Undergraduate StudiesPage address: https://www.mnsu.edu/planning/priorities/archives/reports/priority5.html
Task Force on Academic Excellence in Undergraduate Studies Report to the University Community
Members of the Task Force:
Marie Pomije, Dan Cronn-Mills, Ron Nickerson, Gretta Handke, Dick Liebendorfer, Mahbubur Syed, Scott Olson, Warren Sandmann, Stewart Ross, Tracy Pellett, Lynn Akey, Jasper Hunt, Gael Mericle, Sandra Jessen, Margaret Hesser, Jen Jacobs, Rayla Allison, Craig Matarrese, Hal Walberg, Nina LeNoir, Ron Browne, Michael Bentley, Rajiv Kapadia, John Thoemke, Don Friend, Bill Bessler, Diane Richards, Carrie Finn, Michael Walsh.
Original Charge to the Task Force
Minnesota State University, Mankato will continue to assess and improve academic programs, and uphold and strengthen standards for academic achievement. In developing an academic master plan to enhance academic excellence in undergraduate studies, the committee will review and assess existing academic assessment reports and processes, will review additional data already collected on academic programs, and may call for departments and programs to provide new data on academic programs. The committee may also review existing and proposed curriculum and policy.
Objective 1: Assess and improve our academic programs.
Objective 2: Uphold and strengthen standards for academic achievement.
Objective 3: Enhance academic offerings for all undergraduate students.
Objective 4: Position MSU as the undergraduate "school of choice" for academically-talented students.
Objective 5: Envision and implement a new undergraduate excellence project that makes MSU distinctive.
The Task Force report is divided into three sections:
- Enhancing Curriculum
- The heart of any university is the classroom, and it is the curriculum and all that is related to curriculum that is the key to keeping that heart healthy and thriving. The Task Force strongly believes that the University needs to support and encourage a number of actions and activities to enhance the curriculum. One important priority is to increase the amount and quality of student writing, both within general education and in upper division courses in majors and minors. Assigning more writing, reading more writing, responding to more writing–all of these will take additional time and effort from faculty and students, but research shows that increasing the quality and quantity of student writing will enhance all student academic experiences. Addressing diversity in the curriculum should also be an important element of enhancing the curriculum
- Enhancing Faculty Academic Quality
- To insure that our faculty have the time, energy and expertise to be productive in teaching, scholarship and creative activity, professional development, service to students and service to the community, the Task Force strongly believes that supporting our faculty is a top priority. One approach is to explore methods of designing curriculum that could lead to a reduction of the faculty teaching load and a reduction in large class sizes. These are the two greatest obstacles to enhancing academic excellence. When faculty have more time to devote to students, all areas of academic excellence will be enhanced: faculty will have more time to focus on teaching and learning; faculty will also have more time available for scholarship, creative activity and faculty development; finally, faculty will have more time to work with students in advising, including the possibility of being more involved in the recruitment and retention of talented students. Reducing faculty teaching loads and large class sizes at the same time may seem impossible or at least implausible, and may also seem largely out of our control; however, the Task Force recommends that the University support a variety of actions. The key is to allow departments the flexibility to be innovative and creative in meeting the needs of our students while at the same time realizing that revenue is dependent on serving students. There are other actions that the Task Force also recommends to enhance academic quality, and these can be found in detail in the report that follows.
- Enhancing Student Academic Quality
- The Task Force strongly believes that the University needs to emphasize, enhance, support and reward a number of activities and actions that will lead to enhancing student academic quality. One area that the Task Force believes is of high priority is in supporting and enhancing academic advising. Faculty and professional staff need the time and support to provide quality advising; students need to know that they will get advising to allow them to graduate in a timely fashion; and all need an advising system that insures that advising is provided for all students and required of all students. Supporting and enhancing advising will have a positive effect on all aspects of student academic quality. Once again, there are additional activities and action steps recommended by the Task Force designed to enhance student academic quality and these can be found in detail in the report that follows.
