Speaking of Education

The old adage that "the only constant in life is change" seems an appropriate lead-in to my thoughts this month, as I reflect on the mission of APA's Education Directorate and its many, diverse activities. Our mission, put simply, is "to advance education and training in psychology as well as the application of psychology to education." To fulfill this mission, our efforts are focused on three broad goals:

  • Enhancing the quality of teaching and learning outcomes at all levels of education and training.

  • Meeting the demands of changing societal needs in a multicultural society through education and training.

  • Increasing the level and availability of financial and public-policy support for education and training.

Change is explicit or implicit in each of these goals.

Intrinsically, change is neither favorable nor unfavorable, of course. Rather, as with beauty, its value is in the eyes of the beholder or, in other words, contextual. In the context of education, the Education Directorate and Board of Educational Affairs strive to meet the goals of their mission through collaboration with other psychologists representing groups and organizations within and outside APA.

In addition to these partnerships, we also collaborate with national associations of educators quite outside the discipline of psychology, as well as with government agencies whose mission is likewise to advance education in our nation.

What is common among these diverse types and levels of partnership? I would have to say that it is the theme of "change." Examples of the generic questions raised in these partnerships might be:

  • How are our education and training institutions and programs affected by changes in, among other environmental forces, demographics, the economy and job markets, the changing nature of work, and technology?

  • How might we restructure our education and training programs in psychology to facilitate more effective outcomes for our graduates at various levels of education in terms of their employment and lifelong learning requirements?

  • How might we apply our discipline of psychology in collaboration with others to facilitate more effective education and training outcomes responsive to the preceding types of change in the environment?

As I review the many initiatives in which the Education Directorate has been and remains involved, each one is related in some way to one or more of these questions, and much of the work being done is not visible to most of the APA membership.

In this context, it is frustrating to hear, as I do on occasion from colleagues or others, that our education and training institutions and programs are "frozen in time," teaching what was in vogue 25 years ago and out of touch with the realities of society.

While there may indeed be occasional elements of anachronistic thinking in some of our education and training institutions and programs, I venture to say that in general this rhetoric is less valid than those outside the education community might think. The public is exposed quite often to issues of change or the need for change in our K-12 education institutions. The public is less aware, however, of the significant changes that have occurred and continue to evolve in our nation's colleges and universities at the undergraduate, graduate and even postgraduate levels. The Education Directorate partnerships are involved at all of these levels of education.

Within the past year, the Board of Educational Affairs established an annual award for innovation in graduate and postdoctoral education, a program it is administering in partnership with the Council of Graduate Departments in Psychology. It also established at the graduate and postdoctoral levels of education a small grants program to encourage conferences or workshops related to needs for change in education and training, much as it has done for some years at the undergraduate level.

At the directorate's 2003 Education Leadership Conference in September, participants in a workgroup on graduate education developed a framework from which graduate departments of psychology might conduct a self-study related to their mission and goals on the ways in which they model and facilitate the development of their students in various facets of scholarship--the idea being to encourage professional reflection among faculty and graduate students about ways in which their departments might enhance the quality of graduate education.

Each of the preceding initiatives is about change. It is not a coincidence that the American Association of Higher Education has as its flagship bimonthly publication Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. Change for the enhancement of quality in education is what we are about in education.

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