The Bell Tower and Beyond
Dr Birgitte Malm, Associate Professor at Malmö University spent the Fall term 2009 at Furman University, USA on the STINT Excellence in Teaching Programme. STINT has since some years established co-operation with American higher education institutions, dedicated to Liberal Education.
The Bell Tower and Beyond: Reflections on Learning and Living
Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina is a selective, independent, co-educational liberal arts college of 2600 students located on a 750-acre campus at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Furman is nationally acclaimed for its academic excellence, its Engaged Learning program, its Division 1 athletics and its campus beauty. Furman campus, considered one of the most beautiful in the nation, has more than 30 major buildings, a 30-acre lake, a formal rose garden and a golf course. The student-to-faculty ratio is 11:1, and the average class size is sixteen. The liberal arts college experience is characterized by three main aspects: a smaller size, allowing more individual attention to be given to each student; students live and learn away from home; and a typically two-year exploration of the liberal arts or general knowledge before declaring a major.
“The Bell Tower and Beyond: Reflections on Learning and Living” is the title of a book written by David Emory Shi, current (outgoing) President of Furman University. In the preface he writes: “Liberal learning at its best is a collective experience. It requires space and time to be together, to share knowledge, and to nurture common values amid striking differences of background, temperament, and custom”.
I had the privilege of spending the Fall term of 2009 at Furman University’s Department of Education. The magnificent surroundings and inspirational learning environment intensified the positive experiences I shared with faculty, students and staff. The Teacher Education program is anchored in the University’s commitment to the Liberal Arts, preparing teachers and administrators to be scholars and leaders, and calling for collaborative, interdependent efforts throughout the academic learning community.
The many activities I participated in, included seminars, a workshop, a student showcase, open university fora, a press conference, classroom observations, school visits, following the process and development of a number of students during their teaching internship, partaking of beginner teachers’ reflections on teaching and learning, team meetings, and other meetings (faculty, department, curriculum committee, policies and procedures committee). I also gave a number of individual lectures to students on all levels, and to teachers. I participated in social events (e.g. a luncheon with international students) and extra-curricular activities (e.g. a jazz concert, an American football match). I pursued my own research, conducting interviews with nineteen faculty members and leaders on the nature and implications of Liberal Arts Education. Important questions I bring back with me are: How do liberal arts address the issues of competences needed by contemporary and future teachers? How do training programs within liberal arts prepare teachers for these challenges? Can Swedish teacher education in any way benefit from incorporating a liberal arts approach? These are issues I intend researching and developing further at Malmö University’s School of Teacher Education.
At a meeting with the 2009 “Stintonians” in Northampton, Massachusetts, Sheldon Rothblatt said two fundamental things: “Small beginnings are done individually …” and “It’s the personal that makes it possible …” My STINT experience has been an amazing and inspirational journey where knowledge and ideas, shared with some remarkable individuals in a beautiful and unique academic setting, has given me many friends and future associates. New (academic) colleagues and good (personal) friends, with whom I will continue to share ideas and hopefully meet again. Knowledge shared across cultures can have a profound effect on individual lives and professional development. At best it enriches and benefits us all.
Birgitte Malm, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Education