Recommendation 1: Increase the amount and quality of student writing in degree programs and in general education. While acknowledging that many degree programs already require a significant amount of writing, there is a need to increase the amount of writing done by all students. There is also a need for support for both students and faculty in order to increase the amount and quality of student writing, therefore we strongly support the creation of a university-wide Writing Center housed in the Center for Academic Success. The University should also return to the original plan for two (2) writing intensive courses required in General Education.
|Degree programs review writing requirements (Fall 2005); Degree programs develop, if needed, plans for increasing the amount of student writing (Spring 2006); Degree programs implement plans (Fall 2006); development of Writing Center (Fall 2006); Determine number of writing intensive seats each semester||Funding will definitely be needed to develop a Writing Center; as departments enhance writing requirements in the major and in general education courses, it may be necessary to lower enrollments in these courses, so there will need to be planning on how to allocate resources to fund these courses. Supplemental resources for the creation of additional writing intensive courses should be made available. Consider more writing intensive courses in summer to make them self-supporting.||Degree Writing Requirements: Deans and Department Chairs|
General Education Writing Requirements: General Education Sub-Meet; FA Meet and Confer
Writing Center: Office of Academic Affairs and Center for Academic Success
Recommendation 2: Increase standards in degree programs: Those degree programs that wish to should be encouraged to develop admission/graduation requirement standards above the minimal university requirement of 2.0. Degree programs will not be required to raise admission/graduation standards above 2.0. The key will be to raise admission/graduation standards in a manner that does not drastically reduce enrollment in degree programs or lead to grade inflation.
|This project should begin in 2005-2006. Most work should be accomplished by 2007-2008, but will also be an ongoing activity.||Minimal||Departments and Deans will need to work together. Changes in admission/graduation requirements will need UCAP approval.|
Recommendation 3: Accreditation and Program Review: Degree programs that are able to seek accreditation will be encouraged to do so. Degree programs will be encouraged to identify relevant accrediting agents for their disciplines. The university should re-examine program review requirements and develop and implement a program review process that leads to enhanced academic success. Program review needs to have meaning. Program review should be the in-house equivalent of accreditation, with programs undergoing program review engaging in self and outside evaluation based on disciplinary standards, and the results of program review driving curricular and budgetary decisions. The Office of Academic Affairs and individual Deans will need to both support programs in the process and hold programs accountable for any needed changes.
|Revision to Program Review procedures should begin Spring 2005 and should be in place by Spring 2006; Encouragement to seek accreditation and information about accreditation should start Fall 2005.||Minimal additional funds may be needed to pay for consultants and accreditation fees; more significant budgetary and other resource issues may arise as departments seek to implement accreditation requirements.||Program Review and Assessment Sub-Meet should begin review of Program Review procedures; Deans need to work with departments to identify possible accreditation opportunities.|
Recommendation 4: Clarify admission, retention and graduation standards within majors, and enforce pre-requisites. Departmental and program admission standards should accurately reflect actual admission requirements. Departments and programs should review and justify current admission and retention standards. While programs and departments need some flexibility, students must know what will be expected of them in terms of admission and retention in a program and graduation from a program. Degree programs should consider requiring students to take an entry level "competency" or "watershed" course prior to admission to program. This should lead to increased student success in majors and minors, and will also add to the coherence of the program, as the entry level course could be linked to the capstone experience to show student growth in the program. Many departments and programs already have such a course, but others would need to develop one, and those who have such a course may want to review the course and see how it could be tied to the capstone experience to show student growth. Doing so would provide the department and program an excellent assessment tool and source of important information on student learning. All degree programs that have course pre-requisites should be able to have them enforced by the student registration system. Degree programs will be encouraged to identify pre-requisites. Clarifying admission, retention and graduation standards and enforcing pre-requisites supports coherence in a degree program and should lead to enhanced advising and student success.
|This project should begin in the 2005-2006 academic year. Most work should be accomplished by 2007-2008, but will also be an ongoing activity.|
Departments would be encouraged to develop and implement some form of entry-level course starting Fall 05; curricular approval process could take place Spring 06; implementation by Fall 06
|Additional support will be needed for the Office of the Registrar to assist in implementing a system that enforces pre-requisites.|
Enrollment numbers in these courses would have to be sufficient to generate revenue to fund these courses.
|Departments are responsible for reviewing and clarifying admission, retention and graduation standards. Any changes in these requirements will need UCAP approval. The Office of the Registrar is responsible for enforcement of pre-requisites in the registration system.|
Departments would be responsible for the development and implementation of the course; UCAP approval would be required for any curricular changes.
