Curricular Review is underway
A Curricular Review designed to revise academia on the Hill and focus on improving students' written and oral communication skills has been in the works for three years and is on course to be ready for implementation in the fall.
The decennial reaccreditation process by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) took place in 2007. NEASC is responsible for monitoring both public and private learning institutions from Pre-K all the way up to the university level in the six-state region.
In 2007, NEASC looked closely at both the transition for students into and out of the College. NEASC "recommended that the college continue to implement a comprehensive approach to the articulation and measuring of student learning goals and outcomes at the institutional and program level," according to Michael Donihue, associate vice president for academic affairs and associate dean of faculty. The organization found that students felt uncomfortable in the workplace with their communication skill level.
"This is our response," Donihue said of the Curricular Review. "We're doing a study in great detail of what's going on in the classroom."
The goals of the Review are threefold.
Firstly, it is a chance for faculty to reflect on their courses' learning goals, or "what it is you want students to learn in class," Donihue said.
The process, Donihue said, is designed to provide a sense of intentionality to professors.
Secondly, the review will be accessible to the entire faculty. The course descriptions should help professors see what their colleagues are doing and assist in their advising roles to students. For example, Donihue said, if a student is seeking to improve his or her writing skills, a professor with access to the Review could seek classes of interest to the student with a focus on writing.
Already over 87 percent of the classes taught in the fall of 2009 were catalogued electronically and Donihue said a webpage is in the works.
The third goal is "to communicate directly to the students," Donihue said. The course catalogue for the 2010-11 school year will look different than it has in the past. Course descriptions will be designed to tell students what they can expect to learn from the class, instead of simply listing class themes, as many do now. "It is much more useful for students to see if a course will offer learning opportunities they find attractive," he said.
Refocusing is taking place on both the classroom and the departmental level. Department chairs are working with their faculty to structure the department around learning goals. Within specific classes, professors will provide a clear statement of class expectations and learning goals so as to explicate the purpose of the class for students. "Faculty should be communicating these goals to students and hopefully revisit them throughout the semester."
Already, many professors have implemented this change in their syllabi. "I think it's clear that students thrive when they are provided with clear learning objectives on a syllabus and when those objectives are followed through in the classroom," Lynne Conner, associate professor and chair of the theater and dance department, said.
"One of the best things about the Curricular Review process is its transparency--when learning goals and objectives are clearly articulated, everyone involved in the learning cycle benefits."
The theater and dance department has been working to restructure its major and minor. The Review, Conner said, has paralleled this effort well.
In the 2007-08 school year, after NEASC urged curricular changes on the College, President William "Bro" Adams commissioned a task force made up of nine faculty members to determine how to undertake this mission. In 2008-09, in light of the task force's findings, three curricular planning working groups came into being, each made up of five faculty members.
One group dedicated their attention to curricular oversight--that is, reviewing things like distribution requirements and the Colby Plan, which "is a series of 10 educational precepts that reflect the principal elements of a liberal education and serve as a guide for making reflective course choices, for measuring educational growth and for planning for education beyond college," according to the College's website.
The second focused ways to improve communication skills on the Hill. The third sought ways to inspire better student engagement.
Indeed, Donihue's position as associate vice president for academic affairs came about as a direct result of the need for someone to oversee this process; the job did not exist beforehand.
Among other things, the three groups surveyed faculty for input, looked to peer institutions and reviewed writing programs to generate their recommendations, which came together as the Curricular Review.
This year, 2009-10, Donihue with Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Ed Yeterian are leading the first stages of its implementation.
"Professors want to be the best teachers they can be--it's in our blood," Conner said. "I hope students understand that this Curricular Review process is at its core about our desire to continue to grow as teachers."