About Our Values

Since the start of the OLI, each cohort of faculty have spent a portion of their time on identifying and defining the values that they hold most dear as professors in the liberal arts & sciences tradition. The course planning document, which they develop as a part of the OLI program derives from their personally identified values, and there is a programmatic expectation that these values are woven into the development of the course.

Rather than forcing each new cohort to fit itself into the value definitions that have come before, we encourage them to readdress the value list by expanding upon it with new values and/or further refining the definitions of older ones. Below, you can find a list of the values identified in each of the program’s three years.

Year One Values

Community: Within a liberal arts institution, we believe that learning needs to occur as a social activity and that students should develop a strong sense of belonging to a networked learning community. Learning communities serve many important purposes: They support and sustain the work of individual learners; they help to frame the work of individuals within larger intellectual conversations; and they offer the possibility of building something greater through collaboration.

Interactivity: One of the signal characteristics of the quality liberal arts experience is small class size, but what really matters to student learning is not the class size per se, but what the small class size enables: a high degree of interaction between student and instructor, as well as between the student and other students. Sometimes characterized as “high-touch,” this interaction leads to highly personalized instruction, where students are treated as individuals rather than part of a collective who sink or swim largely on their own efforts.

Active Learning: Another characteristic of quality liberal education is an emphasis on active, rather than passive pedagogy, including intensive use of writing and speech, as both tools of analysis and also communication. Active learning pedagogies leads to a focus on critical thinking rather than merely memorization. Another example is activities which engender genuine inquiry by students into real issues/problems, problems that matter to people outside the classroom, as well as exploring and being challenged by diverse perspectives.

Reflection: Part of the justification for the study of humanities in liberal education is that such study addresses the human yearning for meaning. Such reflection is not limited, though, to the humanities. “What does it mean?” is an important means of transforming learning in the natural and social sciences from passive to active, from memorization to deeper understanding.

Self-Directed Learning: The Liberal Arts learner is expected to take ownership for her learning experiences. While faculty play a critical role in framing, guiding, and, sometimes, directing the path of these experiences, ultimately the learner must be able to rely on herself to make intellectual choices. These skills lay the foundation for life-long, adaptive learning as well as cultivating intellectual curiosity, creativity, flexibility, and self-discipline.

Year Two Values

Exposure to New Ideas: A Liberal Arts education offers opportunities for the learner to discover traditions of thought and inquiry to which he/she had not formerly been exposed and to explore the value of the thoughts and traditions of others.  Pushing the boundaries of one’s comfort zone to seek deep understanding of others’ points of view is preliminary to any mode of conflict resolution.

Critical Thinking/”Problematizing”: By developing a critical lens through which to consider the ideas presented inside the classroom, students learn to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of competing positions. Liberal arts educators must equip students with the ability to identify the premises and underlying assumptions of claims to then identify where potential weakness and strengths exist.

Service:  There is no higher intention than the intention to serve others’ highest good.  The tradition of Liberal Arts going all the way back to Plato begins with this inquiry: “What is the highest good and how can we know it and pursue it?”  What the highest good is is not always easy to determine, and determining the highest good through ethical, epistemological ,and political inquiry should be the fertile ground from which actions of service grow.  A liberal arts education helps learners grow this process of inquiry from simplistic to more complex and sophisticated forms of reasoning.

Empowerment and Transformation: In a liberal arts environment, empowerment and transformation should be both inward- and outward-facing. They must refer to more than a change in knowledge measured by quantitative content.  Rather, a broadening of mind, an openness to new paradigms, a growing comfort with widely applicable skills of analysis, interpretation, communication are at the heart of the transformation wrought by a liberal arts education.  But, both during the school years and beyond, empowerment and transformation should be about more than individual change or self-improvement.  Students invested and galvanized by a liberal arts education should be encouraged to model, foster, apply, and share their emergent cognitive, ethical, appreciative, and other aptitudes in the academic community and the broader world.

Life learning/Learning into life/Life-Long Learning: A liberal arts education should catalyze the dissolution of boundaries between classes and leisure, between assignments and inquiry, between college and “real life,” between teachers and learners.  It should encourage scholarship and creativity as patterns of practice rather than graded performance.  It should help students forge meaningful connections between academic subjects and their contemporary experiences and world.  It should question the very concept of being a “senior” in education and instead nurture a concept of learning that is illimitable and lifelong.

Year Three Values

Exploration of New Ideas: Students explore the interconnectedness of a broad spectrum of disciplines and traditions of thought and inquiry. They are exposed to and analyze global ideas and events from the past and present in the form of deep reading, research, and writing. They learn to identify and understand forces larger than themselves that shape the world community. Through this exposure to new ideas, students will discover what ideas and formats they find most powerful so that they can draw on this knowledge to form a conceptual framework through which they view the world.

Enhanced Cognition through the Experience of Ideals: One of the major benefits of studying the liberal arts, including art, literature, music, dance, and theatre, is that these disciplines have a profoundly beneficial, if rarely discussed, positive impact on student’s ability to understand the world. Art experiences augment cognitive functioning in untold ways. Another benefit of studying works of art is that individuals are not only introduced to visions of the way things should be/ought to be/could be but also given the actual experience of these ideals as already achieved. The psychological experience of embodied ideals provides individuals with a motivational resource that can be called upon to power the ongoing process of attaining envisioned goals existentially. Thus art functions not only to enhance cognitive function, making students more intellectually capable, but also serves a normative function, helps to define and clarify goals and provide the experience of goals and values realized in tangible form.

Creative Thinking: Students should interact with the material in ways that are unexpected or unpredictable, and that will vary depending on the student. Rather than simply receiving information, students must think critically about it and apply knowledge in creative ways; this might include using technology, writing, speech, or research in new and innovative ways. Thinking about the types of questions that are important in the world, what types of evidence are appropriate for answering that question, and learning to use that evidence in a rigorous way is a part of creative thinking. Often this path is not clear and easy, and we have to go beyond direct evidence to find indirect ways of answering questions. Looking beyond the traditional ways we answer questions and solve problems to find the best possible evidence can help lead to a more informed public and better solutions to the problems facing society and the greater global community.

Development of Hard Skills: It is hard to imagine one being able to objectively reason and fully explore our thoughts and ideas without having developed the ability to insightfully interpret the writings of others, to effectively communicate through writing and to work with numbers and quantitative information. The hard skills enable one to get beyond the purely cerebral part of thinking and reasoning. They are at the root of the basic talents we all want to develop as educated individuals. As educators, we should all be in the business of developing the hard skills of our students.

Understanding the Natural World & Scientific Method: As biological organisms, everything we do is in large part a function of our biological nature. Our innate curiosity, the way we think, our personalities, our emotions, what stimulates our minds, our raw abilities, the way we interact with each other, the way we impact our environment – all are determined to a significant extent by our biological nature. Moreover, for individuals to freely and independently participate in civic life, each of us must be able to freely, objectively and skillfully wrestle with important global questions that involve an understanding of the natural world, such as biological extinction, changes in the environmental, the development of global food sources, pandemics, development of biological weapons, etc.. This requires, among other things, an understanding of the scientific principles that govern the natural world and an ability to critically evaluate scientific evidence.