There is a large population of people who are not a good fit for the current model of higher education. People with:
- low or no financial means,
- time restraints (such as with parents and care-givers),
- full-time and/or multiple jobs, and
- different learning styles
as well as:
- career changers,
- artists, and
- a multitude of other talented people who simply want to learn.
The education industry designates individuals who don’t fit into the traditional learning model as “non-traditional students” – a group that is estimated to be approximately 73% of all learners1. This group of people would benefit from a program that seeks to help each student identify what they most want to accomplish in life at any particular time and helps them gain the skills they need in order to achieve this. The Sphere College Program is intended to accomplish exactly this.
Three Phases for a Multi-faceted Learning Experience
The Sphere Program proceeds in three phases, all of which include mentorship.
In Phase One, entitled “Self and Other,” students embark upon a journey to acquire a deeper understanding of oneself in relation to the world around them. The purpose of this phase is to answer the question: “What is it that I wish to accomplish in my life in this current phase?” During this stage, a student works with one of Sphere’s mentors to gain a deeper understanding of the “what” and the “whys” associated with their intentions and inclinations as well as the impact in their personal world and the community at large. Phase One can include assessments, personal reflection through journaling and group mentoring, communications courses, exploration of great works of literature and philosophy, and key studies in the arts, sciences and humanities – all of which are related to contemporary issues and the students’ own personal experiences. In this phase, students seek to identify the direction of their future studies.
Phase Two is “Tool Acquisition,” and involves the attainment of interdisciplinary knowledge and skills that support the implementation of the student’s goals identified in Phase One. In this phase, mentors work with students to create a customized curriculum that may include any or all of the following: coursework at Sphere and other teaching institutions and organizations in the community, online learning, individual and group projects, textbook learning, and internships. During this phase, students work toward competency in the skills identified as necessary to support their goals.
In Phase Three – the “Action” Phase of the program – student draw upon their continually-developing knowledge to put their passion into action by taking on a project that is a good fit for the student. Projects are designed and overseen by a Sphere mentor; they can be undertaken individually or by a group of students, and can be personal or public in nature. The idea of Phase Three is to demonstrate the student’s competency in a particular field or area of interest.
Upon completion of all three Phases, a student may accomplish a Sphere College Project Certificate, which is a designation of competency in their chosen area(s).
This article in the Chronicle of Higher Education from May 2011 does a good job of describing our initiative.
Moving along the Spectrum of Learning
We anticipate that as a student’s awareness grows the activities of the phases may overlap; for example, students may very well take on individual projects in phases one and two, continue the process of self-discovery in phases two and three, and engage in the acquisition of specific knowledge and skills in phases one and three. Movement between phases, however, will be determined by the student’s ability to demonstrate that they are prepared to move to the next phase. The student will employ the following questions in making this determination:
Movement from Phase 1 to 2: Do I know enough about myself and what I wish to accomplish to enable me to construct an individualized curriculum?
Movement from Phase 2 to 3: Have I gathered the necessary interdisciplinary tools to be successful with a project, and do I know what that project will be?
Phase 3 to Certification: Have I successfully completed my project?
Specific aspects of the Program will change according to the changing social and cultural environment in which the Program is being implemented.
THE SPHERE COLLEGE PROJECT IS A CERTIFICATE-GRANTING ORGANIZATION, NOT A DEGREE-GRANTING ORGANIZATION.
1 Choy, Susan. 2002. Findings from the Condition of Education 2002: Nontraditional Undergraduates. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/2002012.pdf