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Additional Recommendations March 2009

The Final Report from the Liberal Education Task Force contains additional recommendations to the Vice Chancellor of Academic Administration. They are excerpted and included here, as well as contained in the text of the complete report.

Recommendation 3: Changing Campus Culture with Respect to Liberal Education

Recommendation: The Liberal Education Task Force recommends that specific steps be taken to change the way liberal education is perceived and represented on the UMD campus.

Context and Rationale:

Adopting a coherent mission statement and curricular requirements that make sense to the UMD community are the first steps we can take toward improving the way liberal education is perceived and represented on our campus. While these changes are essential and provide the groundwork from which other beneficial changes will grow, by themselves they are not enough. All facets of the early encounters a student may have with UMD, from recruitment, to advising, to the early stages of the classroom experience, should be utilizing a common language and spirit emphasizing the important goals of a liberal education. The task force therefore recommends that additional efforts be made to effect a positive change in campus culture with respect to liberal education.

First, we suggest that all interested faculty and staff members be provided with structured opportunities to learn more about the program’s underlying principles and purposes during the process of implementing the new program. Departments will need guidance as they consider how they can best contribute to the new liberal education curriculum—both by offering liberal education courses appropriate to their disciplines and by integrating liberal education goals into the objectives for their majors. Advisors should be given a chance to learn not only what the new program requires but also why so they can explain both the requirements and the rationale for them. Finally, instructors will need opportunities to rethink how they design and deliver courses to meet the criteria included in the Liberal Education Core. Orientation sessions, formal and/or informal meetings, presentations, and possibly even workshops are among the many possible mechanisms by which these needs might be addressed.

Secondly, the task force urges that close attention be paid to how the new liberal education requirements are presented in print and online. We have heard many complaints about how “unfriendly” to users the current descriptions of the liberal education program are, including the online catalog version and the “blue sheet.” Whether a program is sleek and minimalist or enormously complex, how it is presented and accessed can make all the difference in achieving the goals. Students and advisors will be the primary users for the online presentation and some equivalent of the current “blue sheet”; parents tend to use the hard copy bulletin; and finally, faculty and administrators responsible for running the liberal education program need a different kind of presentation for implementing and maintaining the program. Viewing other institutions’ online presentations of their liberal education programs really opened our eyes to how well—and how poorly—this can be done. UMD must do better.

Recommendation 4: Increasing Support for Improved Pedagogy in Liberal Education Classes

Recommendation: The Liberal Education Task Force recommends that specific ways of increasing institutional support for improved pedagogy in liberal education classes be identified and put into effect as part of the process for implementing the proposed mission statement and Liberal Education Core.

Context and Rationale:
The recommendation that UMD increase support for excellent teaching in liberal education classes grows out of the task force’s conviction that effective pedagogy, designed and delivered with the aims of liberal learning in mind, is essential to the success of any liberal education program. We concur with Derek Bok’s judgment that successful reform of liberal education depends on “selecting the best teachers for liberal education courses, and providing sufficient, sustained support for these members of the faculty” (Our Underachieving Colleges, italics added). The task force urges that the many dedicated faculty members who currently teach liberal education classes at UMD be recognized and encouraged to participate in the revitalization of liberal education on our campus. Indeed, with respect to enhancing pedagogy in liberal educations classes, liberal education faculty members should lead the way. We call upon the administration to solicit and foster leadership among this faculty group in order to strengthen teaching in liberal education classes, campus wide. The task force has discussed many possible means to this end—for instance, sending selected faculty to relevant conferences and workshops, conducting faculty-led workshops and/or conferences here at UMD, offering an annual “Lib Ed Camp” based on the successful “Tech Camp” model—but we offer no specific recommendations along these lines. Rather, we recommend that academic administration begin the process of building relationships among interested members of the liberal education faculty, from different departments and across the collegiate units, with the goal of fostering meaningful dialogue regarding pedagogy and liberal learning. We recommend support for efforts by these faculty members to learn more about the current debates surrounding curricular reform in higher education, particularly with respect to liberal education. These informed and committed faculty members should then be encouraged to identify the best “first steps” toward strengthening pedagogy in liberal education classes at UMD. Once these steps have been identified and agreed upon, the appropriate institutional resources should be allocated for their implementation and maintenance over time.

Recommendation 5. Increasing Efforts to Develop Students’ Skills in Writing, Oral Communication, and Logic/Quantitative Reasoning

Recommendation: The Liberal Education Task Force recommends that UMD take specific actions to increase and coordinate its efforts to develop students’ skills in writing, oral communication, and quantitative reasoning.

