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Nearly four decades ago, an energetic group of undergraduates came together in an effort to debate, reform and advance the cause of undergraduate education at Penn. Rather than simply bemoaning problematic issues, these students sought to enact viable, workable and practical solutions to important and far-reaching problems. If the current Student Committee on Undergraduate Education is the product of the hard work of our predecessors, this White Paper on Undergraduate Education is our deed to future reformers.
Contained within these pages are our thoughts, views and suggestions on some of the most salient and pressing matters that confront our four undergraduate schools. By way of deferring to Benjamin Franklin's wish that we learn all which is useful and all which is ornamental, we speak of reform in terms of theory and in terms of practice. While we necessarily speak in abstractions when it concerns "changing the campus culture" or "advancing the frontiers of knowledge," we also offer concrete proposals in terms of the Major Advising Program and information technology reform. Such is our goal: to spur discussion and to forge tangible change. We hope our work is viewed using both of these important benchmarks as a starting point.
SCUE continues to advocate for the advancement of a meaningful dialogue regarding the substance, purpose and execution of an undergraduate education at Penn. Our proposals have the ability to help make an undergraduate education at this University second-to-none. As has been done in the past, we look forward to working in concert with our fellow students, and with the faculty, staff and administration of America's oldest university, to build on our legacy, improve our programs, and better educate our constituency: the undergraduate community of scholars.
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A distinct advantage at Penn and institutions of its kind is the realm of opportunity for learning outside of the traditional classroom environment. Original research represents perhaps the best of these opportunities because it allows the student to synthesize classroom knowledge, outside reading, personal experience, and hands-on fieldwork to create a new intellectual statement. Such a process not only enriches the field in which the research was performed, but also enriches the individual by training him or her to analyze critically.
Though Penn is a research institution--a very fine one--undergraduate knowledge of research is arguably minimal. SCUE believes that at Penn, an institution with some of the world's best and broadest research opportunities, undergraduates not participating in substantive research during their time at Penn are not fulfilling the educational potential of their time here. Because the academic benefits of increasing undergraduate research at the University are so great, this chapter discusses the issues surrounding research at Penn and proposes some solutions to potential roadblocks. These issues are the following:
The Community of Scholars
Part of the desire to introduce Penn students to a full career of research experience stems from the desire to include Penn students in a community of scholars. As of right now, faculty and graduate students all share membership in the common experiences of careers in research, and all can proudly proclaim that they have colleagues in their study. Part of SCUE's desire to enhance the undergraduate research experience at Penn stems from our desire to allow undergraduates to exist in a full-time academic community that extends well beyond classroom walls and hours. This is in the spirit of some of the college house initiatives as well as SCUE's Lunchroom and Preceptorials programs.
Community of Undergraduates: The results of research are meant to enhance the life of the researcher as well as the general community. For this reason, it is imperative that undergraduates at Penn not only be encouraged to benefit from their own research, but from the research of their undergraduate colleagues as well. When successful undergraduate research is conducted-whether in the sciences, the humanities, in business, or elsewhere-the undergraduate community as a whole should benefit. To facilitate this widespread benefit, researchers of similar topics should be grouped together loosely for the purpose of group sharing and feedback. This community is salubrious in two ways: first, one's own research benefits greatly from understanding cutting-edge research in related areas; second, we all benefit from learning that lies at the frontiers of knowledge. Undergraduates performing similar research processes can likely be of invaluable help to one another in overcoming difficulties and providing inspiration. This idea is in accordance with expanding the Provost's Scholars program (SCUE, White Paper on Experimental Education, 1999) and the newly created Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF).
General Community of Scholars: In addition to having undergraduates share their work within the undergraduate population, a scholarly community containing faculty, undergraduates, and graduate students must be established. At present, graduate students and faculty interact in research discourse, helping and learning from each other in the process. Undergraduates are a natural added component to this community. With graduate students acting as research companions in some cases and mentors and advisors in others, undergraduates can more fully reap the benefits of the tremendous graduate population at Penn. Further, faculty members, much as they are now for graduate students, must be utilized as professional aids for undergraduates. Faculty should be implored to help promote undergraduate research in terms of aiding in publication, in introduction to conferences and symposia, and in simple mentoring.
