain, identify, locate, recognize, report, select, translate, paraphrase
Applying: can the student use the information in a new way?choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write.
Analyzing: can the student distinguish between the different parts?appraise, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, and test.
Evaluating: can the student justify a stand or decision?appraise, argue, defend, judge, select, support, value, evaluate
Creating: can the student create new product or point of viewAssemble, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, and write.

Note the change from nouns to verbs associated with each level. Note that the top two levels are essentially exchanged from the traditional to the new version. Richard C. Overbaugh & Lynn Schultz, Old Dominion University.

Overall, these three components are merely opportunities to attribute few ways in which college-level liberal education ideally and typically has changed radically and is in the midst of far-reaching change today. However curriculum is reinvigorated, cultivating lifelong learners is imperative to change and progress towards promoting hallmarks of this country. Cultivating intellectual capacity by helping students comprehend and negotiate their relationship to the larger world, prepares them for lives of responsibility and leadership.

Teaching at Minority Serving Institutions: The Role of Faculty in Preparing Marginalized Student Populations beyond the Classroom

Leslie Baker-Kimmons, Chicago State University
Tiffany Davis, Chicago State University


Minority Serving Institutions in the United States serve historically economically and racially marginalized students from African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American and Pacific Islander backgrounds. Minority Serving Institutions have long since been under appreciated for the work they do for a significant number of first-generation working class minority-students. There are 2.3 million college students enrolled in MSI’s (Harman, 2012) and given these numbers, the role of MSI’s in providing a quality education for those who may not have been able to obtain one is invaluable.

Many students who attend MSIs are not equipped with the “college knowledge” needed to apply to and prepare for college, as they do not have parents who matriculated through the process to pass this “college knowledge” down to them (Harman, 2012). We argue that even though students at MSI possess non-dominant cultural capital that assists them in expressing themselves their own spaces, many of these students do not possess dominant cultural capital i.e., style of speech, dress, or physical appearance, needed to compete in the real world. Schools are not neutral institutions that provide students with objective knowledge, but rather they reflect, privilege and reproduce the experiences and practices and tastes of the “dominant class”. As such, children from the upper and upper middle classes come to school already equipped with these important social and cultural “tools” whereas as students from the working and lower classes find themselves at a disadvantage because they do not. As a result, these students must work to acquire this knowledge upon entering school or attempt to function without it and this has a direct negative impact on their academic and career success (Stanton- Salizar, 1995).

We argue that students’ academic preparation is of little value if they do not possess the corresponding cultural capital. Students who matriculate through MSIs must have the complimentary “soft skills” or cultural capital they will need to continue to experience success in their future careers. As educators we know that in order to be successful our students need to be prepared with the necessary social skills to help them “nail” that job interview, and engage in the often tedious and undesirable informal “schmoozing” with co-workers and their bosses. As educators at MSI’s we have a level of responsibility in ensuring that the transmission of cultural capital occurs. In this work we explore the role of MSIs in preparing students academically and ensuring that they have the social and cultural knowledge that is valued and necessary to navigate mainstream spaces.

African Americans and Cultural Capital

The national completion goals set by President Barack Obama put forward the goal that by the year 2020 all adult Americans will have at least one year of higher education or career training so that Americans would soon have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. The manner to which to accomplish this goal is to focus on low income, underserved students which have become the fastest growing demographic with the lowest level of college attainment. The aim of higher education is to transform the educational system by focusing on educational equity in order to meet the demands of the workforce and ultimately build up the economy. The role of MSIs is critical in accomplishing these set goals (Harman, 2012).

We believe that instructors at MSIs have additional responsibilities especially in what has been called a post-racial society. The reality is that upward mobility and levels of assimilation are continuously based on race and ethnic background. Minorities deal with racism at both the interpersonal and structural levels which directly impacts upward mobility. Consequently, we argue that the MSI instructors have the additional responsibility to educate in a manner that will ultimately link non-dominant cultural capital with that of dominant cultural capital.


It is not our goal to simply drive our students to conform to mainstream ideals, but to highlight the reality that low income and working-class students enrolled in colleges and universities are doing so to compete with their middle and upper middle class counterparts, the latter of whom have the necessary and accepted forms of social and cultural capital automatically attached to their class status. Ultimately, MSI students must first be prepared in a way that they can effectively understand and function within mainstream society so that they can then be positioned as players who can work to effectively transform it.

