Professor of Cognition and Education Laura Wenk Contributes to Book on Innovative Education
Laura Wenk, director of assessment and professor of cognition and education, contributed two chapters to the recently published book, The Impacts of Innovative Institutions in Higher Education, which provides a historical view from the progressive era to present day.
The book also contains strategies for faculty development, assessment, and testing, as well as studies and interviews with former and current students, educators, and administrators.
The thesis of the collection, which emerged from discussions between a number of leaders at liberal arts colleges, is that “higher education needs innovative institutions founded in deep philosophical commitments. Such institutions help ensure that key questions about the purpose and forms of education remain alive, provide creative soil for growing new ideas, and equip students with an enhanced range of options for meaningful educational experiences.”
In the chapter, “Empowering Students Through Evaluation: Over 50 Years Without Grades at Hampshire College,” Wenk thoroughly examines our half-century history of narrative evaluations, noted as being particularly relevant given the increasing popularity of the “ungrading” movement in education. She describes our goals as “totally dependent on centering student learning and creating an environment in which students are free to explore, try out new ideas, and not be afraid to take risks.” Wenk continues, “… we have learned that narrative evaluations coupled with self-evaluation and reflective portfolio-building develop students’ integrative thinking and goal-setting in sophisticated ways.”
Wenk also discusses the distinct impact of mentorship at a number of schools, including Hampshire, in “The Role of Mentoring in Innovative Progressive Education.” Referencing the book that inspired Hampshire’s design, The Making of a College, by former presidents Franklin Patterson and Charles Longsworth, she notes their “expressed intention of educating individuals to be creative and independent thinkers who find their own purpose.” She distinguishes between our understanding of the role of faculty “advisor” — most often giving approval for course registration, study abroad, etc. — versus that of faculty “mentor” — deeply engaging with students’ questions and individual goals about their intellectual lives.
In addition to her teaching, Wenk oversees an endowed research project on the impact of a Hampshire education.
Available to the Hampshire community through the Harold F. Johnson library, The Impacts of Innovative Institutions in Higher Education was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2023. Both hardcover and electronic editions are available for individuals to purchase at the publisher's site.