1998 SCUE WHITE PAPER
On Experimental Education
In an April 1998 report, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching joined in the increasing criticism of the quality of undergraduate education at the large research universities of today. According to the two-and-a-half year study of 125 universities around the country, radical educational reforms are necessary in order to justify ever-increasing tuition costs. It singles out several major problems specific to research schools, including huge and impersonal lecture classes, a failure to engage students with opportunities for research, and a lack of discussion-centered learning.
There are, of course, a number of advantages to attending a large research institution as opposed to a small liberal arts college, which include working with faculty who are ranked among the top few in their fields, having access to incredible research opportunities, and enjoying the luxury of a nearly unlimited diversity of courses in all disciplines. In addition to promoting and maintaining the quality of these positive aspects, the University of Pennsylvania must develop an atmosphere in which small-school benefits, such as extensive student-faculty contact in and out of the classroom and student-focused learning, may also develop.
As Penn approaches the 21st century and undergoes a period of self-evaluation in an extremely educationally-aware climate, it has already initiated some major changes. A number of programs designed to create diverse and unique opportunities for students to pursue knowledge for its own sake are tentatively in place, for example, the new Undergraduate Research Center, the Preceptorial program, the Student-Faculty lunchroom, and the Speaking Across The University program. There are also a number of programs waiting to be formed, but rarely evolve past the theoretical stage because of a lack of space and resources. To give a home to floating pilot programs and create a structure for the development and implementation of new ideas, Penn must lead the way into a new educational era with the introduction of a Center for Innovations in Education (CIE).
The CIE will be a center for the organization of intellectual activities at Penn, both academic and nonacademic. The CIE will bring together resources that are currently absent and create the atmosphere necessary for the development of unique and successful programs.
Programs spawned by the CIE will emphasize six tenets of experimental education:
For three decades, SCUE has enacted educational reform at Penn in the shape of experimental ideas that embody these tenets. In the last two years specifically, three programs have met with extraordinary success: the SCUE lunchroom, Preceptorials, and SATU. In addition, the rest of the University has demonstrated its enthusiasm with the introduction of such programs as the Undergraduate Research Center and the student-and-faculty-initiated Asian-American Studies Minor. This proposal not only details some of the opportunities that are currently lacking, it also describes the programs that have already begun to fill these gaps. The successful launch of these programs has thus displayed the community's desire and support for new experiences.
By integrating the tenets of experimental education into the current academic structure through programs that are initiated and sustained by the CIE, Penn will develop an educational system that produces model students. These scholars will be well-spoken and familiar with the focus needed for exemplary research. They will be comfortable with many different learning environments and will have an appreciation for discourse with the brilliant minds that abound on Penn's campus. They will be equipped with the skills and experience that no other educational system could have provided. The CIE's presence on campus will foster an environment of individual responsibility and directed creativity that will distinguish
Penn from other research institutions. Student initiatives will aid the University in its continuing efforts to offer students a most challenging and rewarding educational experience.
There is no such thing as an easy route to implementation. Every idea encounters significant obstacles before it becomes a program. The initiation of new academic programs often requires collaboration between administrators, faculty members (who are often in different departments), and students, which does not happen easily. Interdisciplinary initiatives are particularly difficult to manage due to the issue of sharing faculty members from different departments and schools. The CIE will centralize enthusiasm for experimental ideas and create a process whereby many of these obstacles can easily be overcome. Students will be drawn to it as an intellectual center on campus, somewhere to brainstorm or receive feedback on an idea-in-progress; faculty and administrators will be drawn to the CIE as a place to generate and test new educational ideas. Furthermore, it will create opportunities for students to have dialogues with the faculty and administrators who, if they collaborate, have the ability to transform the ideas into viable programs. This dialogue is the first step towards initiation, and the viable plans that are bound to develop.
