Proliferation. OK, maybe that’s not quite accurate and a little too dramatic (plus I’m not talking about cell reproduction or nuclear weaponry), but I doubt that either Ema Heimerl or I considered that our April 2012 presentation to members of the School of Education Administrative Council on behalf of Dean Julie Underwood’s Student Advisory Board would generate additional speaking opportunities. Yet, that is what has happened. The two of us will be speaking at the School of Education’s Board of Visitors luncheon on May 3 and again at the May meeting of the School of Education’s Administrative Forum.
Our presentation’s focus is on issues that the Student Advisory Board identified as being important in our meetings with Dean Underwood and Associate Dean Jeff Hamm. Falling under the umbrella of a common theme these days, Educational Innovation (EI), and echoing much of what I’ve heard in several other EI settings, our priorities include topics related to course offerings, course delivery, student interaction and course assessment.
Within the context of course offerings, we highlight the ideas of timing and content. From a timing perspective, we are promoting the idea of offering more evening classes for undergraduates, weekend courses for graduate students, and developing January term (J-term) options, similar to those offered in compacted summer sessions. From a course content perspective, we understand there is a strong interest in art classes for non-art majors, which may be more easily realized if the College of Arts comes to fruition.
For course delivery, we are focusing on different delivery modalities – i.e., blended online/in-class courses or completely at-a-distance offerings. Several courses have already demonstrated successful blended delivery models, including Educational Psychology 301: Human Abilities and Learning. Creating online courses might open the door for students who are in professional, sequenced programs to participate in study abroad experiences, especially if the sequenced courses could be delivered online.
Student interaction with peers and with faculty is linked to positive academic outcomes. Some of the ideas we are putting forth involve creating student-to-student connections as early as orientation, particularly introducing new students to those who have been on campus for awhile and who can help familiarize them with the resources available. We also would like to see more informal opportunities for mingling with faculty members, basing it on the premise that getting to know a faculty member in a casual environment may raise students’ comfort levels with approaching faculty members in more formal settings.
Finally, an issue that was discussed in most SAB meetings was that of course evaluations. We even had staff from Testing and Evaluation Services spend part of a meeting facilitating a conversation around the issue. With that said, our recommendation is to implement mid-semester course evaluations across the School. These evaluations would be for formative purposes only – to help instructional staff understand what is working and what isn’t working for students, so they might be able to adapt what is happening in the class, if necessary. Recognizing the high stakes that are often placed on course evaluation as far as implications for tenure, we are emphasizing that we expect the mid-semester evaluation would go specifically to the instructor. We are also leaning towards recommending an online evaluation. While there were questions raised during the Administrative Council presentation about the validity of an online evaluation versus paper-based due to response rate concerns, Ema countered students could be advised ahead of time that they would need to bring a laptop to class on the day that the evaluation was being done. This would presumably result in a similar response rate as that of a paper evaluation.
There were also other topics of interest to students at the April Administrative Council/Academic Planning Council meeting, namely a report on the Institutional Review Board (IRB) and the proposed College of Arts.
For students who are involved in research, the work of the Education IRB is likely familiar. We are very privileged to have a skilled and knowledgeable IRB team working on our behalf. They review about 500 new IRB applications a year, and most applications require more than one read, so the review count is likely closer to 1,300. Eric Camburn, chair of the IRB Committee, noted that the Webkit program is being replaced by ARROW this Fall. He also highlighted that the IRB website has been updated and now includes links to a number of resources.
On a personal note, I am in the midst of submitting the IRB application for my dissertation research. Based on this very real experience, I posed a question to Dr. Camburn about whether it might be possible to have exemplar IRB applications available for review. The response to my query was couched in the logic that there is such a tremendous amount of variation between studies and across research methodologies, so the best place to find an appropriate example would be from someone who has done similar research. I have since followed that advice and have the language of two approved IRB application examples to consider as I pull mine together.
The last point from the April AC/APC meeting about which I will write is the vote of support from the School of Education for the College of Arts. The two SoE departments which would be affected by this new campus entity are Art and Dance. If the College of Arts is established, we will lose approximately 350 out of 2,000 undergraduate majors. On the positive side, the establishment of an independent College of Arts would mean leadership under one Dean (instead of multiple, as it currently is) and that will promote the development of a shared campus identity among the various arts. This shared identity will likely strengthen the ability to negotiate for campus resources through a more prominent visibility of the arts, not to mention a streamlining of administrative processes across the individual departments by pulling them into one central administrative “home”.
Minding the data
One of the most valuable insights I’ve gained during my time as a graduate student and member of the campus community on my journey to becoming a skilled researcher, educator and administrator comes from comprehending the importance of seeing the big picture. Having one tidbit of data often translates into not having enough of a context to accurately evaluate how worthy that information is; indeed, operating from that limited mindset can actually be quite dangerous and costly. Several recent GPS experiences come to mind as demonstrations of this principle: one resulted in a car accident and the other led to $66 in toll charges. I share this “wisdom” after reflecting upon a number of aspects of the presentations which occurred at the May 2, 2012, AC/APC meeting.