The expansion of the scholarly community at Penn will help break down many of the artificial barriers that separate the different learners and teachers at Penn. By promoting the inclusion of undergraduates in this community, every scholar at Penn can succeed better in his or her intellectual endeavors.
Resources for Research
In encouraging a greater emphasis on undergraduate research, Penn has the responsibility not only to make students aware of research opportunities, but also--and perhaps more importantly--to provide them with the resources which conduce excellent research. These sources take three primary forms: textual, personal, and monetary.
Library Privileges: Unquestionably, the Penn library system either contains in itself or has access to texts that make possible extensive research on almost any subject. Unfortunately for the student researcher, however, availability of these texts is limited. The first obstacle has to do with the student's personal borrowing limit, which allows a student to check out only thirty books at a time. While under most circumstances thirty is a more than adequate number, for a serious research student, a larger number of books could very well be necessary. Furthermore, on top of all the texts borrowed for the research project, the student could conceivably need several more for an unrelated assignment in another class. The current book limit, though seemingly sufficient, makes nearly impossible the simultaneous production of two separate projects, especially when one of them is an extensive research project. There should exist, then, a simple procedure which would allow the book limit to be waived or at least substantially extended for the researching student. This process could be as easy as having the department head or faculty advisor for the student sign a form verifying the need for an extended limit. Such a request could be processed by the system so that instead of putting a block on checkout as the student attempts to borrow his or her thirty-first book, the system simply scans the text as usual. The small change in the system would have a significant impact on the number and especially the quality of undergraduate research projects.
Because access to materials is so crucial to research, students doing such projects should also be granted extra rights in borrowing and keeping books. First, research students should be exempt from recall. Though the recall system allows a student in need of a book to avoid the frustration of waiting indefinitely for the text to be returned, it creates for the student already using the book the frustration of having to return a text he or she may still be using. Since good research is a semester or yearlong project, a student should be able to work in confidence that he or she will be able to keep any necessary resources throughout that time period. When another person recalls the book, the student will not be sent a form informing him or her that the due date has been bumped up, nor will the student's borrowing privileges be suspended until that book has been returned. Instead, the student will receive a letter or an e-mail informing him or her that another student has requested the book and, if possible, the return of the text in question would be appreciated (though in no way mandatory). Also, should the student choose to return the book, the other student would be given the text for a limited time--the standard four weeks, but without renewal period--and the library would hold the book for the research student upon the book's return. This recall adjustment would guarantee that research could continue with only limited interruptions in research availability.
With final regards to the library system, the student should have access to almost any text. If multiple copies are in Rosengarten, one of those may be removed. More importantly, though, texts in both the stacks and the special collections off-limits to most undergraduates should be made available for checkout for research students. Implementing both this privilege and the exemption from recall could be achieved through the same form used to extend the checkout limit. With minor adjustments, then, new opportunities make themselves available to researchers, with the only possible result being better and more extensive research from undergraduates.
Accessing the Experts: Many times, personal interviews or discussions with experts can be just as important and as useful as the texts. Because of this, the researching student should find the entire faculty available for advice or information. Already, the vast majority of teachers and graduate students generously take time to talk to students about projects or just to stimulate discourse. This is a habit we must continue, especially in regard to research. Professors have an obligation to their students to serve as resources and should make all attempts to accommodate a student who comes to them for information for a project. Faculty members should also make an effort to provide the student with names of other resources--either textual or personal--which may be able to assist the student further. SCUE also realizes, of course, that students need to feel comfortable talking to their professors outside of class and must realize that taking the initiative is their responsibility. For truly great undergraduate research to proliferate, both students and professors must continue to realize the importance of faculty as resources. SCUE sees CURF as an ideal forum for accomplishing such interaction.