The CIE will be a "hub" for new ideas in educational programming, functioning in a similar manner to the Writers House and Civic House. Just as Civic House provides an organizational center for various community service groups on campus, the CIE will provide a home base for both permanent and trial programs in experimental education. By centralizing enthusiasm for the improvement of undergraduate education at Penn through innovative programming, the CIE will cultivate a community of students, faculty and administrators who are working towards a common goal. Currently, a student, faculty member, or administrator with a novel idea has nowhere to turn for help in either the refining, development, or implementation stage. The CIE will be a permanent resource on campus for all members of the University community to receive constructive criticism on new ideas from the appropriate faculty and administrators. Since there is currently no such facilitative mechanism at Penn, many ideas float around in various stages of formation but eventually wither away because the creator lacks the resources or administrative support for successful, permanent implementation.
There are two main components to the implementation of a new program: administrative power and manpower. Administrative power is needed to recruit appropriate faculty, provide funding, and ease the process of maneuvering through Penn's bureaucracies. Once this initial task has been accomplished, work is necessary to keep the programs running. Program implementation almost always includes "busy work" that is not glamorous, but nonetheless integral to success. At the core of the CIE will be a committee, composed mainly of students, who work with one or two faculty/administrator advisors. The committee will have two main responsibilities which parallel the components of implementation described above:
1) Fine-tune and then initiate the implementation process of new ideas.
2) Successfully sustain the implementation of programs that are already underway.
The committee will have regular meetings that are announced publicly, to which any student, faculty member, or administrator can bring his/her ideas in experimental education. At these meetings the committee will discuss the idea with the creator, making suggestions, or helping to solve any problems the person may have been experiencing. With the aid of an administrative anchor, the committee will then decide what the appropriate avenues and contacts would be for the formal presentation of the idea. This person, or people as the case would more often be, would be invited to attend one of the discussion panels that the CIE will sponsor on a regular basis. After learning about the idea the administrators and faculty could ask questions or voice concerns or perhaps suggest what changes could be made to bring the idea closer to initial implementation. The administrative anchor for the CIE committee will have a deep understanding of Penn's hierarchical structures, and therefore the knowledge to direct ideas to the appropriate individuals or departments. The CIE core committee involvement with the development and implementation process of each idea will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Some ideas will require guidance well into the implementation stages, while others may need a bit of direction and will become self-sustaining relatively quickly. Considering this variation in time commitment to different ideas, the CIE will have the capacity to take on a number of projects at once without becoming overburdened. With time, there will be a multitude of successful programs spawned by the CIE, and a broad network of people with interests in experimental education will develop. The creators of the ideas and the administrative links responsible for bringing them to fruition will all be centralized under the CIE. As this network of students, faculty and administrators grows, the road will be paved for future experimental initiatives.
Once a program is given the support necessary to move forward, organizational tasks are essential to its continuing success. This phase of the implementation process would also fall under the CIE umbrella. Some programs could find a permanent home in the CIE, while others might be temporarily housed there until they are adopted by another department or administrative structure. Each program taken on by the CIE would have a separate committee responsible for handling the duties that accompany the implementation process. These committees should not be difficult to staff, since there will be a vibrant community of experimental education enthusiasts willing to help the cause of any new program in education. Since the committees will all be housed in the CIE, they will create a synergy and assist each other when necessary. The effort to initiate and sustain programming will be extremely collaborative.
The core committee will also be responsible for periodic evaluations of the programs that are being administrated by the CIE. Inevitably, there will be programs that are unsuccessful and ultimately drain the CIE's resources. The core committee will identify these programs and rectify any existing problems. In addition to "streamlining" programs, the core committee will ensure that all programs are being utilized to their full potential. Specific details such as the number of core committee members and how these members are chosen should not be mandated, but rather left to the discretion of the committee. Changes should be made to the internal structure as needed, depending on current demands.
In this paper we will summarize some programs already in existence that would have greatly benefited from a CIE presence on campus over the course of their respective implementations. We will also introduce some new ideas that would fit well into the CIE framework. In an Appendix, we describe a potential implementation pathway through the CIE for one of these ideas, the Penn Scholars program. [Please see http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~scue/index.html.]
Here is a vision of what the CIE could look like in the future, once it has gained momentum and become a significant presence on the campus:
It will be housed in a building central to campus, containing office space for the committees that will be run out of the hub as well as the personnel in charge of it, and classrooms used to hold experimental classes and committee meetings. There will be additional space for other programs which encourage the development of an intellectual atmosphere beyond the classroom and/or exemplify other aspects of the experimental education ideology.
