Year End Cluster Reflection

Yesterday, I sent out the agenda for the last Arts and Technologies cluster meeting of the academic year. (For those interested–the meeting is May 17, 3:30-5pm, in Frost Commons.) In response, one of my colleagues asked that Matt Kizer and I spend some time talking about what we accomplished this year as guides as well as leading a discussion about what needs to be done this summer and next year. Luckily, I keep a notebook of what I’m working on and so I spent some time yesterday going through the two and a quarter notebooks that I’ve filled this year to make some notes about what we’ve done. Here’s a summary.

We started the academic year creating a mission statement for the cluster. Although I think we did a good job with it, I think it needs some updating. We had a University Day session with cluster members who gave some feedback and we ran a student focus group in the Fall to get feedback about the mission. We haven’t yet incorporated all of the feedback we received from those sessions. In fact, I think that we might have yet another iteration of the mission statement if we were to do these sessions again now, nearly a year later.

The group of guides also spent a significant amount of time defining a common vocabulary for cluster-related work. That language has become second nature to us, even though some on campus are still hoping for some changes in that language. For example, I know that many of us used to have a concern about the word “cluster” to describe what we’re doing but we now mostly accept that word and have become numb to the possibilities of words that might follow it. I also remember significant confusion about the phrase “open lab” but it seems most of us now commonly understand it to be a space where faculty, staff, students, and external partners come together to do work.

The Arts and Technologies cluster has met numerous times. At first, our meetings focused on discussions of what the cluster initiative is all about. We then began to focus on the development of projects within the cluster. More recently, our meetings have been focused on the development of cluster curriculum such as tool-kit courses, common capstones, practica, etc. Our latest meeting was primarily focused on developing a transition leadership team so that we could begin pilot what our organizational structure will be when departments go away. The Arts and Technologies cluster has agreed to pilot a new leadership structure next year. The planning for this will be done by the chairs of the departments that have programs in the cluster.

We have also met with a number of external partners to figure out ways in which we can work together. For example, Annette Holba (the new Communication and Media Studies department chair) and I met last week with a local business owner who has lots of ideas about how to integrate our students with the work he does more closely. This will end up being a cluster partnership since he is looking for students with a variety of skills (writing, marketing, music production, Web development, etc.).

Matt and I have also been part of a group that has met regularly to talk about the development of open labs across campus. We’re currently talking about a fabrication lab on the first floor of D&M as well as a large open lab on the 4th floor of D&M that will serve a variety of purposes. Another open lab that is in discussion is a production lab that would have the tools that would allow students to support our Marketing and Creative Services staff by creating video, audio, social media contents, and other messaging about the University. The students would also be able to support external partners who have needs in these areas. These discussions about open lab spaces have necessarily also involved discussions about curriculum. For example, we would probably want to offer a 1-credit video production tool-kit course to provide students with basic video shooting and editing skills if we develop the production open lab.

The guides have not been completely focused on their individual clusters this semester. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’ve spent a significant amount of time working on General Education and the First Year Seminar (FYS). The major accomplishments in that area are:

  1. FYS Fellows have been chosen and are beginning our work. We are developing a reading list for the fellows so that we have a common understanding of the goals of the FYS. We will also use this reading list to develop our common open textbook for the course. We have numerous meetings scheduled between now and June 21 to complete this work. I’m most excited about our two day workshop with Danielle Lake about design thinking and project-based learning.
  2. The General Education Working Group (GEWG) developed a set of learning outcomes for the Gen Ed program along with a rough set of rubrics for assessing the program. This work will be completed by a faculty task force over the summer with a final vote by the full faculty to happen no later than October 2017.
  3. The deans accepted a recommendation from the General Education Committee to create a Coordinator of General Education position. This recommendation arose from the GEWG (and the Curriculum Committee chair) who attended an AAC&U conference on Gen Ed. The job description for the position is being finalized and will be released to the faculty before the end of the semester. The internal search will be completed during Fall 2017.
  4. As a guide, I signed up to continue to do some planning about Gen Ed over the summer. In particular, I’ll be working with the Gen Ed Committee to plan a discussion during University Days about the Gen Ed capstone (the INCO course) and another about theming of Gen Ed (which I like to call “Gen Ed pathways” since attending the AAC&U conference).

Although we have accomplished a lot this year, there is plenty of work left to be done. The big thing is to figure out how begin functioning as a cluster rather than as a set of separate departments. This is a huge, messy task that will involve looking at everything we do currently and figuring out how to do it together, or, at least, in a more coordinated way. The biggest challenges in this increased integration of our programs will be to figure out how to share our budgets and how to supervise and evaluate personnel within the cluster.

We also need to continue our work in developing a curriculum that can support the kind of experiences we’re trying to give our students. I think we’ll need to scaffold practicum experiences, develop tool-kit courses, change current classes to incorporate external partner projects, and so on. We’ll also need to continue to develop and nurture our external partnerships. There are also a number of people on campus who haven’t yet engaged with the cluster initiative. We need to figure out how to get them involved.

It’s been a busy, messy year. But I think we’re on our way to figuring out how to make PSU into a truly unique institution that provides our students with the kinds of experiences that will make them stand out when they graduate.

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