Finding the Funds: In many cases, research can be done by using the two sources mentioned above: texts and people. In some situations, however, other types of information gathering are needed to make the project worthwhile. While the University should not be responsible for providing unlimited funds to undergraduate researchers, it should provide support in two ways that will cut the cost for the student: first, the University should make available to the student all necessary laboratory facilities and equipment. Assuming the student is requesting nothing inordinate or useless, Penn should have no qualms about allowing students to use whatever materials it has, even if the student could obtain it on his or her own. Second, the University should better advertise fellowships and grants that would help fund research, a task that CURF has the potential to accomplish. While ideally, no cost should be spared in the quest for information, realistically, this is not always possible. Defraying the cost of research to the student will encourage more experimental and innovative practices and will, if used in conjunction with textual and human resources, make exceptional undergraduate research possible, practical, and appealing.
In addition to providing a research-oriented community and granting access to research resources, the key to successful integration of research into the undergraduate educational experience is to make clearly known what research opportunities exist. The student should also be made aware of the obligations that research entails. Passing on this information is primarily done through the use of advertising to the undergraduate in any field of study.
The first part of this advertisement should happen in the classroom, with professors beginning to advertise in two important ways. First, professors should integrate the research they do into their classroom lessons. This adds a way for the student to see the use of the research in the development of the subject and in the enhancement of the field. Such a process will also have positive impacts upon teaching quality: when faculty members free themselves from the binds of textbooks to teach their personal passions, such passions can only help to make a classroom experience all the more memorable and effective. This will, in turn, generally motivate students to begin their own search of purpose in enhancing the larger field. Additionally, faculty members ought to inform students of available research opportunities and other pertinent information.
Wherever appropriate, professors should ask students for help in their own projects or refer them to other professors who need help in their research. They should, above all, always be open to the student, being willing to listen to project proposals and dilemmas and to respond with advice. While this model may be the status quo in some disciplines, it is relatively unknown to most students. Additionally, creative use of the work-study program across disciplines can enable students on financial aid to choose research over other job options.
Advertisement is integral to the growth of research on this campus because it helps unaware students find a greater presence of research and more opportunities to explore. Ultimately, it also aids the overarching goal of breaking down the psychic and institutional barriers which have traditionally kept students from fully realizing their research potential. SCUE believes that inviting this underused segment of the Penn population into the research mix will have nothing but positive effects on the education of students, the research of faculty, and the overall intellectual climate at Penn. Because research as a whole is integral to the entire intellectual atmosphere of the university, the efforts here described--efforts on the communal, informational, and promotional levels of research--must be pursued if we at Penn are truly to take academic training to the highest echelon.
A Complete Research Database
Currently, SCUE is working to improve undergraduate research--and by extension, research in general--by assisting in the development of a research database for the CURF. Specifically, it will include a description of all current research projects being performed at the University, along with information about each faculty member's broader academic interests and areas of expertise. The database will be online and available to all members of the Penn community in order to help them find other scholars according to research interest.
As a first step in solving the problems currently associated with undergraduate research, the database will improve research publicity and give students access to the experts by listing everyone involved in the research community. Additionally, for a student to become interested in taking on a research project, he or she must first know what research opportunities are available--a task which is often daunting given the current infrastructure. To that end, the database will be designed in such a way that through a quick search, any student will be able to find a project of interest and the appropriate person to contact. Such a consolidation of easily accessible information will provide invaluable research opportunities, whether the student wants to become involved in a current project, start his or her own, or learn from one of the many experts across Penn's campus. The increased awareness will then lead to a boost in undergraduate participation in the scholarly community at Penn.
Above all, we hope to foster intellectual exchange between all scholars--faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduate students alike. Faculty will be able both to discover other experts in their field and to find students who can assist them in their projects, while students will become more involved in research at Penn. As it stands, the database is in its earliest stages and will require extensive resources and input. SCUE hopes to find the support necessary to compile it successfully.
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Introduction: Academic Programs in the Information Age
Information technology has changed and will continue to dramatically change collegiate environments and society as a whole. Consequently, the University needs to try harder to educate the entire student body about technology--in terms of its uses both inside and outside of Penn. SCUE recommends the following steps outlined in this section be taken.
