Campus Community Day

Well, that was exhausting. Rob, Rebecca and a few others assured me that our meeting was heated in a healthy, invigorating way. Of course, they weren’t on the hot seat.

Some of the heat seemed to be based on the notion that our recommendations represent the arbitrary will of our wise and powerful Gen Ed lead, myself. This is simply not the case. First of all, because I am not so wise and powerful. But more importantly, because our recommendations are not arbitrary. They are based on two guiding principles:

  • Accreditation expectations
  • Serving our students well

Productive feedback will be informed about how our recommendations are based on these guiding principles and, hopefully, aimed at helping us advance these more effectively. Some of the pushback we got last week did not appear to be well informed about how our recommendations are based on these guiding principles.

Accreditation is looking for two things from us.

  • Our Gen Ed outcomes should be Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs). This means that they should be taught and assessed across all degree programs.
  • Our Assessment results need to be meaningful and actionable. They should inform our academic planning and resource allocations (for instance, to support professional development or curriculum development around our ILOs)

These expectations have some ramifications concerning some contentious issues last week:

  • Why can’t we have more outcomes?

We’ve recommended limiting ourselves to 4-5 ILOs. This is because of the Accreditation expectation that each ILO be taught and assessed across all degree programs. A few ILOs, specifically Information and Technological Literacy, Cultural Diversity, and Quantitative Reasoning (or a QSR) are relatively easy lifts because they can piggyback off of existing degree requirements. For each ILO beyond this, we will have to recruit programs and courses that reach all of our students to teach the ILO in a meaningful way. There is not so much credit space to work with in the case of some of our Prof Tech degrees. The more ILOs we have, the harder this gets.

We had a nice round of applause for the idea having more and more outcomes because we are bigger and better. It is a nice idea. At the end of the day, we will have as many ILOs as faculty make the effort to implement. Doing this with ILOs that provide meaningful learning for our students is going to take a good deal of collaborative effort on our part. Wanting more ILOs isn’t going to get us there.

  • Why can’t a course that only covers part of an ILO be certified at the Basic level?

This idea compromises both of our guiding principles. We can’t meaningfully and actionably assess a moving target. If we have some classes teaching just some of an outcome and others teaching other slices, while yet other aspects of the ILO largely fall through the cracks, then our assessment data isn’t going to be measuring student learning in the ILO, or anything we can reliably track. This part of the issue is about effective research design. If we want to have an effective measure of student learning of an ILO, we need to isolate the signal and control for extraneous variables that can bias or obscure our results.

Some of us seem unconcerned with meaningful, actionable assessment results, perhaps on the grounds that we already know we are teaching all this good stuff, and the role of assessment is just to document our own good work for Accreditation. This is the sort of thing Robin Jeffers used to tell us. This is not how Accreditation sees it. The point of outcomes assessment is for us to hold ourselves accountable for doing what we say we are doing. Our assessment effort will be a meaningless farce if we start with the assumption that we are already doing a great job at teaching all the outcomes we say we are teaching. We will afford ourselves no opportunity to learn from our mistakes and improve our game if we begin with that conviction.

Second, certifying courses at the basic level that teach only some of an outcome fails to serve our students well. As we write outcome KSAs we are laying down what we want all our students to learn as a student at BC. The suggestion that we certify courses for an ILO at the Basic level when they teach only part of the outcome amounts to letting that commitment slide at the level of implementation. The point of TILTing Gen Ed is to be transparent with students about what they are going to get out of our Gen Ed program. Serving our students well requires being clear about what we promise and then delivering on what we promise. Just how much we should promise will be a matter of ongoing discussion for a good while. We do need to reconcile our Gen Ed ambitions with the rest of our curriculum and our instructional capacity. But we could also take advantage of some opportunities for growth along the way.

We are building this new Gen Ed program from the ground up. The first layer is the Basic version where we focus on reaching all our students with robust meaningful instruction in the things we want all of our students to learn while they are at BC. Here we want to cover the entire ILO, though at an introductory level and perhaps not in great depth. The next layer would add courses where our ILOs are taught in more advanced or specialized ways. This is the Deluxe version of the plan. At the Deluxe level, courses needn’t cover the entire ILO, but are free to focus on the aspects relevant to their curriculum.

  • What about Quantitative Reasoning?

Our poll was not intended to definitively settle exactly which or how many outcomes we are going to have. We made a few recommendations largely on the basis of poll results. But again, what outcomes we ultimately have depends on what outcomes faculty want to build and implement. A QR outcome should be a relatively easy lift since a QR outcome can largely piggyback on our existing QSR degree requirement. One issue to consider early on might be whether we want a QR outcome or a QSR outcome. The QSR degree requirement includes logic. So, if we are going to reach all or our students just by piggybacking on that degree requirement, then we will want to write outcomes abstractly enough to accommodate logic. Another option is to have just a QR and infuse it across enough science classes (maybe including lab courses for non-majors). That way we can reach the students to take logic as part of a humanities or social science pathway without depending entirely on the QSR degree requirement. Working with Pathways could help with this.

I’m sure there are other issues on people’s mind. Please submit comments. I’ll answer in comments or revise or expand this post as appropriate. Do bear in mind that this is the beginning of our conversations about new ILOs. We hope you will participate in upcoming events. Expect some invites for outcome working groups by the end of this week.

Here’s a link to the slides from the meeting:

Gen Ed Reform.pptx (