Background Information and Research


Task Force on Baccalaureate Goals
Jeanette McVicker, Chair
241 Fenton Hall
State University of New York at Fredonia
Fredonia, NY 14063
Ph: (716) 673-3861

Click on the links to read more about each of the following areas of focus of the Task Force:

CONNECTING THE UNIVERSITY MISSION TO A LEARNING OUTCOMES FRAMEWORK

Fredonia is not the first SUNY campus to move in the direction of developing baccalaureate goals. Not all campuses have adopted them (yet), but of those that do have a learning outcomes framework, ALL connect the framework to the university's mission. Two notable examples of universities that have incorporated baccalaureate goals into their curriculum are SUNY Plattsburgh and SUNY Geneseo.

SUNY Plattsburgh's model connects the SUNY general education categories to a clearly visible learning outcomes framework that builds upon those skills (such as understanding mathematics, having good critical thinking skills): they encourage their students to become contributing members to their profession, and prepare students to take leadership positions in their local, regional, and global communities; they value diversity and help students develop ethical decision making...and more.

SUNY Geneseo takes a broader approach, emphasizing less specific values. These values include, for example, “creating high standards for intellectual inquiry and scholarly achievement with innovation that fosters continuing excellence.” They also emphasize "community, diversity, integrity and service to society."

Linking values and planning goals to the campus mission is a strategy we've noticed many campuses adopt: two more stand-out examples of successful implementation of this strategy can be found at the historically Black institution, Fisk University, which links its mission and values to the development of students' "21st Century skills." The Catholic women's college, Alverno College, has created a culture of learning that drives every decision on campus, from curriculum development to actions by its Board of Trustees.

LINKING A LEARNING OUTCOMES FRAMEWORK TO THE NEW STRATEGIC PLAN

Members of the two task forces charged with developing these campus-wide, multi-year initiatives are in consultation with each other to insure that our efforts are coordinated. Our task force reviewed feedback from the campus to questions asked a year ago by the Strategic Plan committee, for example. And we are invested in articulating potential student learning outcomes that can provide concrete ways to move strategic plan initiatives such as “Innovative Teaching & Learning" and "Educational Value" forward. As you peruse our website, you'll see that additional Strategic Plan initiatives (such as Fredonia's connections to Diversity, Sustainable Futures, Community and World) are areas where we have engaged in soliciting specific campus feedback as well as synthesizing important national research on educational policy initiatives and exploring how other campuses within and outside SUNY connect strategic planning with campus-wide learning outcomes.

REIMAGINING GENERAL EDUCATION WITHIN A LEARNING OUTCOMES FRAMEWORK

Like every higher education public institution throughout the nation, Fredonia is enduring a number of challenges that should be taken as the opportunity to reach new heights building on our tradition. From this perspective, we look at what makes Fredonia distinctive and project this into the future. Fredonia is a community of learners, where faculty and students are familiar with each other, where the size of the classes is generally small and the students' education is first. Fredonia is also surrounded by special communities that contribute a rich tapestry of multicultural diversity.

Encouraging more substantial integration of these strengths into our students' education will help them develop as engaged, global, skillful citizens. As an institution with a strong liberal arts tradition, we are committed to helping students understand, think, analyze and be resourceful in every circumstance. Nevertheless, we should prepare our future graduates to be part of a flexible, competitive and global job market where taking quick and correct decisions and managing interpersonal communication is as important as having the required knowledge for the task. As other sections demonstrate, there are innovative models within and outside SUNY that integrate a strong tradition in “liberal arts” with a campus-wide learning outcomes framework, so that values such as social responsibility or ethical decision-making are linked to exposure to what LEAP calls “broad integrative learning in the liberal arts and sciences -- focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring” (see our resources page for more details).

