The common scuttlebutt is that undergraduate education at research universities
is changing -- as a result of new technologies, new national needs, new
student populations, and a greater interest in integrating undergraduates
into the research and intellectual life that are at their foundation.
The question is: Is change really occurring and, if so, to what extent,
in what ways and who is making the changes? No one really knows.
Every few months the Center will spotlight a topic of significance to
research university faculty and administrators. Our approach will
be through Thoughts and
Boyer Commission Report Reinventing Undergraduate Education
argues that "The
first year of a university experience needs to provide new stimulation
for intellectual growth and a firm grounding in inquiry-based learning
and communication of information and ideas."
(1998, p. 19).
BRUCE ALBERTS, President of the National Academy
of Sciences and a member of the Boyer Commission, reinforces this idea
in an essay written for the Reinvention Center Spotlight.
While Dr. Alberts' essay focuses on the sciences, what he says is equally
applicable to other spheres of knowledge. Good teaching in all disciplines
involves inquiry: "allowing students to conceptualize a problem.
. . and then forcing them to wrestle with possible answers."
I am a scientist.
In retrospect, it is therefore surprising to me that I and my many
colleagues in colleges and universities have focused almost exclusively
thus far on what we teach in our science classes, instead of focusing
on what our students are learning. Honesty is one of the central
values of our science culture. It is therefore past time to be honest
about the results of our present way of teaching science. Speaking
generally, we have failed to communicate either the excitement or
the nature of science to most of our undergraduates. This failure
applies not only to the many non-majors who take science as a distribution
requirement, but to far too many of our science majors as well.
To me, one
of the most profound messages of the "Reinvention" report is its
emphasis on providing a qualitatively different educational experience
for every college student in their freshman year. Science provides
an ideal venue for exposing students immediately to inquiry learning,
and there is no better place than a research university for doing
so. Research universities often make work in a research laboratory
available as an option to their upper level science majors. As a
professor at Princeton University for 10 years, I accommodated 4
juniors and 4 seniors in my laboratory every year. Almost invariably,
whether or not their projects were successful by the faculty's account,
the undergraduates in our biochemical sciences department ranked
the research that they carried out for their senior thesis as the
highlight of their undergraduate careers.
to us all is to find a way to bring a similar, if less intense encounter
with the real world of scholarship to every student, and at the
same time to provide this experience much earlier - with the hope
that it will profoundly affect their attitude to education and thus
their subsequent undergraduate careers.
There are two
major obstacles to creating such a profound change in our approach
to science in the early college years. The first is the challenge
of getting to scale. The scale problem is dealt with today by offering
first-year science courses in an auditorium, with hundreds of students
being taught in a large group. By lecturing for just three hours,
a professor can generate more than 1000 "student contact hours"
a week. However, in my experience, it takes six hours or so to prepare
well for an hour of lecture, even if a course has been given before.
So the hard question to ask our faculty should be: how else might
you use 20 hours a week that is much more meaningful, both for you
and for your students?
If a collection
of modern technologies are used to replace the dissemination of
knowledge in traditional lectures, the 20 hours could be spent in
ways that take advantage of a scientist's well-developed skills
as a coach of guided inquiry, eliminating most of the unproductive
preparation time. For example, anyone who has taught recognizes
the self-learning that occurs when one is forced to explain something
to a student. There is therefore a great deal to be said about the
benefits to all concerned from a educational system in which a faculty
member skillfully guides outstanding undergraduates to help teach
to their younger colleagues the material that they mastered one
or two years earlier. Some inspirational examples have been provided
on this Web site as proof of what is possible in this regard.
major obstacle is a lack of will among today's science faculty.
Everyone I know in academia seems to be overworked these days -
too many committees, too many grant applications, too many emails,
too many science majors and graduate students in need of advice
and help. Why should improving what all undergraduates understand
about science have a high priority on their already overbooked agendas?
Fear is the
most powerful motivator for most human beings. Speaking personally,
I have a real fear that the rationality of modern societies will
be jeopardized without a major new effort by the scientific community
to teach science in a different way. We all need to think much more
deeply about what we are trying to accomplish in our first-year
biology, chemistry, physics, and earth sciences classes for undergraduates.