In addition to providing a collaborative space for various experimental education projects, the CIE building will also be a permanent information source for students regarding CIE-sponsored opportunities at Penn. A professor offering a course or a committee running a new program will have the option of advertising and posting information through the CIE. The Center will evolve into a hub of experimental activity, assisting projects from the creation stages to advertising and implementation.
The CIE will have its own budget for the purpose of funding, advertising and purchasing necessary supplies. Since the CIE committee will take on the added responsibility of fund allocation, the core committee will have additional faculty and administrative members. The committee overseeing the CIE will be composed of students, faculty and administrators. Administrative presence on the board is necessary for the purpose of continuity as students pass through the system upon matriculation and graduation, but students should have a permanent voice in decision-making. The responsibilities of this core committee will be to advise the CIE committees, in addition to handling the additional administrative work. Committee meetings will be open to anyone who wishes to participate, but will have a permanent core membership with voting rights. The CIE's presence on campus will cultivate a community of students with an interest in experimental education initiatives who will attend meetings on a regular basis as well as fuel the various committees that are associated with the hub.
In addition to housing various committees that are working in experimental education initiatives, the CIE will also provide a collaborative space for the Undergraduate Advisory Boards (UABs). UABs have already found success working strictly within their departments, but a centralized meeting space would facilitate the sharing of ideas and successful experiences as well as failures so they could learn from one another. At several SCUE sponsored UAB conferences a major topic has been collaboration among the different departments; by centralizing their locations the UABs will be able to share and create new ideas in a more effective manner. In addition, the CIE will provide a support network for academic departments with interdisciplinary interests.
A Hypothetical Implementation Path of a Future CIE Program
In this section we will give an example of how a program could progress from the idea stage to implementation and perpetuation. Penn Scholars is an idea that SCUE has been working on for a while and it is now in the final proposal stage. Within the CIE framework, several interested students could work to create a dynamic interdisciplinary research environment. The CIE core committee would help students develop their ideas into a polished proposal appropriate for presentation to administrators (see Appendix).
The Penn Scholars program will encourage undergraduate research at the University. Under this program, five or six of the University's brightest undergraduates across all schools and programs will perform a two-credit, year-long study on a common topic that would be carefully selected to span many disciplines (e.g. war, or time). At the end of the year, these Penn Scholars will participate in a large panel presentation of their research. This culmination of work will serve as a dialogue on the Penn Scholars' findings, as well as an exhibition of undergraduate research performed at Penn. Two to three times each semester, a meeting with the Moderator will ensure that each project stays within the bounds of the predetermined subject. This session will also provide a forum for the scholars to present progress reports of their own findings. This program will be an interdisciplinary approach to a broad subject, with undergraduate researchers from diverse fields learning from each other.
Once the idea has been finalized, incorporating the suggestions of the CIE committee, appropriate faculty members and administrators will be identified to support the project. The CIE core committee members as well as administrative anchors will help to identify potential program sponsors. In the case of Penn Scholars, likely project sponsors would be the Provost or people involved with research at the University, like the Vice-Provost for Research. The Chair of the Humanities Center, which facilitates inter-disciplinary research in the humanities, and the head of the Undergraduate Research Center are other potential candidates for this position. The strength of the CIE lies in its ability to foster connections between new programming ideas and those individuals who have the authority to implement new initiatives.
Once the program has gained sponsorship, practical aspects of program implementation must be addressed. A Penn Scholars committee including both the sponsors and its creators, as well as other members of the CIE core committee, will be formed. The responsibilities of the Penn Scholars committee will be to select a topic, advertise it, solicit and evaluate applications, ensure the quality of the forum facilitator, and schedule and handle other logistics of the forum. It will handle these responsibilities indefinitely, until the program is handed off to another entity.
