Faculty Collaborative LEAP Challenge and Signature Work
Liberal Education and America’s Promise - LEAP
Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) is a national campaign to promote twenty-first century liberal education, initiated in 2005 by AAC&U. The initiative promotes liberal education as both an economic and civic necessity.
With a focus on equity, LEAP encourages that all college and university students be given a liberal education, combining broad knowledge and in-depth field expertise to prepare students “to deal with complexity, diversity, and change” (What is a 21st Century Liberal Education?). The goal is to develop and apply knowledge and practical skills in real world settings.
According to one AAC&U summary (http://www.aacu.org/leap):
LEAP embraces a 21st-Century Definition of Liberal Education and promotes:
- Essential Learning Outcomes—as a guiding vision and national benchmarks for college learning and liberal education in the 21st century
- Principles of Excellence—offering both challenging standards and flexible guidance for an era of educational reform and renewal.
- High-Impact Educational Practices—that help students achieve essential learning outcomes
- Authentic Assessments—probing whether students can apply their learning to complex problems and real-world challenges
- Inclusive Excellence—to ensure that every student gets the benefits of an engaged and practical liberal education.
After ten years developing LEAP, AAC&U issued the LEAP Challenge, calling on colleges and universities to provide all students “‘Signature Work’—a project related to a problem important to the student and to society.” Signature work projects promote inquiry, analysis and student reflection with visible results and can take many forms (including research, community based projects and collaborative work).
The LEAP Challenge promotes the “essential learning outcomes” by using “high impact practices” and assessment, (including VALUE assessment rubrics) for all students. The challenge builds on research suggesting future employment will require adapting to complex new environments, as well as research indicating that high impact practices are related with improved college persistence and learning 21st-century skills. For example, in Assessing Underserved Students Engagement in High-Impact Practices Finley and McNair found that participating in high impact practices improved students’ perceptions of learning (http://www.aacu.org/assessinghips/report).
The LEAP Challenge: Education for a World of Unscripted Problems outlines the value of signature work and the guiding principles (http://www.aacu.org/leap/challenge). Furthermore, the document illustrates guided student pathways and several campus level programs ranging from course sequences to eportfolios.
The LEAP Challenge goal is that every student, regardless of their background or major, is given opportunities for signature work in order to prepare students to apply inquiry and knowledge to face complex problems. In short, signature work should become “essential and expected rather than available and optional” (http://www.aacu.org/signaturework).
The LEAP Challenge emphasizes equity by championing signature work for all students, rather than for a select few. In fact, Finley and McNair point to evidence of “equity effects” and advocate for rigorous inquiry into high impact practices, especially for underserved students. Consequently, Finley and McNair include The Center for Urban Education’s “Assessing Equity in High Impact Practice Toolkit” to facilitate campus and practitioner evaluation and program improvement (http://www.aacu.org/assessinghips/report).
The LEAP Challenge offers a promising opportunity to promote liberal education and respond to employer demands. The challenge responds to emerging concerns about the traditional focus on unit accumulation. Signature work applies analysis and inquiry to a project that is meaningful to the student, fostering deeper learning and independence while preparing students for complex environments.