When we teach, how many of us have the primary aim of giving such
students enough exposure to scientific reasoning and scientific
culture to enable them to appreciate science as a very special,
evidence-based way of knowing about the natural world? And yet,
without this appreciation, we have no right to expect that our democracy
can continue to prosper in a world that is becoming evermore complicated
due to the accelerating advances in science and technology. If nothing
else, we all should have all received a wake-up call from last year's
decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to challenge the
idea that the Earth is more than 10,000 years old. If we allow the
public to accept the Board's contention that the methods that science
has developed to discover that the Earth is in fact billions of
years old have no special validity, then why should they believe
that smoking is dangerous for their health, that the water they
drink is safe, or that a massive, atmospheric CO2 accumulation from
fossil fuels poses a real potential danger?
It is science,
through its discoveries of the regularities of the natural world,
that allows us to reliably predict the future consequences of current
actions. In my opinion, it is giving all students confidence in
this assertion, and a deep understanding of why it is true, that
should become the central focus of every introductory science course
that is taught to undergraduates.
Dr. Alberts has also written a longer article on the role the first-year
experience can have in establishing subsequent patterns of learning. The
article can be read as an Adobe
Acrobat document: "Some Thoughts
of a Scientist on Inquiry" or in HTML format: "Some
Thoughts of a Scientist on Inquiry"
Center spotlights five research universities that have adopted different
strategies for engaging first-year students and promoting the kind of
"introduction to the real world of scholarship" that Dr. Alberts
espouses. We spotlight three programs that are geared for all incoming
students, one program for honors students, and one organized around the
introductory biology course.
Northwestern University's Freshman
Seminars, required of all incoming students, aim to provide precisely
the kind of introduction to real-world scholarship that Dr. Alberts writes
about. UCLA's approach is through thematic
clusters of courses that can be used to satisfy its General Education
requirements. In the University of Maryland's
Gemstone program, first-year Honors Program students form teams that initiate
joint research projects that they will carry out in the next three years.
Finally, going full circle, Cornell's Explorations
program enables students in the introductory biology course to interact
with scientists doing "real world" research. Ohio
University's Freshman Experience course facilitates connections to
campus and community resources and provides opportunities for students
to explore interests and values as well as majors and career possibilities.
Brief descriptions of the models and links to more information are below.
University: The Freshman Seminar Program, Weinberg College of Arts
freshman seminar program brings students at an early stage into
contact with "the real world of scholarship." All freshmen in arts
and sciences are required to take two freshman seminars, which are
discussion-oriented courses limited to 15 students. This requirement
assures that freshmen will have at least two small courses that
introduce them to the intellectual life of the university and help
them develop the skills of good scholarship -- critical reading,
logical thinking, and effective writing and oral argumentation.
Seminars are offered by every department and by several interdisciplinary
programs. They focus closely on a few typical problems of a field;
they are not meant to substitute for systematic introductory courses
and do not count toward majors, minors, or distribution requirements.
take their first seminar in the fall quarter (exceptions are students
in a few special honors programs). They receive descriptions of
fall seminars in the summer and send us their preferences. Nearly
all get one of their top five choices. Half of the freshmen are
asked to take their second seminar in the winter, the other half
in the spring, so we know how many seminars to plan each quarter.
We tell students not to be overly concerned if they do not get into
the seminar they most prefer, since all seminars have the same principal
goals -- to inspire an active intellect and develop skills that
will be useful throughout one's studies and career.
Writing is an
integral part of the seminar experience, with a minimum of 15-20
pages of expository writing required. Instructors come from many
fields and are not expected to be expert teachers of composition.
They are, however, expected to advise students on how to improve
their writing and to refer them when necessary to the Writing Program
for assistance. They are also asked to rate the writing ability
of their students. This information is used to determine each student's
standing with regard to the College's writing proficiency requirement.
Incoming freshmen who seem likely to need intensive instruction
in composition are placed into one of several fall-quarter freshman
seminars taught by experienced writing instructors.
A new scheme
of freshman advising was recently instituted in which the fall-quarter
seminar instructor serves as the student's freshman adviser for
the entire year. The shared classroom experience in the fall helps
to develop rapport between advisers and advisees and sometimes establishes
an advising relationship that lasts for the entire four years of
65 seminars are offered in the fall, and about 45 in the winter
and spring. Recruiting faculty for the program is a continuing challenge.
Department chairs and the Assistant Dean for Freshmen work together
each year to line up instructors. Most seminars are taught by tenured
and tenure-track faculty and count toward regular teaching loads.
Departments with heavy enrollments may be given special funds to
enable them to offer freshman seminars, or they may be given new
slots with the understanding that they will expand their participation
in the seminar program. A small discretionary account for professional
purposes is offered to faculty who teach fall-quarter seminars and
take on the extra duties of freshman advising.
of recent seminars can be found at the Weinberg College web site
For further information contact Dr. Lane Fenrich (firstname.lastname@example.org),
Assistant Dean for Freshman and Senior Lecturer in History, or Dr.