Thinking about data takes me back to when I was first beginning my life as a graduate student. The importance of weighing the validity of data was driven home in an introduction to research methods class taught by Gary Price in Curriculum and Instruction. While it seems like ages ago, he helped lay a solid foundation of my understanding of data credibility and validity. Those concepts were re-emphasized in the class on survey design I had with Eric Camburn and in the course taught by John Wiley on accreditation. (Please note, although I’ve only mentioned three instructors by name, my learning has been nourished by many – in and out of the classroom – and they have all reinforced these same principles in some manner).
I do like data. In fact, managing data has been a substantial part of my responsibilities as a student hourly “research database manager” in the Department of Family Medicine for the past 2+ years. But, data – out of context – is not necessarily valuable and can be misused. It behooves everyone who uses data to be ever mindful of the way in which they plan to use the data. Ensure the metrics are valid. Ensure the context for the data is accurate and complete enough to understand and interpret the results. If doing comparisons, ensure that apples are being compared to apples and not to whales; if comparing apples to whales is required, find a common denominator and measure it the same way for both whales and apples. It is undeniable that data can be extremely valuable, but as I mentioned before, if misused or taken from an incomplete context, it can also be dangerous. Don’t make a left turn just because the GPS tells you to turn left – there might be something you don’t see.
Jumping off my minding the data soapbox, there were several items from the May AC/APC meeting of interest to students which are also worthy of mentioning.
Scholarship and Awards Committee Annual Report – In 2010, SoE donors provided $975,000 to graduate and undergraduate students in the form of scholarships and fellowships via the SoE Scholarship and Awards Committee. Some of those funds were disbursed directly through all-school awards ($215,000 to undergraduate scholarships; $90,000 to graduate fellowships), and the remaining funds were awarded directly through departmental mechanisms. The scholarship application process for undergraduate students for most scholarships is now merged with the campus Common Scholarship Application. In March, the Committee confirmed its decision to award minimum scholarships of no less than $1,000 and to base the maximum award on annual undergraduate tuition.
Doctoral Research Program (DRP) Update – On May 1, 2012, at the inaugural DRP Educational Research Conference, students who are part of the DRP had an opportunity to put into practice much of what they’ve been learning this year. Framed within the context of “research dissemination”, the event was a culmination of the program’s activities throughout the year, and allowed students to present their research projects – some in poster format, some in oral presentations. Students not only presented, but they served as the event organizers as well. This type of practical experience has undoubtedly been invaluable reinforcement for the learning and professional development expectations of the program.
Ed-Graduate Research Scholar Notes (Ed-GRS) – On behalf of the Ed-GRS Advisory Committee Dang Chonwerawong reported on the School’s programming for this unique community of graduate students. There were a few points from her presentation that stayed with me:
- The Ed-GRS makes concerted efforts to pair new students with those who have been on campus already
- Unlike in previous years, Ed-GRS needs to submit an application with an itemized budget to garner recruitment dollars from the Graduate School
- The numbers of how many first-year versus second-year students who might be funded through Ed-GRS in any given year can vary greatly, because second-year students must be dissertators and some programs take longer to get to that stage
- The annual stipend is set on the lower side as compared to other fellowships on campus, and is done so to ensure that as many students can receive funding as possible; the stipend is the same for both years and is stated very explicitly in the letter of agreement
Meeting Reflections revisited
It was just about 6 months ago that I launched the Meeting Reflections blog to fulfill one scope of my responsibilities as an Associated Students of Madison (ASM) Shared Governance Committee (SGC) student appointee to the School of Education Administrative Council. While I’m sure some of my SGC peers may have tired of hearing about my blog and its far-reaching readership, I had numerous positive comments about the blog from different corners of campus. That feedback affirmed my commitment to being the student voice I was asked to be. (I also believe in leadership by example, and I hoped if I modeled a blogging behavior, more of my peer appointees might engage in it.)
The student representative experiences which have served as inspiration for the thoughts I share in the blog entries have simply been amazing. As an appointee in the School of Education, the opportunity to have a valued student voice “at the table” with world-class educational professionals is truly a privilege and will undoubtedly forever shape who I become. What I’ve learned these past months has enabled me to effectively participate in conversations elsewhere on campus. Getting an insider’s look at aspects of the School’s administrative framework has been so helpful in understanding issues at the campus and system levels too. I honestly could not have asked for a better learning opportunity. I strongly recommend the experience for any other student who aspires to be an educational leader.
And that, my much appreciated readers, is what TolaThinks …