Minutes: Reinvention Center DC Regional Network Meeting
October 5, 2001
The second DC network meeting of research universities sponsored by the Reinvention Center took place on October 5, 2001 at the Club Quarters Hotel in Washington, DC. It was attended by 18 faculty and senior administrators from 11 public and private institutions. A list of attendees is attached. Several others who had planned to come were deterred by the September 11th catastrophe and/or the closure of the Ronald Reagan National Airport in DC.
Wendy Katkin, Director of the Center, began with a report on the Centerís activities since the DC groupís first meeting in March. Since that meeting, there has been a great deal of activity.
Wendy Katkin encouraged attendees to check out the Spotlight because it highlights initiatives that have proved effective and can be readily translated to different institutions and contexts. Cornell initiated its "Explorations" program in order to give students taking Introductory Biology an opportunity to interact in a small group with senior faculty and to have a learning experience under their tutelage that is not possible within the large lecture format. The Explorations Web site is: http://biog-101-104.bio.cornell.edu/BioG101_104/explorations/explorations.html. Stony Brook has recently adapted the Explorations model for a one-credit "Introduction to a Research University" course so that incoming students enrolled in the course have a similar experience, with faculty across a wide range of disciplines.
Faculty who are interested in becoming involved in this initiative should contact Wendy.
Boyer Follow Up Survey
This spring, at the behest of the Boyer Commission, the Center surveyed all 123 research universities (using old Carnegie designations) to determine the extent to which the Commissionís ten major recommendations have been part of their agendas in the past three years. Nine-three institutions responded. The representation among respondents (72% public and 28% private) is comparable to their representation in the total research university population.
The Boyer Commission recommendations related to:
Opportunities for research and creative activity
Integrated first-year program
Instruction in writing
Instruction in oral communication
Capstone courses and senior projects
Teaching assistant training
Faculty rewards promoting excellence in undergraduate education
The findings show that research university faculty and administrators are talking and thinking about the way undergraduate education is conceived and delivered to an extent they had not previously done. Four interests have received the greatest attention: 1) Expanding research/creative activities and making them the centerpiece of undergraduate education at research universities; 2) providing a first-year experience that promotes active learning and critical skills development; 3) revamping general education; and 4) improving studentsí writing abilities.
Teaching resource centers have been established to help faculty improve their teaching. Beyond the classroom, the main focus has been on creating small social and academic communities that make large research universities more welcoming and manageable for all undergraduates, but particularly for first year students. Thus far most university efforts have been directed at the best students; the challenge for almost all is to reach a wider spectrum. The problem is particularly acute at public institutions, which have more limited financial resources.
Supportive leadership and structures and resources are necessary to bring about substantive change. Faculty buy-in is also needed. The survey data suggest that campuses have revised their promotion/tenure guidelines to give greater recognition to efforts directed at undergraduates and rewards have been put in place on many campuses for faculty who go the extra step. Most faculty however continue to see research as the critical factor in promotion/tenure decisions and in their gaining national recognition for themselves and their departments.
Survey Results by Item
Undergraduate Research: Involving undergraduates in their own and faculty research projects is a priority on nearly all campuses. A number of campuses are attempting to weave research participation into the entire undergraduate academic experience, rather than making it a capstone experience only. 45% of respondents reported that they involve more than 50% of their students in research, though the mean is about 20 to 25%. The highest involvement is in the natural sciences, notably biochemistry and psychology. Librarians are an untapped resource for helping to develop studentsí research skills and for increasing participation in the humanities and non-lab-based social sciences.
One major issue is assessment: What is the goal of participation in research, and what are the desired products and outcomes of the studentís research experience? What types of experiences should be called "research"?
Inquiry-Based Learning: No one agrees exactly on what this is, and campuses have found it difficult to quantify the extent of its use or its effectiveness. Most respondents reported "sensing" that inquiry-based learning "plays an increased part of introductory courses, but we donít know what that means." Inquiry based learning appears to figure most prominently in chemistry, calculus, and engineering.
First-Year Seminars: About 80% of respondents offer academic seminars for freshmen,; 45% enroll 45% or more of the students. First-year seminars are more prevalent at private institutions. Only one institution reported making them available to transfer students. About half the respondents use tenure-track faculty only to teach the seminars.