Robert M. Coen (email@example.com), Associate Dean for Undergraduate
Studies and Professor of Economics.
of California at Los Angeles: General Education Cluster Courses
General Education Clusters represent an innovative way to provide
first-year students with the opportunity to explore some of the
principal ideas, concerns, and methods of the humanities, physical
sciences, social sciences, and life sciences in an interdisciplinary
framework. The Clusters were developed in 1996 in order to address
several needs identified by faculty and students: to bring more
coherence to the general education program, to strength the basic
skills of first-year students, to introduce them to the research
and ideas of the faculty, and to provide a small-class experience.
consists of a year-long series of three interdisciplinary courses
organized around a broad theme. The first and second courses, taken
in the fall and winter quarters respectively, are lecture courses
taught by teams of faculty and graduate teaching fellows from different
disciplines. The lectures are accompanied by discussion sections
or labs, each with no more than 20 students. The third course, taken
in the spring quarter, is a small "satellite" seminar which explores
a more specialized topic related to the Cluster theme. Students
have several satellite seminars from which to choose. Clusters expose
students to a wide range of perspectives and teaching practices,
which lead, students report, to a marked improvement in their writing
and critical thinking skills. Faculty and graduate student instructors
indicate that the experience of teaching with colleagues from other
disciplines is stimulating and well worth the considerable time
involved in course development.
About 900 students
(25% of the incoming class) participated in the six Clusters offered
in 2000-2001. The Cluster themes are: "Evolution of the Cosmos and
Life," "The Global Environment," "The History of Modern Thought,"
"Interracial Dynamics in American Literature, Culture, and Society,"
"Perception and Illusion: Cognitive Psychology, Literature, and
Art" and "The United States 1963-1974: Politics, Society and Culture."
Aided by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, faculty "affinity
groups" are currently working to develop additional Clusters. Topics
they are focusing on include: "Understanding Violence," "Computing
the Future - The Social Entailments of Computation," and "Africa
in the New Millennium: Roots and Prospects."
including current and past seminar topics and syllabi, as well as
the most recent assessment report, is available on the Cluster Course
of Maryland: The Gemstone Learning Community
Gemstone Program brings together multidisciplinary teams of undergraduate
honors students from all majors, from engineering to the arts and
humanities. These teams, formed in the freshman year, undertake
three-year, student-initiated research projects in which they analyze
and propose solutions to societal problems, which generally involve
a significant technology focus. Team members work as a coordinated
group, investigating their project from the perspective of individual
majors, under the guidance of a faculty mentor. In their first two
years students are encouraged to live together on a residence hall
floor reserved for Gemstone participants.
About 150 first-year
students who have been admitted to the University Honors Program
participate each year. In addition to the team project, all Gemstone
freshmen take a team-taught course on "Technology: An Historical,
Sociological and Business Perspective." In their sophomore and junior
years, the students research the background of their projects and
devise and test potential solutions. As seniors, they prepare a
team thesis reporting research results and describing their proposed
solution, and present their findings to an evaluation panel of both
faculty and external experts. Students who successfully complete
the program receive a Gemstone degree citation. They also receive
a separate Honors citation if they complete additional requirements.
vary enormously from, for example next-generation mass transportation,
genetic testing, to reclamation of the Chesapeake Bay. Several current
senior teams have received outside recognition and awards from professional
and disciplinary societies for their work.
proved to be a valuable recruiting tool. More than three quarters
of Gemstone students state that admission to the program was the
single most important factor in determining their decision to attend
the University of Maryland. Gemstone has been particularly successful
in recruiting highly qualified women and ethnic minorities. Gemstone
students overall have among the highest SAT scores, GPAs, and graduation
and retention rates at the University.
While the program
was begun in 1996 by the Dean of the School of Engineering and is
administered through that School, it currently involves 46 faculty
members from all disciplines and units at the University, including
professional schools. The majority of students are not Engineering
majors. Gemstone students in all disciplines are far more likely
than non-Gemstone students to choose double (or even triple) majors.
including links to the home pages of the different teams, is available
on the Gemstone Web site: http://gemstone.umd.edu.
