Minutes: Reinvention Center Regional Network Meeting
November 9, 2001
The second meeting of the western regional network sponsored by the Reinvention Center took place on November 9, 2001 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. It was attended by 39 faculty and senior administrators from 15 public and 2 private universities. Several others who had planned to attend were deterred by the events of September.
After all those present introduced themselves, Center Director Wendy Katkin gave a report on the Center's activities since the group's first meeting in March, 2001.
Wendy Katkin urged attendees to check out the Spotlight and the accompanying Center Resource site out on a regular basis. The Spotlight highlights initiatives that have proved effective and can be readily translated to different institutions and contexts, and the Resource site provides references to a range of additional programs that are working on research university campuses. Network members are particularly encouraged to read the current Spotlight in light of the upcoming Center initiative on undergraduate research.
After careful consideration, the Board decided that the Center should not respond to this NSF invitation because of potential conflicts of interest. The Center does not want to place itself in competition with research universities that will be applying for these NSF funds or for a projected NSF solicitation for centers directed at undergraduate teaching and learning. Instead, the Center's role should be to gather information and serve as a resource for research universities that are submitting their own proposals. The Center can also play a critical dissemination role. Wendy and a small group of Board members will meet with program officers at the NSF to discuss different kinds of grants for that will further the Center's broad agenda and will benefit research universities generally.
Network Activities and Issues
The major Center activity has involved the regional networks. Three of the networks have now met twice. The fourth network, in the midwest, was discontinued after one meeting because most prospective participants were from CIC institutions and were already meeting regularly. Campuses that were not part of the CIC were invited to join one of the other groups. Collectively, the seven regional meetings that have been held were attended by 200 faculty and senior administrators from 78 public and private research universities. An additional 32 individuals from 15 institutions have maintained contact with the Center. The distribution among public and private institutions participating (70 public and 23 private) parallels their representation in the total university population. The high level of response suggests the level of interest in an organization focusing on undergraduate education exclusively at research universities.
Discussions at all the network meetings have centered for the most part on the same issues and challenges, which are also listed in the grid distributed at the meeting. The common issues 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 re-shape the undergraduate experience so that it is synergistic with their research and graduate training missions.
The issues mentioned most frequently were: assessment; the first-year experience; faculty issues; engaging departments in efforts at change; general education; scaling up and sustaining successful initiatives; expanding interdisciplinary opportunity; shortages of financial resources; and especially increasing undergraduate participation in research. This last issue was based on the recognition across networks of the need for research universities to provide an educational experience in which their distinctive capability--research--plays a central role.
Although the original idea had been for each regional network to form sub-groups that would concentrate on specific issues, based on the strong interest across all networks on undergraduate research and infusing research and scholarly activity into the undergraduate education that research universities offer, the Board determined that the Center instead should take a more unified approach and undertake a major initiative focusing on this subject. This initiative will be carried out in two stages. The first will be at the network level and will focus on "nuts and bolts" issues and best practices. We have set March 22 as the date for the western network meeting; it will take place in Los Angeles at USC. The second stage will be a major national conference, in November, that will address basic over-arching issues that cut across all campuses. One day will be devoted to assessment: Determining the goals of undergraduate research and assessing its short- and long-term outcomes. The Center will be sending out information on both events in January. In the meantime, participants in western network meetings should mark March 22 on their calendars and check the Center Web site for further information.
Group discussion at the meeting focused primarily on three subjects:
General Education. Largely because of the strong departmental structure, many campuses are having difficulty in reforming general education so that it is truly interdisciplinary and provides foundational intellectual skills. Other factors that impede general education are faculty disinterest, lack of resources and lack of expertise. Greg Kendrick gave a brief history of UCLA's general education reform through learning clusters, emphasizing the slowness of the process and the many difficulties faced. What really made it happen was the creation of a strong central office that had both the expertise and the resources to support reform efforts. Funds, for example, were made available to departments for course release of faculty developing and teaching cluster courses . At present, learning clusters serve 1/3 of UCLA undergraduates. Greg and others argued for flexibility and diversity within general education and organizing efforts around faculty interests. Making general education innovations available to all students remains a persistent problem, particularly at public institutions that have growing enrollments. There is variability among institutions and within institutions among units in counting general education seminars and other special courses as part of the normal teaching load.
Data Collection. Good data collection appears to be a problem on most research university campuses. Although various offices and units on campus collect all kinds of data, because other units are often unaware of it, the information is rarely shared, combined with other data being collected, or used as productively as it might. Institutions need to figure out what they already have and they need to create mechanisms for sharing.
