Continued Cluster Communication

Last week was a busy one for me as a cluster guide. One topic that wove through most of the conversations had to do with internal communication about what’s going on with the cluster initiative. I don’t know what changes will occur to make communication with the campus better but at least we’re talking about it in a number of venues. I’m hopeful that it will get better.

Every Monday, subgroups from the General Education committee have been meeting with four of the cluster guides to discuss Gen Ed and the First Year Seminar (FYS). Last week, the group working on FYS met. We have a pretty good plan for what we think should happen with FYS for next year. The changes are not huge but we think they represent a good first step toward a FYS that supports the kind of project-based learning experiences that we want more of our students to have. First, we want to change some of the processes we use for students to enroll in FYS so that they are truly choosing the course section based on their interest in the topic rather than choosing based on the time that the section is offered. Second, the course will continue to focus on critical thinking. But we think that moving from a question for each section to a kind of challenge or issue for each section will help to inform the projects that students might work on. For example, instead of choosing a question like “Why do people believe weird things?” (which is the question I have used when I teach the course), I might choose a challenge or issue (or what some people call “wicked problems“) like “People’s distrust of the media.” The question that I previously focused on in my class is related to the issue of distrust in the media. I might even use some of the same materials to introduce students to the topic. But now, instead of focusing on answering the question posed by the course, students will focus on improving the situation related to the issue. In other words, we wouldn’t focus on solving the problem of people not trusting the media. In fact, that problem defies easy solutions. Instead, we will focus on understanding the issue (because these problems are ill-structured and complex) and then trying to have some impact by working on a project related to the issue. We won’t “solve” the problem, again because the problem defies easy solutions. There has been a lot written about “wicked problems” and I encourage anyone interested in FYS to do a bit of research about the topic. Third, every section of the course should have extended discussions about general education. This is already supposed to be a part of the FYS but it isn’t clear that these discussions are helping students to choose an intentional path through their Gen Ed requirements and so we want to make sure that all sections include this piece. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about these possible (probable?) changes to FYS in the future.

I also had a meeting with an external partner (a teacher from Plymouth Regional High School) and Dean Vascak to talk about an articulation agreement between PSU and PRHS. The agreement will allow PRHS students to get 3 college credits in Media Arts (or something like that) for completing a new Media Arts program at the high school. The teacher and I have been working on this for about a year and it is exciting that it is nearing completion.

The guides met on Tuesday to talk about a variety of issues. Of course, the communication issue was a big point of discussion. Again, no decisions were made about how to improve the internal communication but some ideas came up. We talked about more guides blogging on a regular basis, about regular communication from each cluster, and about what the monthly newsletter should contain. We discussed the fact that the full list of projects funded in the first cycle of funding (due September 30) had not yet been published (it has since been published here it is if you’re curious). We also decided that we would use the rare 5th Wednesday of November to engage the campus in a conversation about curricular revision related to clusters. The group working with the Curriculum Committee and the group working with the Gen Ed Committee will be planning the event. We’ll be sharing some of the ideas we have about curricular revision and probably engaging attendees in some activities to generate more ideas. We are still in the early stages of planning so more information will be forthcoming.

A group of guides met with Paula Lee Hobson, Ava Tyler, Jason Moran, and Denise Hutchins on Wednesday to discuss the marketing of clusters. Paula Lee showed us the new external-focused web site that will be unveiled on November 17. It looks great although we did have a few suggestions about how to market the particular programs that PSU offers. As has been so often the case in meetings lately, the conversation turned to internal communication. We brainstormed some ideas for improving the communication and I know some of these ideas are being pursued by particular guides. Again, I’m hopeful.

My final meeting of the week was with the Arts and Technologies cluster guides on Friday. We discussed the one project proposal that we received in the second round (due October 31). We also discussed a couple of tasks that have been on our agenda for a few weeks but we haven’t completed. In particular, we’re working on another revision of our mission statement that takes the feedback from our student focus group into account. They had some great suggestions–nothing that will substantially change the mission but which will, we hope, make it clearer. We’re also working on prompting the attendees of our University Days session to follow up on the possible connections they made that day. Not surprisingly, we also discussed the issue of our internal communication. Matt Kizer has some great ideas about technology solutions that he’s following up on.

Like I said, lots going on! Let me know if there’s something you think the guides should be working on that we’re not currently doing.

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