Education Is a Team Sport

May 27, 2020
By Caroline Levander and Peter Decherney

Students aren’t educated entirely by their professors. They are supported by teams who look out for their physical and mental health, offer subject tutoring and workshops in organizational skills, provide career services and mindfulness instruction, keep research labs safe and open, help students navigate the library and connect with alumni mentors, remain available during crises and emergencies, and create spaces for students to talk with peers who share their backgrounds, challenges and interests. And this is a suggestive rather than comprehensive list of the kinds of support networks that collectively make up the robust infrastructure that guides students while they are on campus.

Clearly it takes a village to ensure academic success, and this village is a community of diverse and talented individuals trained in the skills that make class time the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to university education. The successful transfer of knowledge, the stimulation of creative thinking and the development of critical insights all rest on the preparation, organization and stability that this small army of specialists provide. When professors walk into classrooms, they assume the lights will be on, the electronic podiums will work and, not least of all, the students will be ready to learn. Indeed, the success of their educational performance depends on these minimal conditions being met. Not surprisingly, it takes a large and sophisticated network to make this happen.

Some of the unsung university heroes of the COVID-19 crisis are the staff members who helped students navigate the logistical complications and emotional trauma of the pandemic. They made sure that students didn’t miss deadlines and that they had internet access while they struggled to finish semesters unexpectedly delivered online. IT crews rush shipped Wi-Fi hotspot devices to students suddenly attending classes from their parents’ kitchen tables on remote farms or in otherwise internet-free homes. Recreational center staff scrambled to develop online yoga and wellness courses in time to help students navigate end-of-semester stress. Global support services staff helped international students stranded due to border closings remain safely on otherwise abandoned campuses. And these teams have been problem solving around the clock since mid-March with no end in sight.

There is nothing new in recognizing that education involves more than a simple meeting of the minds. Collective wisdom tells us that a healthy body leads to a healthy mind and that early to bed and early to rise makes us healthy, wealthy and wise. The ancient Greeks, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Emile Durkheim, among many others, promoted versions of holistic education, the theory that academic knowledge is only a part of educating the whole person. Often overlapping with these theories, modern student services developed slowly out of the Oxbridge tradition of educating well-rounded and informed citizens. And since World War II, student services have played a key role in the expansion of higher education beyond a privileged few, helping students navigate university life.

To read the rest of the article, please go to Inside Higher Ed