As shown in this example, the presence of the CIE on Penn's campus will allow for the accelerated communication of ideas between creators and potential sponsors. Since there will be a centralized location for all ideas in experimental education, they will draw strength from each other, sharing resources both in the development and implementation stages. As more successful programs are spawned by the CIE, an increasing number of people with ideas will be attracted to the center and an intricate network of key faculty and administrators will be developed. Penn will lead the way into the 21st century with experimental programming to broaden undergraduate education.
The first three programs described below are recent initiatives whose implementation would have been greatly aided by the presence of a CIE on campus. They are followed by summaries of two program ideas which, like the Penn Scholars program outlined above and shown in more detail in the Appendix, would fit into the CIE framework.
Preceptorials are short, small, non-credit seminars generated by students and led by some of the University's most lauded faculty and staff. The program promotes student-faculty interaction and learning for its own sake; in this respect, Preceptorials embody a spirit of learning that should be prevalent in all aspects of an extraordinary educational institution.
Freshman year students arrive at the University a bit nervous, slightly intimidated, and usually completely overwhelmed. An immense course guide and over-crowded lecture halls do not help to ease a student's transition to college life. Freshman seminars and New Student Orientation attempt to introduce students to the vast resources of Philadelphia, lively campus life, interaction with professors, and small classes that they will look forward to during the next four years. By sophomore year, however, much of the enthusiasm for learning and exploration that students arrived at the University with becomes lost as they navigate through general and major requirements. Frustrated with large introductory classes and seemingly unapproachable professors, many students redirect their energies towards extracurricular activities and away from academic pursuits.
Preceptorials serve as a reminder to both students and faculty that grades and articles are the results of learning and exploration rather than the purpose or object. This is emphasized by the fact that a Preceptorial offers knowledge as its sole compensation. By creating a space where students and faculty can explore their interests without any pressure to produce, SCUE hopes to unlock the "need to know" in all members of the University community. Ultimately, the program aims to inspire more informal interactions between students and faculty and bring genuine curiosity back into the classroom.
Preceptorials cover a large array of subjects that range from Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture to Japanese etiquette, as well as the Internet and Philadelphia jazz. Preceptorials may meet anywhere from one to three times during a semester. While some Preceptorials are held in a classroom and are discussion based, others take the form of a trip, such as a weekend retreat off of Penn's campus. In order to promote intimate student-faculty interaction, a limited number of students can enroll in a Preceptorial. The average Preceptorial consists of 15 students, including SCUE liaisons. However, this number may be allowed to vary in order to accommodate the nature of the Preceptorial. As of Spring 1999 Advance Registration, students became able to register for Preceptorials via Penn-in-Touch. Previously, registration was handled solely by SCUE. Registration for most Preceptorials is random, although applications may be required for a very limited number. SCUE currently covers all costs needed to run Preceptorials. This includes but is not limited to transportation, food, reading materials, and tickets for shows and exhibits.
Each Preceptorial is assigned two SCUE liaisons, one Preceptor (Preceptorial leader) liaison and one student liaison. Liaisons aid in Preceptorial generation and are responsible for that Preceptorial's general maintenance and completion. The Preceptor liaison maintains contact with the professor, reserves rooms, and organizes any transportation or purchases that are required by the Preceptorial. The student liaison works in conjunction with the Preceptor and Preceptor liaison to ensure that the Preceptorial meets students' interests. Responsibilities include answering student inquiries about the Preceptorial, ensuring attendance and completion of student evaluation forms.
Since their foundation in 1996, Preceptorials have become immensely popular. Overwhelming numbers of students apply each semester in the hopes of being able to participate in this unique experience. This popularity is clear evidence of Penn students' thirst for intellectual experiences and student-faculty interaction. In this way, a Preceptorial may be seen as the ideal model of a typical class. Its unique qualities should be considered goals for all classes towards which the University administration can work, for example, by beginning to give a higher priority to utilizing the most engaging professors on campus when hiring and granting tenure to faculty.
An important goal for the University of Pennsylvania is to provide all students and faculty members with a rich intellectual environment where all can share ideas and learn new perspectives from esteemed colleagues. While faculty members frequently socialize with each other and students assemble in various groups and activities where they can exchange ideas, faculty-student interaction on campus is lacking. Intellectual engagement between students and professors has traditionally been confined to the classroom. While smaller seminar classes frequently provide an intimate setting where such interaction can take place, the vast majority of Penn classes tend to reflect a one-sided approach to learning, with the professor disseminating knowledge, while providing little time for intellectual conversation.
