Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Oct. 24, 1997

Reactions sought to undergrad education report

by Linda Charles

Provost John Kozak is seeking reactions from the campus community to the findings and recommendations of five task forces that have been studying how to improve the undergraduate learning experience at Iowa State. The reports, collectively titled "Commitment to Undergraduate Education," are the culmination of 16 months of study by the task forces.

Overall, the reports call more for fine-tuning than radical change, but taken together, they show a renewed commitment to undergraduate education, said associate provost Ed Lewis, who coordinated the project.

Each task force looked at a different aspect of undergraduate education. The five task forces were: "Transition to Iowa State," chaired by Eric Hoiberg, professor of sociology and associate dean of agriculture; "Advising and Mentoring," chaired by Richard Seagrave, distinguished professor of chemical engineering; "Innovative Approaches to Teaching and Learning," chaired by Ron Peters, professor of psychology; "Special Student Populations," co- chaired by Dan Robinson, professor of professional studies in education, and Virginia Arthur, associate director of residence; and "The Faculty Reward Structure," co-chaired by Terry King, professor and chair of the department of chemical engineering, and Suzanne Hendrich, professor of food science and human nutrition.

The reports are available in all depart-mental offices. Additional copies may be obtained from the Provost Office and comments should be directed to the provost.

Following are some of the task forces' recommendations.

Improve the quality of teaching: Recommendations include expanding learning communities, especially for first- year students; strengthening supplemental instruction programs, such as training upper-class students to lead discussion groups for students in introductory classes; creating more non-standard-length courses, perhaps during summer session or modeled around the Saturday MBA program; and providing all faculty with up-to-date computer equipment. Another recommendation is establishing a Center for Writing Across the Curriculum. Center staff would help faculty and students from all disciplines incorporate good writing into all aspects of their academic experience.

Other recommendations include developing a first-year seminar program to help students make the transition to the university and engage them in challenging academic experiences in small group settings; and providing more support to faculty (such as release time or graduate assistants) while they develop innovative approaches to teaching.

Strengthen academic advising: Recom-mendations include creating advising mission statements in each department, conducting an initial assessment of current advising methods via the university's touch-tone registration system; providing advisers with the technology to access information about their advisees; and rewarding faculty for mentoring students. A study of how pre-professionals are advised also is recommended. Currently, pre-professional advising is part of the advising in the students' major fields.

Provide early support for freshmen: Recommendations include establishing a three-day orientation program just prior to the start of fall classes; creating a Web site for orientation; developing an orientation to campus computer services, perhaps as part of the proposed orientation program or an expansion of Library 160; reducing some class sizes; and providing new students earlier feedback on their performances in class.

Provide early support for transfer students: Recommendations include establishing pre-advising for community college students, perhaps on their home campuses; providing online credit evaluation for potential transfer students; designating a faculty or staff member in each college as its transfer coordinator; and developing orientation courses for transfers.

Identify sources of help: Recommendations include making information sources more visible, such as creating a central Information Center or putting signs in university buildings to direct students to appropriate offices; and designating someone in each department to help "walk-ins."

Address the needs of special populations: Recommendations include creating a mechanism, such as the Multicultural Task Force, to facilitate cooperative efforts among special interest groups; establishing a multicultural center; establishing some sort of rumor-control mechanism; expanding access to financial aid; training faculty and advisers to help them understand and foster student diversity; providing pre-enrollment assistance for international students and academic accommodations for disabled students; and designating a full-time staff member to the concerns of gay and lesbian students.

Affirm institutional support for faculty commitment to students: Recommendations include providing tangible evidence that good teaching and advising are valued, such as establishing university professorships based on teaching; basing a portion of salary increases on teaching performance; expecting departments to address undergraduate teaching as part of their periodic program reviews; and supporting faculty development based on teaching improvement, such as through instructional development grants and faculty improvement leaves.

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