A Classroom Leaves the Syllabus to the Students

The scene in a cavernous building atop a forested hill here resembles a brainy, free-form summer camp, or a loft where twentysomethings meet to pursue esoteric dreams. It does not look like the usual notion of college.

A few Lehigh University students turn out prosthetic hands on a 3-D printer. Yards away, another group studies the breeding habits of endangered fish darting around wading pools, and yet another pieces together a film about a Polish poet. Most of the students here are pursuing their own projects — about 30 in all — and finding their own way, with little faculty input and with nothing more at stake than testing their own ambition, skills and curiosity.

“We got a group together and said what we wanted to do, and the administration just said, ‘O.K., ask for any equipment or advice you need,’ ” said Colleen Perry, who is studying bioengineering. “We’ve definitely made mistakes, but it’s probably the first time in our lives that we’re not getting a grade and we don’t have anyone telling us what to do.”

Lehigh first tried what it calls its mountaintop program on a smaller scale last summer, combining elements that scholars of education have advocated for years — research, work experience and independent, long-form projects. Proponents say such hands-on approaches not only reinforce what students learn, they also foster innovation, collaboration and persistence. <Read more.>

Via Richard Perez-Pena, The New York Times.