Block Scheduling: About 65% of respondents offer a block sheduling program, typically three courses, often with a linking seminar. These programs are good recruiting tools and help students adjust during the first semester, but they have a high attrition rate after the first semester and are not generally seen as valuable beyond that as students are ready for a broader experience.
Writing and Oral Communication: This is a high priority; all responding institutions have increased their writing requirements in recent years, and 50% have added upper-level requirements that are commonly integrated into major curricula. Oral communication is on the agenda in professional programs such as engineering and business, but not yet a priority issue in the arts and sciences.
Capstone Experiences and Senior Projects: These are typically required in some but not all majors, particularly for honors. In engineering, accreditation requires that all students complete a design project.
Graduate TA Training: 70% of responding universities have a mandatory orientation for all new graduate TAs, but few have formal follow-up training or standards for TA preparation and quality. Teaching centers are providing the best and most valuable programs for TA preparation and support. Their efforts in this and other contexts such as faculty-development are most effective when disciplinary faculty are heavily involved.
Faculty Rewards: All responding institutions have mechanisms such as teaching awards, salary enhancement, release time and small grants to recognize and support faculty efforts to improve undergraduate teaching and learning. 50% of institutions reported a change in faculty rewards in the last three years. Yet the majority of faculty have not yet bought into new ways of teaching, for a variety of reasons: they do not have the time, they are satisfied with their current practices, they do not know how to change or what to do, they have research as their priority, and, perhaps most importantly, regardless of what written policies dictate, they do not believe that promotion and tenure decisions truly value contributions to undergraduate education. There appears to be a disparity between faculty and administrative perceptions of the extent to which efforts directed at undergraduates are valued in the promotion and tenure process.
Efforts at faculty development appear most successful when they are proactive, have a disciplinary focus, and are informed by good research on teaching and learning.
The surveyís last question asked respondents to indicate the single most important thing they thought their campus could do to improve undergraduate education. While there were almost as many ways of responding to this question as there were respondents, a few clear themes emerged. The primary one is the need to develop modes of teaching and learning that are consistent with the mission of research universities of generating new knowledge. Although there are many good practices in place, they tend to be scattered and/or offered on a small scale. The first step is for universities to expand, integrate, and sustain current good practices so that they are central to the undergraduate experience and benefit the majority of students. This involves careful planning and allocation of adequate funds. Many campuses have already established groups to develop such plans, but the extent to which campuses have been able to implement the plans varies enormously. Step two is to create a culture that promotes undergraduate research and creative activity and to make it available to students at different levels. An important issue therefore is how one creates this culture. Supportive and visionary leadership is essential.
With respect to student learning/curricular issues, respondents point to the importance of the first-year experience in terms of promoting the active learning and development of skills students will need. There is also growing interest in shaping the studentsí second year so that it follows up on and reinforces the first-year experience. A number of institutions point to the need to better integrate the residential, co-curricular, and academic components of the studentsí experience, for instance through merging some of the functions of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs.
With respect to faculty, there are three vital issues that must be addressed. The first is the continuing need to involve more and more faculty in pedagogy. There must be widespread faculty buy-in if genuine reform is going to occur. A second is to ensure that the full range of instructors are good instructors. At present, approximately 30% of the instructors at most research universities campuses are either adjuncts, post-doctoral fellows, advanced graduate students or fixed-term, non-ladder instructors. This group collectively is rarely addressed in discussions of undergraduate education. The third issue, identified by 20% of respondents, is to hire more full-time faculty, particularly in those departments that are most impacted by growing enrollments and revised general education. This latter issue is particularly acute at universities in the west which in some cases are facing a doubling of enrollment. Public research universities must work closely with state legislatures to make sure that adequate resources follow the mandates to increase enrollment.
The survey respondents noted certain themes that have emerged in the network meetings as well. For instance, assessment of education at all levels is now on the national agenda. Research universities are in a unique position to contribute to the discussion, determine appropriate measures and outcomes, and develop tools. Despite growing interest in undergraduate education, there remain serious structural and financial impediments to improvement and innovation. These vary widely and include departmental hegemony that typically drives resource allocation, organizational factors and traditions that hamper cross-disciplinary initiatives, and the intrusion at public universities of state boards in setting standards from enrollments to general education requirements.
The survey made clear the extent to which the Boyer Report has infused and even shaped national discussions of higher education. Many institutions have used it as both a reference point and as ammunition in their own efforts at reformation, and it is frequently cited in grant applications, accreditation reports, fundraising activities and lobbying of state legislatures and Boards of Trustees. One example is a recent Howard Hughes Medical Institute RFP which features the Boyer Report prominently in its promotions.