An introductory seminar should be available every semester to acquaint interested students with the Penn network. The course should familiarize students with web-browsing techniques, FTP, e-mail utilities, newsgroups, listserves, and the network in general. Such a course would have two major benefits: first, students would be prepared to enhance their own coursework at Penn through Penn's already existing infrastructure, and second, students would gain insight into the same tools most frequently used in outside information technology environments.
The second step is developing IT-related courses. Understanding that information technology plays a crucial role in all disciplines--not simply Computer Science Engineering--SCUE maintains that such courses must be made accessible for the student body as a whole. A good example of such a course is CSE 100, the course syllabus for which is available online at www.seas.upenn.edu/~cse100. Other courses--which have great interdisciplinary potential-might involve studying e-commerce, Internet technology in general, the technological revolution and its implications, or simply how information technology has influenced thinking in relevant disciplines.
Finally and most importantly, the University needs to develop cross-discipline academic programs relating to technology. Some programs already exist and have been very successful. For example, the program in Digital Media and Design has become quite popular in the past couple of years. Nevertheless, more programs must be created, with some possible areas including:
As the IT revolution rages on, there is an overwhelming amount of new technology being developed at every moment. It is crucial for the University to isolate and use those technologies which can help improve the quality of education here. The most obvious areas requiring development are the computing facilities on campus. The following improvements need to be made:
The second area requiring funding and development is the physical side of PennNet. The Internet culture seems to be moving in the direction of Converged Networking, where data, voice, and video streams will merge on one network. Speed, security, and variety of supported functionality will be the concerns not only of today, but of tomorrow as well. In order for Penn to smoothly transition into the network infrastructure of the future, the following areas need to be developed:
Finally, more attention needs to be paid to wireless technologies. More than ever, students are using Palm Pilots and other wireless computing devices. School computing centers, as well as the college house ITA system, should begin to provide basic technical support for this type of hardware.
Providing timely and understandable software assistance is critical to providing for efficient, computer-based student work. Currently, much assistance is already being provided to students through various tutorials on the web, training sessions, and printed materials. However, these materials are fragmented to such an extent that they are not conveniently accessible. Moreover, these materials are often incomplete and insufficient. In addition to providing first-rate software support, the University must constantly invest in upgrading currently licensed software packages and constantly look out for new ones. In order to achieve the above, the following steps should be taken:
Penn Web should be reorganized along more logical principles. While the disparate development of Penn's web forced the creation of multiple servers and web styles, this organization has become quite troubling for students as the entire school has moved content to the web. All course-related web pages at the University should be easily found and accessible. At present, the history department's server is called "clio," accounting's is called "debit," with other schools and departments maintaining their own uniquely named servers. Such naming schemes make it very difficult for a student to find information quickly on a department or course. A standardized naming system (such as www.school.upenn.edu/department/coursenumber) would dramatically increase students' ability to find course material on the web.
Technology as a Teaching Tool
Learning and teaching should never be limited to the classroom. Indeed, technology now offers various opportunities to make learning outside of the classroom even more valuable and exciting. Course and department web pages can help organize the huge amounts of information available on the web so that it can be used most efficiently and successfully by students. E-mail can provide a forum for increasing student-faculty interaction. Newsgroups, listserves, Blackboard, and WebCafe can even make it possible to continue class discussion outside of the classroom. The following section contains recommendations on how to reap the extraordinary benefits of such technological tools.
Class Web Pages: Class web pages are becoming increasingly common throughout the University, although their popularity and use varies according to subject and department. Though a likely reason is that certain subjects seem to lend themselves more easily and more usefully to using the Web than other subjects, web pages can be excellent supplements to teaching in any class, and are valuable tools in helping students select courses. Every department should, therefore, be responsible for providing course web pages. The following are several suggestions for them:
Departmental Web Pages: In addition to individual course web pages, the University should require the use of departmental web pages, again according to University-set minimal standards. This can be accomplished through several methods:
a. Tutorials on HTML and web page design.
b. Human assistance in creating the websites.
c. Examples of previously created websites as well as templates of simple, yet useful web pages. While some of these resources already exist, they are dispersed throughout the University and frequently duplicated, thus unable to serve their purpose efficiently.