The task force will be working diligently to provide a framework that can allow the campus to rethink general education in ways that will engage students, faculty, professionals and community partners more substantively. The current “checklist mentality,” based on campus-wide comments offered in many forums promoting discussion of the existing CCC program, erodes innovative teaching and learning, while it disconnects students from seeing their learning in general education as meaningfully connected to their work in their major and in other endeavors. The ad-hoc general education review committee made several important recommendations in Fall 2010 and our task force is working mindfully to integrate those recommendations into what will be our draft recommendations. We've benefited from the information shared by many groups who participated in national meetings over the past two years. We hope that the establishment of campus-wide baccalaureate goals will enhance the campus’s rethinking of how general education can meet its responsibilities for promoting the SUNY designated skills in more creative, innovative ways than currently exist, and think beyond them. We hope to inspire a genuine rethinking of the possibilities that a strong general education core can promote in helping us become a true learning-centered campus. We hope to stimulate faculty and professionals to create innovative linked courses and to develop learning communities that connect students' extra- and co-curricular experiences with class-based learning. We want to encourage connections that promote inter/multi-disciplinary explorations, help students engage in solving real-world problems and encourage them to develop life-long habits of learning. Much of our research focuses on developing tools for students to synthesize and reflect upon their learning in general education, and we are excited about possibilities such as e-portfolios, co-curricular transcripts and other models currently in use around the country. Such tools provide thoughtful ways for students to integrate the skills, ideas and values fostered in general education with work in their majors. We will offer suggestions for encouraging a holistic perspective that brings students’ multi-faceted experiences together. See our resources page for more details.

SUNY FREDONIA'S DISTINCTIVENESS

Many campuses have undertaken this process of establishing a campus-wide undergraduate learning outcome framework. One of our initial conversations was to contemplate how the SUNY Fredonia experience differs from other campuses. How should we incorporate our distinctiveness into our campus-wide learning framework?

We started this task by simply asking ourselves: What makes SUNY Fredonia distinctive? From there we posted this question to the website and discussion board, where we received good feedback. We also utilized the MAP-Works assessment through Residence Life to ask all first-time full-time students to respond. We queried alumni. We looked at the hundreds of comments to the Strategic Plan 2011 committee over the past year in response to this same question.

While we invite the campus community to continue to share thoughts on the ways in which SUNY Fredonia is distinctive, there are already themes emerging that summarize many of the comments and answers given in response. Generally speaking, the following are the primary ways in which we view ourselves to be unique:

  • Music, Education, and Performing Arts programs
  • Good faculty-student relationships/interaction
  • Quality of professors
  • Friendliness of the campus
  • Sense of community on campus
  • Small class sizes
  • Campus architecture and grounds
  • Location: in western NY, on a Great Lake, relationship to Fredonia and Dunkirk and region

WHO ARE OUR INCOMING STUDENTS?

It will be important for all of us (not just those of us directly interacting with first-year students) to be aware of the incoming experiences that future students will have. In working with school districts across the region and state, the ideas outlined in the Common Core (see resources page) are having dramatic impacts on the level of expectations on P-12 students as well as on the instruction being offered to students by their teachers. We urge our colleagues to become aware of these changes in P-12: New York State’s participation in the consortia of states adopting the Common Core raises the stakes for our teacher education programs and will bring us students entering all the majors/disciplines with different skill sets, expectations for learning and experiences outside the classroom. The work of PARCC (see resources page) around assessment of these Common Core skills in quantitative reasoning and Language Arts will greatly impact the students we will see in our classrooms. The "Partnership for 21st Century Skills" offers additional possibilities for engaging in this transformation. The task force is mindful of these changes in secondary education while drafting our recommendations, and mindful as well of the growing pressures to privatize education.

PREPARING STUDENTS TO LIVE IN THE WORLD -- DIVERSITY

How can SUNY Fredonia best contribute to increasing students’ positive understanding of and engagement with cultural pluralism? Studying the best models available from public and private universities, educational groups and foundations, and policy initiatives, our research reveals a wealth of possibilities that SUNY Fredonia can contemplate while building on our existing programs and initiatives (see resources page). Fredonia has many forums that regularly focus on diversity -- notable conversations just this year include the efforts of the Strategic Plan 2011 committee to diffuse diversity throughout the planning process, as well as the conversations taking place across interdisciplinary programs, the PDC renga for social identities, a rich array of student organization programming and the president’s dialogues on diversity with students and faculty. Student organizations in the Center for Multicultural Affairs are regularly engaged in contributing programming and other events on behalf of campus celebrations of diversity. The message that comes through consistently across these forums is that this campus is ready to reimagine how diversity matters at Fredonia and to discover more strategic ways of understanding what diversity encompasses.