The classroom provides a foundation of knowledge, but by no means should learning cease at this level. Professors must distill large amounts of information into three hours worth of class time, providing students with only a glimpse of the topic at hand. Assigned readings provide a one-way diffusion of knowledge, but no interaction with the subject can be had. Associated teaching assistants serve as sufficient guides through basic course material, but lack the experience and expertise to answer complex questions. Although some professors encourage e-mail and newsgroups as ways to pose questions and find answers, such means prove very impersonal and, at times, constraining. Often, a very terse conversation on a topic triggers a cascade of questions, which can only be answered in discussion. Professors' office hours are open to all students enrolled in the course, so extended personal interaction is constantly confined to a brief period of time.
After exhausting the various resources available in their pursuit of knowledge, students become frustrated. In addition, students are sometimes intimidated to approach their professors, a renowned scholar in his field, for an appointment or an individual meeting. After encountering so many road blocks, many students give up their search and placate their inquisitive mind with a disappointed "Well, I tried my best."
The SCUE lunchroom, currently located in the Faculty Club, facilitates rich undergraduate-faculty interaction every day during the school year by providing a central location on campus for a number of students and faculty to have lunch. It provides a neutral environment, outside of the strict confines of the classroom, away from the intimidating office of the professor. Rather, the SCUE Room is a comfortable place for the Penn undergraduate community to converse informally with faculty and administration members.
The occupancy of the room is large enough so as not to isolate its customers, while at the same time being small enough to hold a conversation without distraction. In addition, the SCUE Room offers an affordable menu, so that frequent use of this room by students should be encouraged. For convenience, students on the Penn Dining meal plan are able to redeem their meals at the SCUE Room. Eventually, students should also be able to purchase meals using their PennCards, with billing sent to the student's Bursar Bill.
By providing an affordable, convenient, and high-quality eating establishment with an intimate setting in the heart of campus, the SCUE Room effectively facilitates significant undergraduate-faculty interaction.
SCUE's 1995 White Paper discusses the need for the University of Pennsylvania to provide its students with the opportunity to develop their rhetorical skills. The White Paper states that a key component of effective scholarship is the ability to communicate and express one's viewpoint. Penn addresses students' writing needs through the Writing Across The University program, yet lacks any formal program targeted at students' oral communication skills. Due to the absence of a formal speaking program, SCUE would again like to present the University community with a plan to elevate communication skills across the campus.
Speaking Across The University (SATU) is a University-wide program that enhances Penn students' oratorical abilities in both formal and informal settings. This program is designed to give students a formal opportunity to practice their speaking skills with the aid of a certified advisor. The advisors for SATU are Penn students who have completed a rigorous semester long course taught by a faculty whose focus centers around basic speaking skills. Speaking Across The University follows closely in the footsteps of the already successful Writing Across The University (WATU) program, which SCUE helped to implement ten years ago.
SATU has two goals. First, Speaking Across The University will bring greater student participation to the classroom. This intensive program will provide Penn students with the tools needed to succeed both during and after their University careers. Second, it will culminate in the creation of a one-credit (c.u.) speaking requirement which students at Penn would fulfill in a manner similar to the already existing writing requirement. The speaking requirement will assure that all students improve upon their communication skills during their time at Penn.
SATU-affiliated classes would include those deemed appropriate the previous semester and various classes which encourage student participation beyond traditional classroom discussions. Freshman writing seminars and senior seminars would be conducive to implementing a program like SATU because they require students to give both formal and informal presentations along with intensive classroom discussion. These classes should be looked at carefully as the possible next phase of classes to be integrated into the SATU program.