Teaching Evaluation. Another problem that research universities are struggling with is peer evaluation of undergraduate teaching and the absence of criteria and good tools for measuring this. Stanford has adopted the "reflective memo" approach advocated by the AAHE in which faculty are asked to take a course they teach. In this memo, they indicate their goals for the course and give evidence of how they did or did not achieve them. Oregon's "Pathways" initiative encourages faculty to teach a course in another discipline. Washington State University requires every faculty member to fill out an annual Teaching Profile.
Michele Marincovich, Assistant Vice Provost and Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Rick Reis, Director for Academic Partnerships, both of Stanford, gave a presentation on their I-RITE Program (Integrating Research Into the Teaching Environment:
The I-RITE program commissions Stanford PhD students, post-docs and faculty in all disciplines "to produce brief statements describing their research in ways that are understandable and compelling to novices in the field." These statements are made available through a Web site "to graduate students and post-docs exploring research in their own and related fields, to faculty who can use them as examples in their teaching, and to undergraduates who are considering majors or research opportunities." I-RITE encourages students to learn about the different kinds of research going on on campus, helps them to improve their writing skills, and uses peer evaluation as a tool for teaching and learning. It currently involves 110 students and 32 departments, and has the capacity to expand.
In the afternoon the group divided into three break-out groups to discuss the first year experience, assessment, and undergraduate research.
First year experience
The goals of first-year courses and other experiences, including orientation, are to:
Given the multiplicity of goals, it is important to make sure that the goals of any particular program are (a) compatible and (b) consistent with assessment structures. It is important to be cognizant of differences in audience. Programs designed for honors students are probably not compatible with those that offer intervention to at-risk students. The first-year program should be developed in the context of the educational experience as a whole. Bridge programs prior to the first-year or intermediate programs that ease the transition to sophomore year may be just as important as first-year programs. More importantly, it is critical to put efforts into years 2-4 to ensure that students do not feel abandoned after year 1.
Among the programs ongoing at individual campuses are:
Maintenance of faculty commitment is a serious problem. At most institutions, the educational initiatives are undertaken by a gang of "the usual suspects." Institutions need to retain these individuals and build the community beyond them. Departmental pressures and promotion and tenure criteria sometimes discourage faculty participation. One institution undertook interviews with faculty members involved in a first-year curriculum; the interviews suggested that when a tenured faculty member from a large department participated, the department was "neutral," but in the case of junior faculty, the department often put pressure on the faculty member not to get involved because such activity does not play a role in promotion and tenure.
Many faculty are trying to understand where the push for assessment is coming from and how it
relates to their more traditional activities surrounding assessment in either the classroom (in which they conduct the evaluations) and in research (in which their peers evaluate their work). Faculty are not prepared or trained for this new kind of assessment and need guidance or
guidelines on how to do it. The group recommended a future Spotlight on institutional assessment programs that addresses the question of what faculty in research universities need to know in regard to undergraduate education. The Spotlight might lead also to workshops and training materials. By developing something in this area, the Center and network members might be able to address the topic at an academic level and hold campus conversations around it, which would remove it from the punitive perspective in which it is often viewed.
In order to develop a picture of assessment efforts on campuses and the interrelationships, we could develop some sort of multi-dimensional matrix that takes into account the purposes of assessment (needs assessment, program improvement, program or project continuation,
reallocation, resource allocation, etc.); the audience for the assessment (university administration, boards of regents, legislatures, etc.), the unit to be assessed (individual, course, major, school,
department, campus, etc.), and the methods that might be applied (testing, survey, self-assessment, portfolios, interviews, etc.) We spent some time talking about the importance of goals and how the process of assessment can provide institutions with a way to synchronize their internally and externally imposed mandates. Current accreditation activities indicate that
the agencies are not prescribing an institution's goals, but are asking them to define their own and asking for assessment evidence that demonstrates how the institution is meeting its goals. A related topic is the trade-off between the costs for conducting evaluations and the outcomes or benefits derived from them. In addition, the terminology needs to be clarified -- what do we mean by assessment vs. evaluation?
This groupís observations addressed the ways in which undergraduate research is administered and publicized on individual campuses. Public exhibit space, such as the library and departmental hallways, can be used to show student work, as can both print and web journals of undergraduate research. Lab and technical staff can help integrate research into large classes. For programs to be successful, they need a dedicated program coordinator and adequate funds. Keeping track of undergraduate research can be difficult since there are numerous ways for students to participate, including research as independent study for credit, working with the professor in a lab, and "research across the curriculum initiatives" such as the I-Rite program.