Undergraduate education task force receives campus feedback
November 2, 2010Tweet
The University Task Force on Undergraduate Education for the Digital Generation, charged with looking back at past initiatives to bolster undergraduate education as well as looking to the future to establish new ones, held two open sessions last week to seek input from the campus on 10 key ideas.
Over the past year, the task force spoke with a variety of groups, looked at survey data and looked at predictions of educational, technology and student demographic trends, said Donald Loewen, task force chair as well as vice provost for undergraduate education and associate professor and chair of German and Russian studies.
“Emerging from that, we looked for the most frequently recurring themes, ideas and issues and developed this list,” he said. “The ideas here are not fully fleshed out because we want to know what the entire campus community thinks of them; which are the most important, which can you support and where are the potential problems with implementation?
“What we have here are not action plans. We have ideas that need to be shaped,” Loewen said. “We’re listening to the campus to hear what we’re doing well and what we’re not doing well. We’re also interested in hearing about best practices and where we should be going in undergraduate education broadly speaking.”
About 30 people, including a number of task force members, attended the two sessions; each discussion took the group through the 10 key ideas, beginning with advising and mentoring.
Common themes emerged in both sessions. One: Though there is a great deal of advising and mentoring happening on campus, many students don’t take advantage of advising or mentoring services that are already available.
“There’s a lot of assistance available,” said Lawrence Greenfield, director of advising for Harpur College, “but one of the challenges we face is how to deliver the structure. There are certain things a Discovery Advisor can do that an academic advisor or department can’t do, and vice versa. If we had some kind of flow or structure, it would be more efficient.”
Susan Wolcott, chair of the Department of Economics, said it would be great to have one person to talk to.
“In Watson and the School of Management, students are linked to a faculty advisor from day one,” she said.
Others mentioned more online advising, additional learning communities and following a drop-in model for advising, rather than setting appointments. However, Randy McGuire cautioned that students have to take an active role as well.
“Students don’t come to office hours,” he said. “If you want students to get more advising, they need to take advantage of what’s already available to them.”
As a student representative on the task force, Heather Skolnick sees both sides of the advising issue. “It depends on the student,” she said. Though she knows many “go-getters” like herself who take advantage of the many advising opportunities on campus, she knows there will always be students who seek last-minute advice before registering for classes or making other big decisions.
Another common theme: There are many ways to engage students, such as through new-student courses for first-semester students and providing broader access to research, scholarship, creative work experiences, service learning and experiential education, but resources are lacking. “Who would be teaching these?” asked Nancy Paul, director of the Career Development Center. “Part of the challenge is incentives to teach.”
“The new Harpur 101 model is exciting,” said Elizabeth Carter, executive director of student services. “It’s 20 students with a faculty member once a week and also with a Student Affairs professional once a week.”
Many of the key ideas are interrelated or can be combined, noted Suronda Gonzalez, director of the Global Studies minor and Languages Across the Curriculum. Loewen agreed. “These are not isolated ideas,” he said. “We see it as an integrated list.”
Gonzalez encouraged a united effort to implement the key ideas, in particular globalization, by utilizing the strengths of both faculty and staff. “Staff understand what it’s about and we all have a responsibility as a campus to carry internationalization throughout. There are latent resources we aren’t tapping.”
Loewen said that input has been solicited from faculty, staff and students via a Web survey. “Over 1,600 student responses have been received so far,” he said. The task force also held a meeting with all undergraduate advisors.
The task force will now review the feedback from last week’s sessions and the surveys and compile its recommendations, outlining what it believes are the most important ideas to pursue, Loewen said. He expects the final report to be submitted in January 2011.