E-mail : Use of e-mail has become a necessity for most professors at Penn, and whether it is appreciated or resented, e-mail is an important means of communication between members of the faculty and students. Professors should be encouraged to read and respond to e-mail on a regular basis, and they should warn students of when they will be unavailable over e-mail. E-mail can also be an excellent way for professors to encourage input that students might otherwise be hesitant to give, and can allow for greater interaction between the professor and students.
Class Listserves and Newsgroups: Listserves are an excellent, often overlooked class resource, and they can serve a purpose as basic and as useful as posting class syllabi on the Web. Professors can use listserves to send reminders, to make changes to the syllabus, to make homework assignments, or to make additional commentary on class material. Listserves also encourage students to communicate with one another and with the professor outside of class, and to continue class discussions beyond a three-hour time slot.
Class newsgroups are an excellent option for courses in which listserves are heavily used, and in which professors are looking for a better, more organized way to handle discussions via e-mail. Newsgroups can be accessed through any e-mail program or Internet browser, and students would only have to subscribe to a class newsgroups in order to read messages that are posted, as on a virtual bulletin board. Professors can set up a class newsgroup by filling out the online form at the following website: www.upenn.edu/computing/netnews/news-request.html.
Blackboard and WebCafe: In the past two years, the University has been investigating asynchronous teaching tools that move beyond the constraints of class listserves and newsgroups. The two software packages that have been successfully piloted and are now being heavily used are Blackboard (used in SEAS, SAS, GSFA) and WebCafe (Wharton). This software allows a professor to create an elaborate website with rich features in a minimal amount of time. Blackboard contains a set of utilities for course support, such as a private discussion board, a chat system, grade distribution, group file sharing, course information pages, a homework hand-in system, course e-mail, self-grading quizzes, and more. These useful features, while difficult or impractical to implement using HTML, are easily enabled in Blackboard or WebCafe. The support for the software varies by school: in the College, SAS Computing sets up Blackboard accounts and has held interest meetings with various faculty and departments; several Wharton departments have already integrated Blackboard and WebCafe into courses; and the Engineering school is now hosting courses on the use of the program as part of the university-wide pilot program. The schools should continue to develop these support programs for faculty so that professors can find material on and assistance in using the software and deciding whether it would be right for their courses.
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In the words of Jacques Barzun, "Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition." The goal of this section is to make artful, exceptional teaching more easily attainable and more prevalent at Penn. SCUE believes that for the sake of undergraduate education, teaching--the transmission of knowledge and wisdom--is as important as exceptional scholarship and research. We will discuss several areas of teaching which are often problematic for professors and which are vital to undergraduate education, as well as notable methods and models currently used by various professors and departments. Central issues include:
Lectures Versus Seminars
The setup of a class can have a profound effect on the quality of learning and education. Classes at Penn generally fall into one of two categories: the lecture or the seminar. Given these models, certain ways of handling classes are more effective than others, depending on a number of variables, such as subject matter and the teaching style of the professor. In this section, we will describe the methods we have found to be effective and the issues concerned with the lecture and the seminar.
Class Discussion in the Seminar: The main difference between the lecture and the seminar is the element of discussion, and in most cases, smaller is almost certainly better. With enrollments of ten to twenty students, seminar courses allow for a level of class interaction and participation manageable for the professor and meaningful for the student. Discussion is the most important part of seminars, and when it is carefully guided, it can be the best way for students to learn. However, when discussion is not focused or handled well, students have a greater tendency to "tune out," and the burden of commenting and interpreting falls to the professor.
To combat this tendency, SCUE suggests that professors carefully control discussions and remain focused upon leading the discussion to some defined point. While questions should be encouraged and can even serve as the basis of discussion, professors should always be aware of the balance between talking about the material and conveying educational and important information. Often, in those areas of study which are more subjective and interpretive, students essentially "run" the course, and this method creates a far greater risk of descending into meaningless commentary. Instead, professors should always direct the discussion.