Caveat: Virtually all those responding to the survey were senior administrators. Either the entire survey or specific questions should also be sent to rank and file faculty and to undergraduates, both to correct biases and to develop a fuller picture of campus practices.
Network Activities and Issues
The major Center activity has been the formation of the four regional networks, which have met in New York, DC, San Francisco and Chicago. The New York group has had a second meeting as well. Collectively, the first round of regional meetings were attended by more than 160 individuals from 71 research universities. An additional 52 faculty and administrators from 15 institutions expressed interested, but were not available on the date of their regional meeting. This high level of response suggests the level of interest in an organization focusing on undergraduate education exclusively at research universities.
Discussions at all four meetings centered for the most part on the same issues and challenges. The common issues raised reflect recent efforts on virtually all campuses to bridge research universitiesí traditional emphases on research and graduate training with their new emphasis on undergraduate education and to offer an undergraduate experience that is synergistic with research universitiesí unique context and environment.
The issues mentioned by a number of campuses included: assessment; undergraduate research; the first-year experience; faculty issues; the role of departments; general education; science education; scaling up and sustaining successful initiatives; instructional technology; interdisciplinary efforts; shortages of financial resources; expanded enrollment; retention; and issues related to diversity and creating community.
There was also a common recognition across networks of the need for research universities first to define and articulate what an undergraduate education at research universities should look like and then to promote this vision. Research universities have begun to recognize this need and in their recruitment efforts are increasingly using language that emphasizes their enormous array of resources and the research opportunities they afford students. This theme, which distinguishes research universities from liberal arts colleges, seems to strike a powerful note among families and the students themselves. The Reinvention Center can play a lead role in sparking discussion and focusing public attention on this theme.
Each regional network will form focus groups to study specific issues and produce materials such as a manual with strategies on "how to" and case studies that can serve as guides to others, and sponsor programs. Regardless of where the focus group is located, cross-regional participation is welcomed.
The Northeast network, which has already met twice, has determined to establish three subgroups that will focus on the following topics:
At the DC meeting, those present identified three possible issues to focus on:
The University of Delaware is among the leaders in efforts to assess the short- and long-term impact of undergraduates having a research experience. The group requested that Delaware be invited to give a presentation at a future network meeting.
Future Network Activities:
Meeting Follow Up
1. Because of the low attendance at the DC meeting, those present felt that before definitively selecting the issues the network will focus on, all network members should be asked for their input. Please let us know first whether you are interested in working on any of the three issues identified at the DC meeting: Assessment, undergraduate research, and graduate student issues. In addition, if there are other issues you would like the group to address, send us your top 3-5 in ranked order. Please email them to the Reinvention Center: (Reinvention@sunysb.edu) by November 12. If you would like to discuss any particular topics, feel free to call Wendy or Mary Leming at: 631-632-4544 or 631-632-6998.
2. The Center Advisory Board will write up brief position papers on the issues selected by all the networks. We will distribute them to you. If you are interested in working on these issues, either on your campus, with professional/ scholarly associations, or with other network members, or can provide references to any relevant papers, other background materials or effective models, please let Wendy know. Again, she may be reached through the Reinvention Center (see above).
Georgia Institute of Technology
Donna Llewellyn, Director, Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
A Toy. Caldwell-Colbert, Provost
Muriel Poston, Associate Professor of Biology
James Lindesay, Associate Professor of Physics
John Hopkins University
Ralph Kuncl, Professor of Neurology and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Necia Parker-Gibson, Library Instruction Coordinator
University of Maryland, College Park
Robert Hampton, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Provost for Academic Affairs
Diane Harvey, Undergraduate Studies Librarian
Charles E. Sternheim, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Psychology
Richard Walker, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies
University of South Florida
Bruce Cochrane, Professor of Biology and Director, Interdisciplinary Studies Program
University of Virginia
John Alexander, Manager, Instructional Technology
Vicki Coleman, Director, Clemons Library
Barbara Nolan, Vice Provost for Instructional Development
Judith Reagan, Associate Director, Teaching Resource Center
Joan Ruelle, Coordinator, User Services, Science & Engineering Libraries
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Ron Daniel, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Programs
Terry Wildman, Director, Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching