Mantella promotes conversation on changing education


GVL / Caleb Worpel

Lucas Swartzendruber, Editorial Intern

During inauguration week for Grand Valley State University, President Philomena Mantella hosted a summit at the Alumni House Nov. 13. At the summit, educators across the country convened, discussing ideas for sustaining long-term education.

“Although we as a community of universities may be competitors, unless we work as collaborators, we’re really not serving the greater good,” Mantella said. 

A video kicked off the summit which showed high school students explaining to GVSU what they wanted universities to be like in 2025. They mentioned having interests in actively learning outside classrooms. This includes solving real-world problems.

“Learning allows you to transfer your information and thought processes, no matter what the circumstances or situation you’re in,” College of Education Dean Sherril Soman said.

Soman explained learning is a lifelong process whereas training is task-oriented. In the teacher preparation process, Soman mentioned her department often tries to maintain balance between content preparation and practical experience.

Content preparation, Soman said, is the theoretical knowledge imparted upon students. Clinical and practical experiences help students learn best practices that promote strong education and learning. Soman said the balance changes over time, for the College of Education is occasionally asked to emphasize content preparation more than experiential learning and vice versa. This depends on what student learning outcomes look like.

However, Mantella said some institutions lack forms of high-impact learning. Instead, they focus on presenting information in classrooms. 

While noting some schools know they need to move toward active learning, Mantella mentioned they face a couple challenges. Some institutions struggle to gather public support for change. Other schools fear reforming their curriculum, worried college admissions will measure GPA and standardized tests instead of experience.

Mantella described the summit as emblematic of the Reaching Higher Together initiative. After all, togetherness is not limited to one form. Mantella mentioned educators coming together to discuss needs to reform education as one example. Furthermore, Soman said students can provide feedback on how educational changes affect them.

Seven speakers spoke at the summit, and Mantella described listening to them as like watching a tapestry being painted since they presented various viewpoints on education.

For example, Mantella recalled one speaker emphasized playfulness as instrumental to learning. Another speaker discussed problem-based learning, saying Millennials did not want to pick majors but solve problems. Mantella also mentioned a speaker from Google who highlighted the need for change in education, considering technological shifts and the pace of change.

Compared to the speakers, Mantella said she played a different role during the event.

“I was creating the conditions for these incredibly bright people who are all dedicated to give the best of themselves in a two-hour summit,” Mantella said. 

Soman said she enjoyed the opportunity to connect with colleagues involved in educational efforts. She mentioned a variety of people partook in the discussion. These people ranged from superintendents and principals in K-12 schools to people in partnerships with the College of Education.

Mantella said the summit serves as the beginning of an educational movement, but she noted sustained momentum will be a challenge. As educators return to their respective institutions, urgency can take over. They wonder whether enough time is there to think about other institutions, Mantella said. 

Therefore, it is important to keep the energy flowing. Soman mentioned the College of Education looks forward to continue working with Mantella on the conversation of changing education.

“Wherever there’s an opportunity for us to certainly partner and continue to have an impact on improving education, we are looking forward to participating in those activities,” Soman said.

Mantella said 100 students will participate in a design-thinking exercise about GVSU’s future. They will help redesign or enhance the university’s educational experience. The exercise is scheduled for January 2020.