The Teacher Within

Deborah L. Freckleton, Bethune-Cookman University

The selected work of Parker Palmer, a world-renowned writer, speaker, and activist is my focus of discussion. In agreeing with Parker Palmer, before we can employ various types of techniques into our teaching pedagogies we must first look within ourselves and remember why we chose this profession in the first place. First, Parker Palmer gives a sincere self-portrait that confronts any teacher to relate with themselves, their pupil and their subject in order to overcome the struggles and conflict that plague the present-day landscape of education. Palmer starts with the drawback of technique and method that plagues much of present-day education. Instead of selecting a particular method and set of techniques, Palmer heightens the problem by pointing to the reality that ‘great’ teachers teach from a well-defined understanding of their identity and with approaches that are in agreement with their identity. Accordingly, the teacher that blends their identity into their teaching will use and produce methods and techniques that will be a representation of them and will power their passion to teach.

Second, Palmer moves on to present the theory of paradox in teaching and learning. He presents the point that much harm has come to the world through intellectual projects that would seek to rid the world of all paradoxes. He suggests that this same thing occurs in education and should be overcome. He presents his guide to small group interactions at education conferences and retreats that help teachers recover paradox in their understanding of their identity.

Third, Palmer then moves to show how it can assist in envisioning a pedagogy that is holistic. The implication is that we should not flatten our self-identities by trying to categorize all our traits and abilities. We should instead stretch our understanding of self by examining those paradoxes that constitute our interactions with others and our subject. This will go a long way in healing the separation between the inner and outer world.

Finally, Palmer gives the view of “subject-centered” education. He shows the argument between teacher-centered or student-centered models and shows that both sides have pros and cons. His method of overcoming the gap in these two modes of education is to get back to being subject-centered. In this model, it is the community that focuses their attention and energies around the subject that has brought them together

According to Parker Palmer, before we can be good teachers we must first acknowledge and address who we are inside. “Good Teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (Parker Palmer, 2000: 11). Good teachers are able to go within themselves, connect with their students and the subject they teach. Their overall actions will be healthy and nourishing.


Aldous, C. R. 2005. “Creativity in problem solving: Uncovering the origin.” International Education Journal, ERC2004 Special Issue, 5(5), 43-56. Retrieved from

Bloom, Benjamin. Blooms Taxonomy. Compiled by Richard C. Overbaugh and Lynn Schultz retrieved January 7, 2014 from

Boykin, A. W. 1986. “The triple quandary and the schooling of Afro-American children.” In U. Neisser (Ed.), The school achievement of minority children: New perspectives 57–92. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Crawford, Linda B. 2004. “Factors Influencing the Problem Solving of College Students Solving a Mathematics Problem in a Small Group: Two Cases.” Diss. University of Georgia

Donnell, Kelly and Kelly Harper. 2005. Inquiry in Teacher Education: Competing Agendas, in Teacher Education. Quarterly summer, p. 153.

Hamza, M.K, and Kimberly G. Griffith. 2006. “Fostering Problem Solving & Creative Thinking in the Classroom: Cultivating a Creative Mind!” National Forum of Applied Education Research Journal 19(3).

Harman, Noel. 2012. “The Role of Minority Serving Institutions in National Completion Goals.” Institution for Higher Education Policy. Retrieved from

Harrison-Hale, A. O., McLoyd, V. C., & Smedley, B. 2004. “Racial and ethnic status: Risk and protective processes among African American families” in K. I. Maton, C. J. Schellenbach, B. J. Leadbeater, & A. J. Solarz (Eds.), Investing in children, youth, and communities: Strengths- based research and policy (pp. 269–283). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lafferty, Susan R. 2004. “Overview of Education in Creativity and Problem-Solving in Four-Year Colleges and Universities.” Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Compiled for E. Marion Kauffman Foundation

Palmer, Parker J. 2007. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, Jossey-Bass Publishers: San Francisco, CA

Roscingo, Vincent J. and James W. Ainsworth-Darnell. “Race, Cultural Capital, and Educational Resources: Persistent Inequalities and Achievement.” Sociology of Education 72(3): 158-178.

Stanton-Salazar, R. D., & Dornbusch, S. M. 1995. “Social capital and the reproduction of inequality: The formation of informational networks among Mexican-origin high school students.” Sociology of Education, 68: 116–135.

Tomas Bustillos, Leticia. 2012. “Rethinking Remedial Education: The Role of MSIs in Serving Underprepared Students in the 21st Century” Institution for Higher Education Policy. Retrieved from

Go to the table of contents for:
Spring 2014: Reinventing Liberal Education