Moving Boldly Forward

David Richard brings a wind of change to the Hamilton Holt School.

David Richard, dean of the Hamilton Holt School. (Photo by Judy  Watson Tracy) David Richard, dean of the Hamilton Holt School. (Photo by Judy Watson Tracy)

It’s been just seven months since David Richard was named dean of the Hamilton Holt School. To say that the psychology professor hit the ground running would be a colossal understatement. Richard took the position as dean with big plans for the Holt School, including expanding majors, implementing blended learning technologies, and reviving Hamilton Holt’s model for education.

“One of the first things I did when I was appointed dean was to hit the online Rollins archive and read many of Hamilton Holt’s essays from his days as Rollins’ eighth president,” Richard said. “What fascinates me about Holt is the degree to which he understood that a true education is contextually-dependent on the quality of the relationship between the student and the professor.” Inspired by this philosophy, Richard is boldly moving the Holt School onward and upward.

What is the Hamilton Holt-inspired model of education that you are now reviving in the Hamilton Holt School?
Holt famously said that the lecture was perhaps the worst invention in the history of education.  Further, the student was ultimately responsible for his or her own learning and, although students learn at different rates, all students learn best when they have a professor who is more mentor than lecturer. In fact, Holt would probably argue that the term “professor” is not even appropriate—the best learning takes place when the professor is a mentor or philosophical guide.

Many of us in the liberal arts have become disenchanted with higher education models that seem to think being a large institution is, de facto, an indicator of educational quality. In fact, we would contend quite the opposite—it becomes more difficult to foster the kinds of relationships that Holt described when class sizes are large.  I’m not sure how listening to a lecture in a classroom filled with 300 people is really any different than watching it at home on YouTube.  As one of my colleagues observed recently, if learning best occurred in a lecture hall filled with 300 students, we’d be doing it.

Certainly, some students can learn in that kind of environment, but it’s a very passive and impersonal approach to education.  And, given the time and financial investment students are making, the last thing their education should be is impersonal. Nothing beats the give-and-take that occurs when two prepared minds are engaged in a topic.  Have at it, let the best ideas win, and enjoy the privilege of actively engaging in that process. That’s the Holt School.

What inspired you to place an emphasis on lifelong learning, not just degree pursuits, at the Hamilton Holt School?
There were several sources of inspiration.  First, the mission statement for the Holt School emphasizes community outreach as a core mission of the evening program.  Although we saw the Holt School reaching out to the community through degree-seeking programs, a complete fulfillment of our community outreach mission needed to be addressed. A lifelong learning perspective refocuses the Holt School to the entire community and asks what role the Holt School can play, not just for our current students, but for older adults, pre-collegiate teens, Rollins alums, and so forth.  We would like the Holt School to be the first choice for all adult learners in the local area, not just for degree-seeking students. To that end, the lifelong learning perspective opens up new possibilities in terms of focal certification programming and enrichment programming for older adults. 

"Nothing beats the give-and-take that occurs when two prepared minds are engaged in a topic," Richard said. "Have at it, let the best ideas win, and enjoy the very privilege of that process. That’s the Holt School."

These programs can be realized in collaborative partnerships. For example, we’re working with the Winter Park Health Foundation to create innovative programming for seniors. Beyond educational programming, we’re also focusing our attention on the role of the school within the community and how the Holt School might engage local businesses on Park Avenue. We’re in the initial stages of creating a Holt Booster’s Club, the purpose of which is to facilitate relationships between local businesses, our alums, our students, and our school.  We’re serious about building a network of contacts for our student body and providing our students with opportunities that they cannot get elsewhere.

Evening students are now able to do 50 percent of their coursework online. Why do you think an online component is important for today's students?
I should probably clarify that, at this point in time, none of the classes using Canvas have moved to a model in which 50 percent of their assigned class ‘seat time’ is reassigned to an online format. What we’re doing right now is training several faculty with a grant we were awarded by the Associated Colleges of the South to learn about blended learning and to develop a couple of weeks’ worth of material that could be delivered via Canvas to students next semester. We’re going to assess reactions and learn as much as we can about how blended learning works in the liberal arts context.

That being said, we know that many of our adult evening students desire and would respond well to courses offered in a blended learning format that reduced in-class seat time. Adult learners are different from traditional day school students—they often work full-time, have families, or other personal commitments that require time off-campus, and are more interested in self-directed and self-paced learning that is asynchronous and done on their own time. Executed well, learning that blends face-to-face instruction with online components can be extremely effective.

A 2008 U.S. Department of Education review of the research literature found that students actually achieved better learning outcomes in the blended learning courses than in traditional face-to-face courses. This does not mean the Holt School will become a fully online school—that’s just not who we are. What it does mean, however, is that we should seriously consider adopting technologies when it makes sense and we shouldn’t be afraid to do that. I’m confident that Hamilton Holt would look at blended learning as being the 21st-century solution for his mentoring model of education. We just need to make sure it is done correctly.

How would you best summarize the direction of the Holt School?  What should we expect to see in the future?
In addition to exploring blended learning and offering more classes in a blended format, it is important that we expand our portfolio of majors and graduate programs so they meet the needs of our community. We’re not going to have bigger classes, just a greater selection of majors, minors, and graduate programs. We’ve already received approval for a minor in jewish studies and we’re looking at both graduate and undergraduate programming in health-related studies.

With the development of Medical City and the thousands of jobs that will be available there, it only makes sense that Rollins is involved, in some capacity, in educating future leaders in the health care industry using a liberal arts model.  We’ve developed some ideas in this regard, and we’re in the initial stages of working with the faculty to process several options. We’ve also submitted a grant for $250,000 to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations to create a Health Leadership Institute. Hopefully, we’ll be successful on all fronts.  But you’ll never know if you don’t try.

What’s the best advice you could give a Holt student. 
Put your cell phone away. Be actively engaged in your education, value what is in front of you – your professors, your fellow students, this beautiful campus, the process of learning. Don’t let small distractions interfere with the important task at hand. Beyond that, enjoy living the life of the mind. It is a privilege that we should never take for granted.