This program will greatly enhance the undergraduate experience at Penn by cultivating an essential skill often not addressed in the classroom. SCUE is confident that this program will ultimately benefit all involved. Students will benefit by receiving the tools needed to convey their ideas in a professional manner. Administrators will benefit because this program creates a well-rounded Penn graduate. Finally, faculty will benefit by creating innovative new courses that spark students' interest through increased participation. If Penn wants to create future leaders, it must give them the tools to succeed. Only with the integration of SATU into the Penn curriculum can students be given the necessary skills to lead in the 21st century.
The Thematic Semester will be an opportunity for students to take courses across disciplines in a designated theme for a given semester. Five courses will be offered in each theme each semester, and students participating in the program will be required to enroll in at least three courses. Courses will be offered in a wide range of departments, but will all focus on the same topic; for example, "East vs. West," "technology," "medicine," or "war." Courses from different departments will approach the theme from unique perspectives, giving students the opportunity to make interdisciplinary connections, as well as to gain a sense of continuity in their education.
The Thematic Semester will create a cohesive learning experience for undergraduates at Penn. Many College students find themselves dabbling in different disciplines for the sole purpose of fulfilling the General Requirement. Occasionally, however, students see the synergies that exist between classes thus bringing a newfound perspective to their educational experience at Penn. The Thematic Semester is designed to maximize academic overlaps, creating continuity among general requirement courses in a small-group setting. The Thematic Semester can create a small-school atmosphere within the structure of a large research institution, bringing the increased discussion and intellectual cohesiveness of small-school education to the University.
Connections between courses currently offered at Penn exist, however they are not readily apparent from course titles and descriptions. If course curricula were adapted to focus on the connections between disciplines, students could learn about themes and ideas across departments, and more successfully apply these concepts to the world outside of Penn.
Freshmen and sophomores who have not yet decided on a major are ideal for the program, thus providing a sense of direction in the early stages of their experience at Penn. The General Requirement usually dictates the courses taken by students at this stage of their education, and this trend results in a random assortment of courses that rarely have any relevance to each other. In this program, five courses from various departments would be offered, all of which would count towards the General Requirement and be linked by a common theme. College students would therefore be able to fulfill requirements while unifying their educational experience.
Juniors and seniors could also effectively take advantage of the Thematic Semester program. Many juniors choose to vary their typical course schedule by going abroad or participating in the Penn in Washington DC program; the Thematic Semester provides another option for those seeking an alternative educational experience. Freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors alike have much to gain from the unification of their intellectual experience. The program would be a challenging, but ultimately very rewarding experience.
There is a dual responsibility on the shoulders of both the University and its students to create an atmosphere that promotes the pursuit of knowledge. Universities must provide students with the opportunities to learn while students have the duty to take advantage of the possibilities that lie ahead of them. With these beliefs in mind, SCUE would like to propose the One-and-a-Half Credit Course.
The One-and-a-Half Credit Course would allow students to take a University seminar and combine it with a half semester research project. During the first half of the semester, students will have the opportunity to select a topic, covered in class, that will sustain their interest over the course of the semester. Students will go beyond classroom discussion to conduct a more intensive exploration of the topic. At the end of the semester, those students who have selected the 1.5 credit option will present their findings to their peers in the class.
The One-and-a-Half-Credit Course emphasizes two of Penn's curricular needs. First, it will create more interaction between students and faculty at the University and second, it will introduce many students to the research process and spark their intellectual curiosity. This program also provides depth to most students' curriculums by allowing them to pursue their academic interests beyond the classroom walls.
If more than one student in a class were to take the 1.5 credit option, then at the end of the semester the class would participate in a research forum. All the students would gather for an extra class and those that pursued a half-credit research project would present their findings to the rest of the class. The students would all benefit from the research of their peers and they would gain additional insight into their class topics that fellow students pursued further.
The One-and-a-Half Credit Course provides students with a unique opportunity to learn in both the traditional seminar setting as well as the independent atmosphere of research learning. This program would provide many students who were intimidated by the idea of independent research with a less rigorous introduction to the subject and hopefully tempt their interest for future projects. The 1.5 Credit Course would help to promote undergraduate research and would cultivate a spirit of learning at Penn.
To access the Appendix click here or see http://dolphin.upenn.edu/~scue/index.html.
Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 19, February 2, 1999