In seminar courses, which depend more heavily upon conveying concrete knowledge than on interpretation, utilizing class discussion can be a difficult task. However, SCUE believes that the main reason lectures are often ineffective is that the material is told but not expanded upon in some meaningful way. Seminar discussion can be a more effective alternative. Rather than lecturing, professors can use the seminar method of posing and answering questions in order to teach the material. Dialogue improves learning, and seminars provide the unique opportunity for students to question and respond to the material.
Class Discussion in the Lecture: One of the most difficult issues of the lecture course is how to keep students interested in the material. Some professors rely entirely on giving effective lectures, while others try to encourage student participation and discussion. However, keeping discussion interesting and useful is a difficult task with a large number of students. These two suggestions can allow for effective discussion time in lectures:
Quality Control in Lecture Courses: Frequent and periodic student evaluations are particularly useful in lecture courses where there is less contact between the professor and the students. An excellent example of how evaluations are used effectively in a lecture course can be found in Marketing 101, taught by Professor Barbara Kahn. Professor Kahn establishes "quality circles" in each recitation section, and a larger one for the general class. "Quality circles" are groups of randomly chosen students who meet with the professor in order to provide feedback about the course material or teaching methods. These meetings occur several times in the course of the semester, each time with the same group of students. In this way, the professor is able to control the quality of the course and interact closely with the students.
The Setup of the Classroom: One factor, which is crucial to the quality of discussion, is the actual layout of the classroom. Seminars are optimized when conducted around a table at which everyone--including the professor--can sit. If the class is located in a room with chairs, the professor can simply tell the students at the beginning of each class to arrange themselves in a circle. First, this allows the focus of attention to shift easily among students and the professor, and it encourages the students to contribute to the discussion. Second, this allows students to engage in discussion with each other rather than to direct all comments through the professor.
Reaching a balance between teaching and class discussion can be difficult in both lectures and seminars. However, a lecture professor can allow students to pose questions and comments without sacrificing his or her own control of the class, and seminar professors can remain in control of class discussions while ensuring that the course material is being clearly conveyed. Through consideration of these issues, as well as being aware of the setup of the classroom, lectures and seminars will be able to maximize their quality.
Perhaps the most valuable relationships that students will have during their years at Penn are those with professors. But all too often, constraints on time and resources, as well as the size of many lecture courses, make it difficult for students to interact with their teachers. There are, however, many techniques professors can use to encourage communication and interaction with students.
In the Classroom: In large classes, getting to know students individually can seem impossible. However, there are several ways in which professors can overcome this problem:
Office Hours: All Penn faculty members are required to hold office hours, and many encourage students to make arrangements for other meeting times if their office hours are not convenient. However, the question then becomes how best to take advantage of this time and to encourage students to use it. One suggestion is that when appropriate, professors hold office hours in an informal setting, such as a coffee shop or lounge, rather than in their offices. In this way, they appear more approachable, and students are more likely to use this opportunity. Professors can also have lunch or coffee breaks with students, which is becoming a popular option at Penn. It has also become an easy option since the inception of the SCUE Lunchroom, a program which allows students to take professors to lunch at the Faculty Club, free of charge. Such options should be enthusiastically and regularly encouraged by professors. SCUE strongly urges all faculty members to invite their undergraduates to take them out to lunch at the SCUE Lunchroom.
Recitations: Professors can take advantage of recitation sessions in several ways to encourage interaction:
Many professors throughout the university have begun to use the student presentation as a course requirement in smaller classes. The quality of such presentations, however, is often difficult to control or to judge, and their worth for other students can be questionable when compared to lectures by the professor. While presentations can be valuable and worthwhile and provide important opportunity for improving students' communications skills, more attention ought to be paid to how they are controlled and treated as requirements, for which the following suggestions are offered.
