Interim Provost Dr. Mark Gromko discusses strategies for building on BGSU’s successes and continuing to develop a distinctive university identity.
Dr. Mark Gromko
With its growing recognition for innovation in teaching and scholarship, BGSU is gradually forming a distinct identity and reputation. Key words increasingly synonymous with our institution include “student success,” “critical thinking about values,” “residential learning communities” and “faculty learning communities,” among others.
Importantly, our work is garnering national attention. For example, BGeXperience is featured in the American Association of Colleges & Universities’ new report, “College Learning for the New Global Century.” What’s more, we are one of just five universities to receive the 2007 Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) Award for Institutional Progress in Student Learning Outcomes. In addition, we were one of five institutions recently cited by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for successes in curricular engagement.
We have long been recognized within the state and region for our teacher preparation programs, powerful research programs, and signature programs in the performing and visual arts, among others.
The risk in making a list of successes is in leaving some worthy accomplishments out. I apologize for omissions in this brief celebration of successes, and turn now to ask the most difficult question that confronts us: How do we build on our successes and continue to develop a distinctive university identity?
Given the quality and commitment of our faculty and staff, it is clearly within our reach to forge a strong identity for BGSU. Doing so is essential to our long-term success. We need to be widely and immediately recognized—by students, colleagues, legislators and the public generally—as a public university that is both committed to excellence and distinctive in its approach to higher education.
Asking the question
What would university distinctiveness look like? Allow me to seed the field with a few ideas.
- If the BG Perspective program devised a general education curriculum that emphasized skill development equally with breadth of knowledge requirements, and if students saw that curriculum as interesting and exciting rather than a series of hoops—that would be distinctive.
- If faculty from across the University employed a coordinated approach to performance-based assessment, one that took advantage of available technology and electronic portfolios—that would be distinctive.
- If we were to create courses and curricula that took best advantage of service-learning, and continued to build on existing collaborations involving academic affairs, student affairs and community partners—that would be distinctive.
We have a large number of first-year programs and have received recognition for them. The overall experience for first-year students is not unified, however, and there is no sophomore-year follow-up.
- If we reorganized our first-year programs so they not only offered a coherent experience for first-year students but also integrated or aligned with the majors—that would be distinctive.
We have a number of academic programs that are recognized for excellence in research. And we have many faculty members who are highly productive in their research and/or creative fields. The full value of this research expertise is not always recognized, however. How can we better capitalize on this intellectual resource, a resource that other, less distinguished institutions don’t have?
- If we were to develop a University-wide approach to introductory-level courses that emphasized development of skills in inquiry and critical thinking, such that first- and second-year students benefited directly from the research expertise of our faculty—that would be distinctive.
Identifying our path
From the ideas above, we can extract a few principles that help underscore our search for a stronger identity.
- University-level distinctiveness must build on existing programmatic strengths.
- Our efforts must reach across units, preferably across colleges.
- A distinctive university identity will serve social needs and involve community partners.
- The expertise and habits of mind developed through faculty research and creative activities can energize our student population and contribute to student success generally.
- The intellectual growth and successes achieved by our undergraduate and graduate students must be supported by rigorous and ongoing assessment of student outcomes. These can then be shared with internal and external constituencies.
This is the challenge we must meet to continue to stand out in the increasingly difficult fiscal, political and competitive environment of higher education. As interim provost, I am determined to help the University improve its visibility in the state and region; amplify its successes in providing a high-quality education for its students; reach out to and partner with community organizations and individuals, and pursue research and creative activity of the highest caliber. I am also keenly aware of the need to identify short-term goals that have the potential for concrete outcomes.
Building on our successes
Accordingly, I have identified goals for the semester, organized within three conceptual groupings. The goals do not represent new initiatives, although they do call on the involvement of faculty and staff in ongoing work.
Advancing Curriculum and Pedagogy by Making Best Use of Research Expertise. A challenge is to nurture our students to help them develop the same intellectual skills and abilities possessed by faculty. Ideally, this should begin in lower-division classes, particularly general education classes.
In addition, those same skills can be brought to bear on the question “What and how much are our students learning?” and thereby improve teaching and learning. The habits of mind important to successful research can contribute to the substantial progress we have made in assessment of student outcomes.
There are several concrete efforts, already begun, which we can pursue to further our progress in these areas. We not only have well-developed statements of learning outcomes, we have rubrics designed for evaluating students’ development of the skills and abilities described in the learning outcomes (see http://www.bgsu.edu/offices/assessment/Rubrics.htm). These rubrics need refinement and validation. The director of BG Perspective is providing leadership in that effort. We also have, in the form of electronic portfolios, a technology tool that allows students to document their accomplishments (see http://www.bgsu.edu/offices/assessment/eportfolios.htm).
The concrete goal, then, is to develop assignments or projects (often referred to as performance-based assessments or authentic assessments) that students can capture in a digital format and place into their electronic portfolios as artifacts documenting what they have learned. Students who have developed electronic portfolios at BGSU have reported an increased sense of satisfaction and confidence in their developing abilities.
The BG Perspective Committee will be taking the lead in using electronic portfolios in this way. I also look to other groups and organizations, such as the Honors Program or residential learning communities, to expand their use of performance-based assessment of student learning outcomes.
Alignment/Coherence in Academic Programs. We often think about academic program development one program at a time. But students are a part of many programs, and their experience of them might be improved through alignment of purpose or the continuation of repeating themes. Increased emphasis on University learning outcomes and the documentation of student development through electronic portfolios, as described above, is one way to create greater coherence to students’ learning experiences at BGSU.
Due to the appointment of a director of service-learning, we are now well positioned to develop more service-learning opportunities. Such opportunities could help ground students’ academic experiences in the context of community-based problems and applications. We are now also in a good position to create more opportunities for the development of skills, such as writing or inquiry, in a wide variety of courses.
First-year programs provide an important opportunity and challenge to the alignment and coherence of academic programs. In order to assemble the coherent multiyear program we envision, we may have to restructure some of those programs.
Rewarding and Supportive Climate for Faculty Work. Our faculty members are our greatest resource. It is imperative that we continue to invest in their ongoing development and success. The Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology has been increasing the number of faculty served and the variety of programs offered. Faculty learning communities have been particularly successful. In recognition of that success, the Ohio Learning Network has named BGSU the regional center for faculty learning communities.
As a result, we will be hosting a Student Success Summit on March 22 and 23. The featured speaker will be Dr. L. Dee Fink, director of the Instructional Development Program at the University of Oklahoma. Also featured will be a teaching and learning fair, where members of the BGSU community can share and display their best strategies for promoting optimal learning. I invite and encourage all faculty members to take advantage of this opportunity.
We will also be inviting academic departments and programs to participate in a pilot implementation of the student-ratings-of-instructors form produced by the IDEA group at Kansas State. The IDEA form is based on 30 years of research and has many advantages over the homegrown forms used by many programs. It is a sophisticated form that will contribute to the usefulness, reliability and validity of student ratings of instructors. I invite the participation of all interested academic units.
Putting ideas into action
This semester, I will be organizing the resources of the provost’s office to pursue those of the above goals that can be achieved in the near term. It is also my hope that this communication will stimulate your thoughts and conversations in a way that leads to action. If you need advice or suggestions on how to pursue any of the ideas above, please feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.