A Guide’s View of PSU’s Week

Our first week back to campus after the Undergraduate Spring Break was a busy one relative to the Integrated Cluster initiative. Here are some of the conversations and activities I was involved with this week.

The deans, cluster guides, department chairs, chairs of principal policy making committees, and members of the extended cabinet met for 2.5 hours to discuss plans to move forward with six areas of the cluster initiative:

  1. curriculum development (interdisciplinary courses, cross-listed courses, integration of grad and undergrad, development of new majors, implications for accreditation, etc.),
  2. instructional delivery and logistics (curricular logistics, implications for block scheduling, team teaching, workload, scheduling open labs and off-campus sites, 3 and 4 credit integration, etc.),
  3. general education (first year seminar, directions and connections courses, assessment, themed sets of courses, micro-credentials, staffing of gen ed sections, etc.),
  4. facility development (cluster program co-location, building new open labs, etc.),
  5. external partnerships (cluster projects, MOUs, intellectual property, scalability of programming, etc.), and
  6. recruitment and retention (streamline curricula, advising, first year experience, marketing, etc.).

Although I am and will continue to be very involved in the general education conversation, I decided to work at the curriculum development table for the evening. We talked a lot about the structural difficulties with offering the variety of experiences to students that we want them to have. We also discussed the need to have University-wide learning outcomes so that we understand how to revise the curriculum in ways that give students the cluster experiences we want them to have. More about that discussion in my summary of the General Education Working Group below. The Curriculum Committee will hold a campus forum on Tuesday, April 18, 2-3:30 in Heritage Commons to continue the discussion of these issues.

The issue that was raised that was of most interest to me has to do with student work load. We talked about how difficult it would be for a student who happened to be taking 4 four-credit classes, all of which had an external partner with a project involved in the class. Although that’s not likely to happen next semester, I do think it’s a possibility in the future if we don’t carefully design the curriculum so that students are aware of the amount and kind of work that will be required in each class. I think working on projects involving external partners will involve a substantial amount of time outside of the regular class time. So it seems like we need to be intentional about the experiences we’re going to offer each student. We might require a designation on any course that involves an external partnership so students don’t accidentally end up in a class with such a project. And maybe we require that every student have 2 or 4 or 8 of these kinds of experiences in their time as an undergraduate. I don’t know what the solutions are but it does seem that we need to not be haphazard about how we provide these experiences.

The First Year Seminar (FYS) Fellows kick off event was Thursday night. Twenty full-time faculty have signed on to teach the FYS in the fall and to redesign the course as we move forward. Right now, the biggest changes in the course involve a challenge or wicked problem (instead of a question as in the past), using project-based activities that somehow use the open labs, and a focus on integrative learning where a variety of disciplinary perspectives are brought to bear on the wicked problem. The fellows are interested in getting input from our current students about the kinds of wicked problems they might be interested in working on. So we have planned some activities in some courses to get some input and hope to have a larger student forum to get broader input. I’m excited about this work because we’re starting to use design thinking principles. In particular, we’re developing empathy for those that we’re designing the course for. We’re including student voices in the design of the course right from the very beginning.

The General Education Working Group met on Monday to discuss our upcoming retreat on Friday, April 7. We have long known that the Gen Ed program needs a set of learning outcomes so that we can assess the effectiveness of the program. At the retreat, we will be working on those learning outcomes, starting the conversation with AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics. We will bring the work that we do back to the Curriculum Committee to determine whether these learning outcomes can be the learning outcomes for the entire University. The two groups will work together on this initiative for the rest of the semester and probably into next year. We have to be able to assess Gen Ed to maintain our NEASC accreditation so this is important work.

The Arts and Technologies cluster met to discuss, among other things, cluster curriculum. We’re excited about developing a set of tool-kit courses which are 1-credit, skills focused experiences that will help students develop the skills they need in order to participate meaningfully on projects. We’ve talked about courses on sound recording, web development, blogging, writing style, video editing, etc. We’ll probably hold a student forum to get additional ideas about topics. The Curriculum Committee will probably talk more about these tool-kit courses at their forum. The cluster also discussed the possible development of an open lab on the 4th floor of D&M if Health and Human Performance ends up moving down to the PE Center and a fabrication lab on the first floor of D&M. Discussions about these two labs are quite preliminary but there is a group of people meeting once a week to discuss and explore possibilities.

I was involved in a bunch of other conversations about open pedagogy and OER in the FYS, about cluster leadership in general and for the A&T cluster in particular, about changing the name of the A&T cluster, about the development of a student focused video production center, and much more. But in the interest of keeping this post short, I won’t give the details of those conversations. Email me if you want to talk about any of these issues or anything else related to PSU and our future.

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