Recommendation 5: Capstone Experiences and External Connections: Goal is to encourage all degree programs to develop some form of capstone experience that requires students to demonstrate some level of mastery of knowledge and skills needed by a graduate of the program. The capstone experience should also require students to be able to demonstrate they are able to connect their course work to the degree, and to career, vocational or educational needs. Degree programs should also be encouraged to develop and/or enhance existing opportunities for students to practice what they are learning outside of the classroom. These could be in the form of internships, practicum, service-learning or other variations. These external connections could also, and many times will also, be the same as the capstone experience. These capstone experiences and external connections are primarily learning experiences designed to allow and require students to make the connection between classroom learning and application outside the classroom.
|This project should begin in the 2005-2006 academic year. Most work should be accomplished by 2007-2008, but will also be an ongoing activity.||Capstone experiences and external connections may (but need not) require additional funding.||Departments are responsible for developing and implementing capstone experiences and external connection programs; any curricular changes will need UCAP approval.|
Recommendation 6: Adoption of +/- option to the grading system. Adoption of a +/- grading system will allow faculty members to provide more precision in grading and can lead to a reduction in grade inflation. Adoption of a +/- grading system may also provide an additional motivation for students to work a bit harder to raise their grade. In some grading systems, it is difficult to move up a whole letter grade; however, to move from a B- to a B may be more within a student's reach.
|Proposal for adoption of a +/- grading system should be submitted to faculty bargaining groups in Fall 05, with a decision made by Spring 06. Implementation, if decided upon, could occur in Fall 06||Minimal: Grade reporting system already has the capability to allow +/- grading system; this function would simply have to be turned on.||UCAP is the appropriate sub-meet to develop and review a proposal; FA Meet and Confer would need to review the proposal as well; Registrar's Office has the capability to record +/- grades.|
Recommendation 7: In addition to current First Year Experience seminars, develop and implement a "discipline-based" first year seminar. These courses would allow students to explore new disciplines and develop their own interests. These may well have a more specialized focus and be research-oriented. These first year seminars would allow first year students to get to know a small group of students and work closely with faculty. Seminar proposals would go through the normal curricular review process. These courses are very different from current FYE seminars and could and should be offered simultaneously with FYE seminars. These new seminars would be low enrollment courses (12-15 students per section) that are discussion heavy and, perhaps, writing intensive that would fit into the current general education categories.
|Discussion and development of proposals should begin Fall 05; curricular approval process could begin as early as Spring 06, with implementation as early as Fall 06||Enrollment numbers will need to be sufficient to generate revenue for these courses.||Departments would develop these proposals; UCAP approval would be necessary for these courses.|
Recommendation 8: Develop and implement a "Common Reader" program as part of the First Year Experience courses (FYEX). This would involve selection of one or two books to be read by the entire campus community, with a special focus on First Year Experience courses. The book(s) would be required reading for all first year students, integrated into first year seminar, integrated into campus activities with book discussions, readings, and other events (including a possible author visit), and integrated into courses at the discretion of faculty and as appropriate. A "Common Reader" program would lead to increased coherence in the general education program; increased coherence to academic programs across the university; and a public emphasis on academic activities.
|Discussion and development of a "Common Reader" would begin Fall 05; Selection of the text(s) and development of the program would take place Spring 06; Implementation of the program on a pilot basis in FYE courses could take place Fall 06.||Some additional funding would be needed on a start-up basis. Some continued additional funding may also be necessary to cover expenses for events related to the Common Reader program||A working group of faculty and professional staff should be formed to develop this program.|
Recommendations that are already being implemented and need to continue:
Develop General Education Course Content Clusters:
A cluster would be constituted by three or more appropriately related general education courses. Clusters would not replace the current general education program; clusters are meant to fit within the current program and courses in the clusters must be approved general education courses, either current or new.
Students would take two or more courses from a cluster. Ideally, the courses would be taken simultaneously with some faculty collaboration, but this would not be required. Initially there would neither be enough clusters, nor a sufficient variety of clusters, to require students to take courses from a cluster. However, once there were sufficiently many and a sufficient variety, students could be required to take two or more courses from a cluster. Eventually and ideally, a cluster capstone course would be developed. Such a course would address overlapping issues and concerns of the separate courses in the cluster.