The proposed Liberal Education Core includes, as Part I, course requirements designed to develop students’ competence in language and reasoning. The recommendations in this section address more fully our suggestions relative to that section of the core.

Specific Recommendations for Developing Skills in Oral Communication/Languages and Logic/Quantitative Reasoning:
The task force recommends that the requirement for Part I B of the proposed Liberal Education Core be reviewed in five years’ time and, if campus learning outcomes in these areas are not being met, that the requirement for this part be increased from 3 credits to 6 credits, .3 credits from Oral Communication/Languages and 3 credits from Logic/Quantitative Reasoning.
Context and rationale:
There is broad support on the UMD campus for strengthening efforts to enhance students’ skills in oral communication and quantitative reasoning; the task force agrees that such skills are very important to the future college graduate. We also recognize that programs desire flexibility in finding ways to achieve these competencies. Moreover, we are keenly aware that requiring liberal education courses in both areas for all students would require increased institutional resources. For these reasons, our current proposal requires only 3 credits for Part I B.

However, because we concur with the judgment that students need the opportunity to develop strong skills in speaking and quantitative thinking, we urge that administration consider whether increasing this requirement might be desirable and perhaps more feasible five years from now. Assessment data relating to campus learning outcomes should be available by that time and would likely provide evidence for making such a decision.

Specific Recommendations for Developing Writing Skills:

With respect to developing writing skills, the task force recommends the following—

o Each program review, in conjunction with the Writing Studies Department, the 3000-level Writing Studies course designed for their majors and consider lowering the prerequisite for that course from 60 credits minimum to 40 credits minimum;
o Each program identify an upper-division course (or courses) within the major, to be offered in the junior and/or senior year, to further develop students’ discipline-specific writing skills;
o Freshmen be placed according to skill level in appropriately designed sections of WRIT 1120 College Writing; and
o UMD establish and adequately fund a professionally staffed Campus Writing Center.

Context and Rational:
The first two recommendations above are intended to ensure that UMD students have sufficient opportunity to develop strong writing skills throughout the entire four years of their undergraduate experience. In gathering input on the current writing requirements, the Task Force repeatedly heard that many students have very limited opportunity to develop these skills. Students take the freshman-level course in the first year and may not enroll in the advanced course until late in the junior or even the senior year. In addition, it appears that many of these same students are not required to write in a majority of their liberal education and major courses, thus creating a one-to-two year hiatus in their academic writing experience. Though they may begin college with a course that lays the foundation for building strong academic writing skills, subsequent courses too often do not give them a chance to practice and build upon what they learned in their first year; indeed, it seems likely that skills acquired in the freshman year may be eroded or entirely lost during this one-to-two year period when little or no writing occurs. While we have no hard data to prove this to be unequivocally true, it certainly is the case that many UMD faculty members are finding their students unprepared to do the writing assignments they encounter in the crucial upper division courses in the major. It is also true that many campuses require more writing instruction in the first two years than UMD does. While recognizing that each program must make its own decision about when their majors take the 3000-level writing course, the task force encourages all programs to seriously consider having the prerequisite for that course reduced to 40 credits so their students may take it in their second year, closer to the time when they take College Writing. All such decisions will, of course, need to be made in consultation with the Writing Studies Department.

The task force also recommends that each program identify a course or courses in which their majors have additional opportunities to develop their writing skills within the coursework required for the major. These courses should be offered in the junior and/or senior year and will help to generate a more consistent, integrated approach to the development of writing skills over the entirety of a college career.

In addition to the above concerns, the task force also heard from many students that WRIT 1120, College Writing, is not tailored to their varying needs and abilities. Basing their opinions on their own experience and that of their peers, these students complained that remedial, average, and advanced students are all placed in the same course. The task force therefore suggests that UMD should implement a placement process that will channel incoming students into specially designed sections of College Writing that will be appropriate to their current level of skill. Placing students will help to increase the positive impact of the first year writing experience and help all students continue the process of developing written communication skills.

Finally, the task force sees a vital need for a professionally staffed writing center on the UMD campus. Currently, students in WRIT 1120, College Writing, have access to a small writing center professionally staffed by instructors for that particular course; the tutoring offered in this center is restricted to work for College Writing only. Students needing help with writing for other courses may seek assistance from a small cadre of undergraduate tutors who work for the Supportive Services Department. We judge these facilities to be inadequate to the needs of our campus and recommend establishing a writing center on a much more ambitious scale, one that would not only provide help for students working on papers but also support for faculty integrating writing instruction into their liberal education courses and courses for the major. The new Liberal Education Core requires that writing be a consistent part of a student’s academic career, and the task force believes that increased instructional support is essential for achieving this goal.