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'Transforming Students' explores how students change in college

Elon University professors Charity Johansson and Peter Felten have co-authored a book that explains how colleges everywhere can better help students learn and develop through meaningful experiences both on and off campus.

Elon University professors Charity Johansson and Peter Felten

College students change every day. They uncover new viewpoints, learn new skills, face obstacles in and out of the classroom, or encounter people with different perspectives on the world. Often, however, change is fleeting.

How can a college’s faculty and staff help student make meaningful, lasting change in students' learning and in their lives? A book published this spring by Johns Hopkins University Press provides several answers.

“Transforming Students: Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education” by Charity Johansson and Peter Felten integrates research on higher education and scores of interviews with Elon University students, faculty, and staff to identify a process of transformational learning in college.

Students tend to move through a somewhat predictable, although not strictly linear progression, from disruption, to reflective analysis, verification, and confirmation. The book uses examples from Elon and elsewhere to illustrate and elaborate on this process.

Johansson and Felten point out that transformation isn’t something that should be considered “fixing” students. Transformation teaches a process that helps people recognize their own possible discomfort in new experiences or with new knowledge, to identify and acknowledge the source of that discomfort, and then to use this learning to shape what they know and how they act in the future. This approach emphasizes that action is necessary for change to be lasting and meaningful.

The book uses stories from members of the Elon community, as well as exemplary programs from other institutions, to explore how students move through this process. The path is not always easy, nor is transformation an inevitable result of even well-designed curricula and programs. Johansson and Felten spend nearly as much time reflecting on failures and difficulties as they do illustrating successes.

“Transforming Students” already has garnered positive reviews by scholars including George Kuh, Sharon Daloz Parks, and John Gardner. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College, calls this a “’must read’” book everyone in higher education.

Johansson joined the Elon faculty in 1999 and works as a physical therapist with more than 30 years of experience as an educator and practitioner in the field of healthcare.  A professor of physical therapy in the university’s School of Health Sciences and a certified geriatric clinical specialist, “Transforming Students” is Johansson’s second co-authored book.

Felten joined the Elon faculty in 2005 and serves the university as assistant provost for teaching and learning, executive director of the Center for Engaged Learning and the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, and professor of history. “Transforming Students” is the third book Felten has co-authored at Elon.

Eric Townsend,
5/8/2014 9:10 AM