While courses in a cluster would benefit from consultation and cooperation among faculty teaching those courses, such consultation and cooperation would not be required. Taking courses from a cluster should be valuable even when there is no consultation and cooperation. However, resources and support should be provided to promote such consultation and cooperation.
General Education clusters ought to be consonant with the 5 goals of General Education:
- Skills needed for effective understanding and communication of ideas through reading, listening, critical and integrative thinking, writing, speaking, and technological literacy;
- Exploration of various ways of knowing through study of the content, methods of inquiry and creative modes of a broad spectrum of disciplines;
- Our common membership in the human community, coupled with awareness that we live in a diverse world;
- The interrelatedness of human society and the natural environment and the ethical dimensions of political, social, and personal life; and
- Development of responsibility for lifelong learning.
The rationale for any proposed clustering should take the form of showing that these general education goals are uniquely met by the cluster.
- Rationale for Clusters:
- Knowledge and skills, and also problem solving, do not neatly divide along departmental or disciplinary lines;
- Students should learn how different subjects or disciplines approach the same or closely related topics or problems;
- Some skills and subject matter overlapping different disciplines or departments is particularly relevant to particular majors–clustering could support majors.
Streamline the General Education Course Approval Process
A model for general education course approval that works in concert with UCAP approval is in place. The General Education Committee will be issuing a revised version of General Education Course Approval Policies and Guidelines. A new General Education Course Substitution Appeal form and process has been approved and will be implemented Spring 05.
Assess General Education Courses and Program
The assessment of student learning in General Education categories has been underway for a number of years, and the first cycle of assessment is almost complete. The General Education Committee will begin this spring a pilot project to assess the course offerings in General Education categories, starting with categories 7 and 8. The assessment model will look to see if general education outcomes are being both taught and assessed in courses which have been approved for general education. Departments with courses in which general education learning outcomes are not being taught or assessed will be asked to make revisions to guarantee that these learning outcomes are being taught and assessed. Departments with courses in which general education outcomes are not being taught or assessed, and in which changes are not made, will have those courses removed from general education approval.
Recommendation 1: Encourage and support innovation and creativity in faculty work load. The traditional model of a 12 credit per semester/24 credit per academic year teaching load is showing its age. This model constrains innovation and creativity and locks Deans, Departments and Faculty in a system where the only way to document faculty work load is through this one approach. This model also hinders faculty from successfully fulfilling the five criteria of Article 22, as the reliance on this teaching-heavy model restricts the time and energy faculty have for the other four criteria: Scholarship and Creative Activity; Professional Development; Service to Students; and Service to the University and Community. Minnesota State University, Mankato is an institution that focuses on quality teaching and learning, and has no plans to be any other kind of institution, yet the emphasis on the 12/24 model hampers teaching and learning. Faculty scholarship and creative activity, central to being truly effective teachers, is difficult to engage in; there is little time or energy for faculty to take part in professional development opportunities to enhance their teaching; Service to students, primarily in academic and career advising, suffers; and service to the University and Community falls behind as well.
We could simply say that we need to reduce teaching loads. However, that option is largely out of our control, as collective bargaining agreements and funding create constraints. Simply reducing teaching loads would cost us resources, and there is no belief that the state will supply additional resources. Additionally, simply reducing teaching loads does not eliminate the problem of large class sizes. Finally, simply reducing teaching loads without other changes gives the impression that we just want to do less, when that is not the case at all.
We propose that individual faculty members and departments, with the encouragement and support of Deans and the University Administration, explore, propose and begin to implement innovative methods of meeting our student learning needs, working within current resource limits, and reallocating our time among the five criteria of Article 22. There are a number of possible approaches, with just some possibilities listed below. In developing and implementing these innovations, departments would need access to budgetary and other financial information. Departments would then be able to work within budget constraints (or develop plans to enhance revenue) in developing and implementing these innovations.
This proposal is a significant challenge to the status quo, a challenge that many may find fearful, and a challenge that many may simply see as not needed. But we argue that these issues are central to enhancing academic excellence at Minnesota State University, Mankato, central to improving faculty morale, and central to being a modern university.
