September 2016 Update

Essential Studies Implementation


To: Members of the Oregon Tech community

From: General Education Advisory Committee
           Seth Anthony, GEAC Chair, 2016-2017

During spring term, Provost Brad Burda delivered to the Oregon Tech community the final report of the General Education Review Task Force -- the Essential Studies program, a reimagining of general education to fit Oregon Tech's mission and vision. The recommendations of the report were endorsed by Faculty Senate, Provost's Leadership Team, and Executive Staff during the spring 2016 term.

Now the review is completed, and the first steps of implementation have begun!

Coordination of this work falls upon the General Education Advisory Committee (GEAC) and the Office of Academic Excellence -- and, to keep the entire university community up-to-date on Essential Studies implementation work, we'll be producing a monthly update highlighting recent and upcoming activity.

A reminder of why we're doing this.

Essential Studies is, not to belabor the same word too much, an essential part of the efforts underway to move Oregon Tech forward -- building on our past successes, our current identity, and preparing us to take the next steps to secure our reputation as a leading, teaching-centered, public polytechnic university.

The deliberate way in which the Essential Studies program supports development of skills in demand by employers and in need in society, defined in our six Essential Student Learning Outcomes (ESLOs) -- effective written and oral communication, productive teamwork, ethical decision-making, understanding of the perspectives of others, quantitative literacy, and evidence-based reasoning to solve complex problems -- is in perfect alignment with Oregon Tech's mission to produce job-ready and world-ready graduates.

The signature experiences built into Essential Studies -- the Essential Studies Synthesis Experience (ESSE), in which student work in teams to tackle interdisciplinary problems; and the Capstone Experience in the major, in which students apply and integrate their technical skills with the cross-cutting skills they’ve developed through Essential Studies -- will provide Oregon Tech with new opportunities to showcase our students' accomplishments, recruit new students and faculty, build connections with our communities and with industry, and positively impact our state and world.

Some of these elements are new, others are refinements of existing strengths, but together -- and in partnership with our robust technical degree programs -- we believe they will help take Oregon Tech and our graduates to the next level of success.

Leadership.

During the coming year, the General Education Advisory Committee (GEAC) will be the nexus of implementation work, chaired by Seth Anthony. The Office of Academic Excellence will be integral to these efforts as well, with Sandra Bailey as Director, and with executive assistant Nellie Stewart (who many of you already know from her previous positions in student affairs and the registrar's office). But the bulk of the work of implementing the Essential Studies program will be carried by faculty, as we move to align our courses and curriculum to this new model -- and most importantly, as we support our students in developing these essential skills when we teach, advise, and mentor. 

Also key to this effort are the six committees for our Essential Student Learning Outcomes (ESLOs). Over the past two years, these committees have defined the criteria for these outcomes and are now ready to review courses to ensure that our work supports developing students’ skills in these key areas. Two ESLO committee chairs are new this year: Matt Search (Communication), and Matthew Sleep (Inquiry & Analysis); the other four -- Yasha Rohwer (Ethical Reasoning), Ben Bunting (Diverse Perspectives), Randall Paul (Quantitative Literacy), and Trevor Petersen (Teamwork) -- will be continuing their able leadership!

What's been happening?

Momentum on implementing the Essential Studies program did not slow down for an instant after the General Education Review Task Force gave its final report.

GEAC and ESLO committees. ESLO committees, which had previously defined the criteria for each learning outcome (which can be found on the Essential Studies website) spent spring term piloting a process for efficiently reviewing courses to ensure that, if they're given a place in the Essential Studies program, they support students in our key learning outcomes. These committees, in collaboration with GEAC, reduced the process to a simple form and submission of syllabi and sample assignments -- materials instructors already have for their courses.

GEAC has also worked with the Curriculum Planning Commission (CPC) to chart out how the Essential Studies review process will connect with existing course review processes. During the summer, ESLO committee chairs have been looking ahead and planning for the fall term’s work of reviewing and supporting courses in their learning outcome areas.