National research on general education, interdisciplinary programs, and experiential learning confirm that "high impact practices" – the kinds of experiences that are proven to enhance student learning such as engagement in collaborative peer and faculty research, learning communities, first-year and capstone experiences, service- and other experiential learning and more – are crucial for helping students learn about and work with diversity. Diversity connects coursework in students’ majors as well as in general education; it reaches across students’ lives in learning communities, field-based learning, study abroad programs, internships and service-learning. Diversity is key to integrating student organizational life, varsity and intramural athletics and other kinds of social interaction. In what ways can we all challenge ourselves to reimagine how we talk about, teach and contribute to strengthening "diversity"?

SUNY Fredonia has a rich, diverse regional location: close proximity to indigenous communities reflecting a wealth of cultural and linguistic contributions; significant African-American historical sites and traditions that extend to communities across several counties; major agricultural production drawing generations of migrant workers who contribute new cultural traditions; significant cultural institutions reflecting generations of European immigrants; proximity to an international border and major regional waterway. How can Fredonia build on its location and region to extend students’ learning from the local to the global? How do we strengthen our international initiatives for student exchange, study abroad and uses of technology to connect the world to Fredonia? Fredonia can also tap into its rich heritage of gender diversity -- it's the birthplace of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and has historical connections to the campaign for women's suffrage. How might Fredonia promote greater understanding of gender diversity? As more employers, policymakers and graduate programs seek graduates who can demonstrate significant cultural understanding and who can work responsibly with others, Fredonia has the opportunity to make its long-standing commitment to multi-ethnic, gender, and other kinds of diversity both more visible and more active as we help students acquire "21st century skills."

PREPARING STUDENTS TO LIVE IN THE WORLD -- SUSTAINABILITY

What is sustainability? Technically speaking sustainability is the ability to endure. We could talk about the sustainability of many things -- our selves, our jobs, a building -- but since the 1980s it has generally been focused on the ability of humans to sustain themselves on this planet.

To educate for sustainability then simply means to teach ourselves and our children how to sustain our species on this planet. Since we are but a part of the Earth system -- since everything is interconnected and interdependent -- by sustaining ourselves, we sustain the planet as a whole.

When people hear the word ‘sustainability’ they immediately think of science. But educating for sustainability entails so much more. Based on our research, it touches every facet, every subject, every discipline, and perhaps even more importantly it NEEDS every discipline, it relies on every discipline. Economics, mathematics, ethics, psychology, anthropology, history, literature, philosophy, languages, world cultures, and the arts, to name a few, all contribute to our understanding of what sustainability means and how it can be achieved. Thus, sustainability is the ultimate liberal art. It is a common denominator. Sustainability is an educational umbrella that allows us to teach independent disciplines within a framework of a greater whole, a greater good.

(See our resources/bibliography for more)

PREPARING STUDENTS TO COMPETE IN THE WORLD -- EMPLOYER VIEWS

Many recent studies (see our resources/bibliography page) have explored the sorts of skills employers seek. President Dennis Hefner mentioned a survey done by the Human Resource Directors from the 17 largest Western New York corporations in his January 2011 campus-wide talk: “They found recurring deficits in five critical skills that all college graduates should possess: active listening, reading comprehension, critical thinking, time management, and judgment and decision-making skills.” Another group, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, surveys employers annually. Its lists vary somewhat from year to year in the categories they use and the results they obtain, but the most frequently mentioned skills tend to be the following: communication/verbal communication skills, a strong work ethic including showing initiative, teamwork skills, analytic skills, interpersonal skills, and problem solving skills.

It’s possible to distinguish, at least for purposes of argument, between skills and abilities (which presumably can be taught, learned and developed) and personal qualities and characteristics (which may be more innate and less directly subject to being taught, learned and developed). Looking broadly at a number of studies and reports, based on the nature of the work so many employees need to do today, teamwork skills come out at the top of lists. Employees need to be able to work effectively together. Related to teamwork skills are clusters of skills such as communication skills (listening skills, oral skills, reading skills, and writing skills); interpersonal skills; analytical, critical thinking (reasoning, judgment, problem solving and decision-making skills); goal setting and leadership skills; organizational skills, time management skills, etc. Also on these lists are abilities to understand and use technology effectively as well as research/data analysis/mathematical skills.

Among the personal qualities and characteristics employers mention are things like initiative/entrepreneurship, flexibility, trainability and adaptability, a strong work ethic (motivation, enthusiasm, ambition); self-confidence, honesty, maturity, responsibility (dependability, accountability); neatness, punctuality, a positive attitude, perseverance/follow-through.


Page modified 11/26/14