- Allowing faculty within a department to reallocate emphases within the five Article 22 criteria for Professional Development Plans. Departments would have to develop a process to make sure that, as a department, there is adequate representation among the five criteria. Faculty could shift this allocation from year to year (probationary) or from plan to plan once they are tenured and promoted. Tenure and promotion applications, as well as non-renewal decisions, would be based on PDP plans; faculty would need to, for tenure and promotion, demonstrate success in all five criteria, but the emphasis could vary from year to year.
- Allow departments to meet student demand for courses in innovative ways. For example:
- Institute a "Major Semester" to meet part of the major requirements. A flat tuition fee would be charged. Students would only take courses or only study in their major field guided by the professor/s allowing them to be immersed in research, travel, internships, or special projects appropriate to the major. This model is similar to student teaching.
- More hybrid courses utilizing web-based instruction. This reduces seat time for students and class meeting time for faculty. Not all hybrid courses require additional faculty time for meeting students online. Additionally, upper division or graduate students could serve as para-professionals in such courses, doing some of the non-academic work of managing a hybrid course. Simply counting seat time (3 50 minute sessions = 3 credits) is not the only way to account for teaching load.
- Instead of a traditional 3 or 4 hour a week course for 15 weeks, developing a series of performance-based modules that students complete to document they have learned the material in the course, can use the material from the course, and have met the outcomes from the course.
- Instead of two 40-student sections of a course, one 80-student section of a course; faculty would still teach as many students and generate as many credit hours, but would have less contact time. Teaching methods to ensure that students in the larger sections are learning as well as students in smaller sections exist; there are also faculty who prefer and/or are better prepared to teach larger sections.
This is neither a representative list nor an exhaustive list–nor even a recommended list. These are just examples of possible innovations. The key is to allow faculty and departments to be innovative in meeting their professional responsibilities.
|Faculty and departments could begin developing these innovations AY 05-06, with implementation beginning as soon as AY 06-07, and continuing. There is no end date.||There is little hope of additional funding. These innovations would have to be done by working within current funding models.||Faculty and departments, with the support of Deans, the Vice President for Academic Affairs and the President.|
Recommendation 2: Revise the method by which faculty instruction is evaluated. In the present climate emphasis is often placed in the eyes of students (popularity-wise) and not on course substance or with regard to actual teaching effectiveness. Student evaluations of faculty need to be modified to evaluate and assess the substance of the course. In addition, Criterion 1 of the Article 22 process needs to be clarified in order to enhance the climate of academic excellence.
|Review of current student evaluation of instruction forms should begin Fall 05, with a proposal from the Faculty Development Committee by Spring 06, review by Meet and Confer and adoption (if warranted) by the end of Fall 06. Implementation could begin by Spring 07.||Minimal||Faculty Development Committee; Faculty Association Meet and Confer|
Recommendation 3: Enhance financial and other support for faculty development and faculty assistance. We recommend that the University continue and enhance its support of faculty development in these three areas:
- Continue and enhance support for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. At a minimum, the University should fund a full-time director for the Center and administrative support in the form of a graduate assistant or an administrative specialist. We strongly recommend that the University also provide a sufficient budget for the Center to develop and offer workshops on a variety of faculty development issues. We also strongly recommend that a budget be provided that would allow the Center to "buy-out" faculty for a semester to serve as consultants in the Center.
- As part of the upcoming Capital Campaign, the University should emphasize the creation of an endowment for Faculty Development.
- In order to allow faculty to serve as effective teachers, the University needs to provide support in the form of para-professionals to work with faculty in areas such as lab set-up and maintenance, technical support, and non-teaching components of classroom activities. These para-professionals could be student workers, similar to student workers who are hired by many of the non-academic units, or work-study students.