University: Explorations in Biology
Explorations Program at Cornell University introduces undergraduates
in introductory biology to biological research on campus. It connects
beginning students to the larger community of scientists by providing
them with opportunities to interact directly with a researcher in
a small group setting (about eight students) that usually involves
some hands-on participation. The program is structured so that each
student enrolled in BioG 101-106 is required to participate in one
"Exploration" per semester (fall and spring) of an area of biological
interest. The year-long BioG 101-106 sequence includes the two introductory
biology courses that most prospective biology majors take and serves
about 700-900 students (mainly freshman) each year. Approximately
35% of all incoming freshman take these two courses.
consist of about 100-120 individual faculty-designed "experiences",
each of approximately 3-4 hours and usually meeting once during
the semester. Most are designed to introduce students to the kinds
of research problems the faculty member works on. Programs take
place both in research labs on campus and at field sites near campus.
The biology faculty who participate come from all major administrative
units at Cornell, including the Colleges of Arts and Science, Agriculture
and Life Science, Human Ecology, Engineering, and the Veterinary
Medicine. Faculty participation is voluntary and seems mainly motivated
by the contacts the program provides with bright, beginning students
who might be interested in involvement in undergraduate research
in their area.
on-line for their Exploration each semester by selecting their 6-8
top choices from among the sessions available. Usually 80-85% of
the students get one of their top three choices. Students evaluate
their Exploration each semester by completing an on-line form; the
faculty receive summaries of these evaluations.
Program is designed to be a first step in involving our biology
majors in faculty-sponsored research. According to surveys done
by Cornell's Office of Undergraduate Biology (OUB), approximately
70% of biology majors at Cornell do original research sometime during
their four years. The Exploration program began in 1991 and is funded
by the OUB and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
To provide a
sense for the diversity of programs provided, the following list
includes some representative titles from the 2000-2001 offerings:
Use of Ultrasonography to Study Ovarian Function;
Posture and Locomotion in Horses: Extinct and Extant;
The Immunological Riddle of Pregnancy;
ELECTRIC FISH! Communication and Orientation Using Electroreception;
Studying Gene Expression with the Gene Gun;
Ecology and Breeding Biology of Tree Swallows
is available on the Explorations Web site:
University: The Freshman Experience
comprehensive and connective describe the Freshman Experience (UC
115) course at Ohio University. Collaborative because it is taught
by staff and administrators from a variety of departments on the
OU campus, as well as a group of graduate students gaining practicum
experience in College Student Personnel. Comprehensive because the
course attempts to cover a wide spectrum of topics relevant to first
quarter students at a large university, including issues of diversity,
time and money management, relationships, critical thinking and
writing, and strategies for success in college and beyond. Connective
because the course provides opportunities for students to connect
with a small group of students who have similar concerns and uncertainties
and with an instructor who is eager to help with their transition
to college. Connective because the course facilitates connections
to campus and community resources as well as involvement with campus
and community activities and organizations. Connective also because
the course provides opportunities for the students to connect more
with themselves and their place in the world, exploring interests
and values, and major and career possibilities.
Experience course at OU is a two-credit course which first-quarter
students may take in the fall for a letter grade. Special sections
are offered for commuter and transfer students, and two or more
sections are reserved for undecided students. The course is also
used as an anchor for the theme-directed Residential Learning Communities
offered at OU. These communities each consist of twenty students
who will live in the same residence area and be enrolled in one
or more of the same general education courses along with the UC
115 class. The students thus have the benefit of a built-in support
system in one or more of the large lecture classes they take their
is available on the University College Learning Communties Web site:
Other universities have also introduced exciting and innovative programs.
While space does not permit us to profile all of them, we refer you to
our Resources page for links to the wide range
of first-year programs currently being offered.
If you have a first-year program you would like listed on the Resources
page, please send us a brief description
(250 words maximum). Be sure to include the name of the program, target
population, number of students involved and percentage this represents
of your freshman class. Also give us a link to a Web site or the name
and email address of a contact person.
AN INVITATION: We invite you to
take the lead in framing future Thoughts and Models.
If you're interested and have a "Thought" in mind, please
send us an e-mail: reinvention@MIAMI.EDU. We will identify "models"
that relate to it.
Thought will consist of a short essay focusing on an issue central to
undergraduate education at research universities. The specific topic to
be addressed may vary. It may for example relate to an institutional challenge,
an aspect of student learning, a societal need, or a recent research finding
that may influence the way undergraduate education generally or in a specific
discipline is conceived and delivered at research universities.
Each Thought will be accompanied by reports on programs and experiences
that exemplify or expand upon the Thought. The models will be drawn from
different research universities, utilize different strategies, and, to
the extent possible, focus on different disciplines. Collectively, they
will become part of a database that will yield insights into what works
or does not work and why.
Together, the Thought
and Models will be incorporated into reports to be distributed through
this web site, professional society newsletters and our own mailings.
We welcome your comments and look forward to hearing from you.