Commission on College Teaching. The Commission on College Teaching spent a great deal of summer time planning Monday's Pre-Convocation Excellence in Teaching conference (you can still register today!), which includes several sessions explicitly geared towards helping faculty integrate ELSO content -- including inquiry, quantitative literacy, and diverse perspectives -- into their own classes. The connections we're developing between learning outcomes and faculty development are a key part of what we believe will make this effort sustainable; ESLO committees, after all, are not bureaucratic review boards, but teams of faculty dedicated to supporting their colleagues in their teaching as well. 

Essential Studies Synthesis Experience. Many faculty have asked about the Essential Studies Synthesis Experience (ESSE) -- the interdisciplinary, project-based cornerstone of the Essential Studies Program. We are not alone in recognizing the value of such experiences for our students, and, this summer, a team of faculty attended the Institute on Project-Based Learning at Worcester Polytechnic Institute to learn from their experiences and refine our own model of how to implement an interdisciplinary experience in a way that makes sense for Oregon Tech.

Kristy Weidman and Aaron Scher will be co-chairing the ESSE Council, are excited to share more at convocation about the model for the ESSE that this team has developed over the summer.

Transfer. Given the large number of transfer students that Oregon Tech receives, smoothly handling their integration into Essential Studies has remained at the forefront of considerations, from throughout the GERTF review through today. A "Transfer Team," including representatives from academic agreements, registrar, deans, department chairs, and advising, have met multiple times during the spring and summer to consider the policies and resources needed to accommodate transfer students in the Essential Studies program.

Key among those is evaluation of transfer courses in light of the new Essential Studies program and its course categories. The key department chairs who currently evaluate courses for general education equivalency will continue to play a similar role for Essential Studies, and they have already begun to pilot what that review process will look like.

Coordination with the registrar's office will be key to implementing curricula and running a smooth transfer process and Essential Studies implementation. Administration has recognized the importance of providing the registrar’s office with the additional support it will need to facilitate work surrounding the Essential Studies transition, particularly for the key period of the most intensive work on this front. New catalog software currently being procured by the registrar's office will eventually come to smooth the process of updating curricula and course descriptions, and streamline the process of bringing the catalog to print (and online!).

What's coming next? 

At convocation, we'll share more specifics, but briefly:

During the first half of fall term, courses -- heavily from what I've come to call the "Fantastic Four" departments of Communication, Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Humanities & Social Sciences -- will be submitted for review by ELSO committees.

By mid-term, the initial review of those courses will be complete, and we'll be able to share which courses have been designated for which Essential Studies lists. This information is critical for us to proceed to the next phase: curriculum mapping.

We know that programs are eager to consider how this Essential Studies integrates with their disciplinary curriculum, as you consider your own changes and updates to your programs. In the later half of fall term, once the course lists are complete, we'll provide information and tools for programs to take their existing curricula and do any necessary modifications to dovetail with the Essential Studies program. The data we get from this curriculum mapping will be... well, essential -- in order for us to identify key opportunities and resource needs in the Essential Studies implementation process.

Additionally, we've been working with CPC and ITS on a new electronic submission and review tool for course and curriculum changes that should be rolling out during the course of this process. 

Finally, know that the rollout of Essential Studies in our curricula can not and will not happen “all at once.” Students who entered Oregon Tech under the current general education program must still be able to graduate under that model. In recognition that many incoming transfer students plan their course selection based on the current model, entry of new students under the Essential Studies program will also have to be gradual, beginning with incoming students who have fewer transfer credits, and scaling up over several years before applying to all incoming students. We are eager to continue to work with the registrar’s office, admissions, academic agreements, advising, retention, marketing, and other internal and external partners to determine the best timeline for phasing in Essential Studies.

As you can see, a lot has been happening behind the scenes as part of the implementation process to prepare the way -- and a lot of work is still ahead as the scope of activity widens to include the entire university community. As common questions emerge, our mission is to place as much information on a new Essential Studies web page as possible -- we'll introduce this web page at convocation and will encourage everyone to check there regularly for updates -- and we'll continue to provide monthly email updates on continuing progress and upcoming work. Just as the General Education Review Task Force committed to an open and including process during the review phase, we are also committed to making the implementation phase as open as possible, so please do not hesitate to approach us with questions and feedback at any point!

Seth Anthony,
General Education Advisory Committee Chair, 2016-2017

 

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