|CETL: Funding for a full-time director and graduate assistant for the Center has been approved for FY 06; it needs to be a continuing budget item for future fiscal years; Resources for faculty buy-outs should be added for FY 06 and remain a continuing budget item. Endowment: Emphasis on faculty development should be part of the current planning process and be implemented once the Campaign begins; faculty development efforts concerning diversity in the classroom should continue Para-professional support: Planning should begin Spring 05 for budget support for this service, with implementation for FY 07||CETL: In addition to current budget for a full-time director and graduate assistant, an additional $30,000 should be allocated annually for faculty buy-out time.||CETL: Vice President for Academic Affairs Endowment: Vice President for Advancement Para-professional support: Departments, Deans and Vice President for Academic Affairs|
Recommendation 1: Enhance Academic Advising services. Advising training and support needs to be provided for all faculty and professional staff involved in advising, and all faculty and professional staff need to have access to convenient and timely information on advising issues. The University should implement an "Advising Day". The University also needs to enhance funding and other resources for Student Relations Coordinators. This could include increasing the number of Student Relation Coordinators or adding graduate students and other student workers as support staff. Enhancing advising will lead to greater student retention, greater student academic success, more timely graduation, and a better perception form students that Minnesota State University, Mankato cares about their academic and professional success.
|Advising training and support: A work group is currently developing more advising support services and training opportunities. A report will be complete by the end of Spring 05; resources should be available by the start of Fall 05|
Advising Day: The Faculty Development Committee should review and propose this. A Proposal should come forward by the end of Spring 05 and could be implemented Fall 05 or Spring 06.
Enhance resources for Student Relations Coordinators: Requests from SRCs and Colleges should be prepared Spring 05 for discussion in planning FY 07
|Strategic Priority funds have already been allocated for the start-up of this project. There may be a need for minimal additional funding for the purchase and operation of an advising database program.|
The Advising Day could take place on the Duty Day/non class day in late October, and would require minimal additional investment.
The proposal to enhance SRCS would require a significant budget increase, or a reallocation of salary and TA dollars within Colleges.
|Advising Training: Advising work group; Assistant VP for Undergraduate Studies|
Advising Day: Faculty Development Committee
Enhance SRCs: SRCs and Deans
Recommendation 2: Establish an Academic Honor Code on campus with emphasis on education and enforcement issues. Research shows that students take honor codes seriously. Development and implementation of an Honor Code for students should decrease allegations and incidents of student academic misconduct. There needs to be special emphasis for both students and faculty on the issue of plagiarism.
|Fall 05: Bring together a group of faculty, professional staff and students to develop a proposal by the end of Fall 05; proposal reviewed by University groups Spring 06; Implementation Fall 06||Minimal||Assistant VP for Undergraduate Studies|
Recommendation 3: Enhance funding and other resources for the Center for Academic Success. The Center for Academic Success continues to serve more students, and the increase is not just for remedial or developmental services. More students from upper-division courses are seeking assistance. The Center also has seen a significant increase in non-native English speaking students, and has developed the Language Learning for Academic Success program. There is no indication that there will be a drop in demand for the services provided by the Center.
|The Center for Academic Success should prepare a request for additional resources (financial and other) by the start of Fall 05 to be used for planning for FY 07||This would require an increase in budgetary support for the Center for Academic Success.||Director, Center for Academic Success; Vice President for Academic Affairs|
Recommendation 4: Establish an all-student convocation similar to the faculty-staff convocation in order to set a tone of academic excellence at the very beginning of the academic year.
|Planning for the convocation should begin Fall 05, with implementation Fall 06||Minimal funding to pay for refreshments and possibly a convocation speaker.||Vice President for Student Affairs and Vice President for Academic Affairs|
Recommendation 5: Consider changes in library hours to expand weekend open hours to better serve students who stay on campus, non-traditional students, and planned expansions of Friday-Saturday classes. The Library is the study area of choice on campus and should continue to work at being available to as many students as possible as much as possible.
|Library Dean should prepare proposal and budget needs by start of Fall 05 for planning for FY 07||This would require either an increase in budgetary support for the Library or a reallocation of salary dollars and staffing patterns.||Dean of Library; Vice President of Academic Affairs|
Recommendation 6: Better publicize and promote undergraduate academic honor societies and review requirements for academic honors. Advisors and directors of academic honor societies should work with the Office of Academic Affairs to develop a web site and other promotional literature highlighting the various academic honor societies on campus. A faculty work group should be developed to review current standards for the Dean's List and for graduating with honors.
|Work group develops promotional material Fall 05 and releases to the public Spring 06.|
Work group for review of honors standards begins work Fall 05 and submits report end of Spring 06
|Minimal funds for web development and printing of promotional material.||Minimal funds for web development and printing of promotional material.|