<span class='p-name'>Rethinking Academic Rigor in the Higher Education Classroom</span>

Rethinking Academic Rigor in the Higher Education Classroom

Academic rigor is an ongoing process of setting conditions to promote learning. It is associated with desirable difficulties, cognitive effort, and time dedicated to academic tasks. Academic rigor fosters student learning, which is the main purpose of higher education.

Academic rigor in higher education can help students develop their learning skills, and better prepare them for their future career paths.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are some challenges and opportunities as we think about academic rigor in higher education:


  • Defining rigor. The lack of a unified definition of academic rigor creates disagreement and confusion among faculty and students.
  • Ensuring equity. Rigor should not be equated with complexity, as this can cause students from underrepresented backgrounds to be unfairly excluded from challenging courses.
  • Maintaining quality. Balance rigor and quality for optimal learning. Too much rigor can cause stress and overwhelm, while too little can cause boredom and lack of challenge.


  • Using technology to support rigor. Technology can promote learning rigor by granting students access to high-quality resources, providing personalized feedback, and aiding students in staying focused.
  • Rethinking the traditional classroom. Traditional classrooms are not always the best option for meaningful learning. Flipped and blended learning can give students more opportunities to be active in their education.
  • Building a culture of rigor. Faculty and students can foster a culture of rigor by setting high standards, providing support, and celebrating accomplishments.

Overall, there are both challenges and opportunities as we think about academic rigor in higher education. By carefully considering these issues, we can create a system of higher education that is both rigorous and equitable.

Academic Rigor in My Classes

The narrative that I included in my Tenure and Promotion files shares my most coherent thinking about academic rigor in my classes.

In this, I stated that academic rigor is woven throughout my classes in three phases. First, I set the standard for students, and involve them in the process. Second, I support rigorous achievement by equipping students through instructional and supportive methods. Third, I provide students with various opportunities to demonstrate their degree of achievement in relation to the given standard.

Academic rigor in my classes focuses on four pillars:

  • engagement of learners through inquiry-based learning,
  • encouraging collaboration across activities,
  • utilization of varied assessment strategies, and
  • scaffolding of skills as a reflective practitioner.

This adds rigor to my teaching practice as I stretch them outside of their comfort zones by having them problematize their thinking about technology, literacy, pedagogy, feedback, and assessment. I am helping them transition from student to teacher, or learner to a leader.

Cover Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

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