July 29, 2019

Professor Howard Gardner's Latest Research at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Professor Howard Gardner and colleague Wendy Fischman 

Holly Bull, President of the Center for Interim Programs, was fortunate enough to attend one of Howard Gardner's classes during her graduate work at Harvard Graduate School of Education and recently came across some of his latest research. When Gardner began this research in 2012 his intention was to review what he and his team believed "Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century" to be. As a champion of the liberal arts who believed his vision of a liberal arts education was widely shared, he noticed that the common view of education had begun to shift to a more career focused direction.  It was this shift which led him to research the views of higher education and the concerns among students and their aims.

As the research progressed, he found surprisingly convergent concerns among students at different types of schools. And he found that these views were not at all aligned with his own understanding of what a liberal-arts education meant. The students thought of "liberal" in a political sense to mean “anything goes” or soft courses they had to take for their degree, and not necessarily positive. Further, the focus of much of the students' concerns in their higher education appeared to be "belonging" and "mental health".

Based on students’ own narratives about the reasons they were attending college, Gardner and his team came up with four types of undergraduates:
  1. Inertial (autopilot mode from high school to college)
  2. Transactional (you do what you have to to get a degree and then on to work or graduate school)
  3. Exploratory (you go to college for a one-time opportunity to try something new or to "dabble" in a new field)
  4. Transformational (you go to college to examine your fundamental beliefs and values)
What we witness at Interim with our gap year students, is an immediate and profound shift in Inertial students in particular who cannot rely on autopilot when they have to think more consciously about their interests and plan what they want to do during their gap year. For Transactional students, the gap year can clarify a college major and potential work or graduate focus. For Exploratory students, a gap year offers a unique opportunity and far wider hands-on scope to try something new or "dabble" in a new field. And for Transformational students, a gap year away from that which has defined them thus far - family, friends, culture - is an ideal arena in which to discover and review fundamental beliefs and values. Each type of undergraduate outlined by Gardner and his research team, can benefit immensely from what a gap year has to offer.

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