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CATEGORIES: Foundation Courses

What is the Purpose of a University?

Cornell Brellethin

As a reflective activity for the first unit of ENGL 150, Cornell Brellenthin has composed a lesson plan that asks students to consider the purpose of universities. This think-group-share activity taps into the four C’s of a good lesson plan: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication.  Not only do students get an early taste of how the course will integrate these skills, but the content also helps them to start thinking about how they might shape their own education.

Learning Objectives:  Students will identify the purpose/s of the university and construct a personalized educational agenda.

Instructional Materials: Projector to display free-write prompt; paper or electronic journals; a Canvas assignment space to credit points for student “take-away” comments.


  1. The following free-write prompt is projected:

Traditionally, the purpose of a “university” was NOT to prepare you for a job.  Since this was not the initial intent of the university, what might have been its original aim?  Do you think today’s modern universities still adhere to or embrace this primary objective, or have they abandoned it?

  1. Students respond by freewriting in their journals. (~5 mins)
  2. Direct students to form small groups and share their ideas to reach a consensus on what they believe the original aim of the university might have been, what it is now, and what they would like it to be. (~15 mins)
  3. A representative from each group reports to the whole class on the conclusion of their discussion. (~10 mins)
  4. Students then open the Canvas ‘’take-away” assignment text box to jot down ways they might personalize their educational expectations and experiences. (~5 mins)
  5. Instructor may conclude by reminding students that they can take agency for developing their own “literacy” and direct them to apply their new sense of “the university” to the current unit and their progression through ENGL 150 (~5 mins)