The Purpose of Student Presentations: It is crucial that the student making a presentation offers an argument, thesis, or topic, which can be treated as a subject of discussion for the class, as opposed to a merely informative presentation. Presentations should be treated like graduate symposia, wherein an undergraduate is expected to form a thesis on the topic, and not merely present factual information. The "informative" presentation is often problematic for several reasons:
In terms of the worth of presentations for the class as an audience, the second point above is very important. Frequently, presentations are simply incorporated into an ensuing class discussion, and feedback by the professor on the content of the presentation is not given. Thus, other students in the class place less weight on the validity or importance of the information being presented by the student. Professors should therefore feel free to argue with the content of presentations, and to draw out the strengths contained within them.
What to Expect from a Student Presentation: An effective method for improvement would be to judge undergraduate class presentations with the same standards as those of graduate courses. For example, it is often the practice in English graduate seminars to require students to give presentations before the class which are accompanied by short papers that the student can choose to distribute, and to afterwards defend the thesis of his or her presentation before rigorous, even difficult questions posed by both the class and the professor. This model would be useful for undergraduates in several ways:
The third point is particularly noteworthy. If in-class presentations are to be as useful as other requirements in the course, students should be expected to defend the arguments of the presentation, much as a professor would question the validity of a thesis or the arguments made in a paper or in the responses to test questions.
The Requirements for a Good Presentation
When used effectively, student presentations can be an excellent way to develop interaction among students and professors. If professors choose to use them as a course requirement, these suggestions can make them a more effective part of the class.
The TA System
Presently, there is no basic university system of training teaching assistants at Penn. Instead, a number of departments at Penn have established their own methods of training and evaluating their TAs, while other departments have no training programs at all. Every graduate student who becomes a TA, however, ought to be prepared to teach and to work with undergraduates by their departments and with the help of professors. TAs affect the quality of teaching in many classes, and large class sizes often necessitate that they act as "surrogate professors" in recitations, office hours, discussions, and even grading. Because of their importance to teaching at Penn, an evaluation of teaching requires their consideration.
The First Semester: TA Training: During their first semester, graduate students should not be TAs, but should instead use part of the time to become trained as teachers. Departments can assist the process in one of two key ways:
TA Evaluations: Every department should use written evaluations and faculty supervision of graduate student teaching. Professors should attend at least one recitation session per semester and should meet with their TAs regularly to discuss course material, recitation and discussion topics, and teaching methods. For example, the Art History and Philosophy departments encourage weekly meetings to be held between professors and TAs, thereby creating a strong and necessary connection between what students are taught in lectures and in recitations. These meetings would also encourage the development of a strong rapport between professors and their TAs, and would enhance the quality of their work together.
Students should also complete written evaluations of their recitations and teaching assistants. Currently, some departments do not use TA evaluations at all, while others collect evaluations but do not pass them on to TAs or faculty members. Student evaluations can be the most effective way to monitor the quality of TA teaching; accordingly, there should be a structured student-evaluation process in each department to ensure that all TAs receive regular feedback.
The Center for Teaching and Learning, as run through the School of Arts and Sciences, is also an innovative way for all teachers to receive constructive feedback in an anonymous, non-confrontational manner. SCUE strongly encourages the growth and broader use of the resources of the Center for Teaching and Learning.
Whatever the method, departments can use the evaluations by professors and students to keep track of the teaching experience and quality of a TA. Most TAs at Penn will help teach several courses throughout their graduate studies, and during this time, departments can maintain files that include past evaluations from both professors and undergraduates. This information will help departments and TAs in three important ways:
Improving Graduate Student Teaching: No matter how good the evaluation or preparation program, there will be some TAs who are either inexperienced or sub-par teachers. As a solution, some of the following methods can be used:
Graduate students have become a fundamental part of teaching at the undergraduate level. By making exceptional graduate-student teaching a priority, the University will significantly improve the quality of teaching in general, and will establish a precedence of producing excellent teachers and scholars.
Graduate Versus Undergraduate TAs: SCUE endorses the use of qualified and trained undergraduate TAs. Different course and recitation structures create some situations more appropriate for teaching by undergraduate TAs, with others more appropriate for teaching by graduate students.
Undergraduate TAs should play a role in several course areas. First, many interdisciplinary courses are taught under the auspices of multiple professors and multiple departments. Such courses may have no relevant graduate program, and hence should make use of undergraduate TAs who have completed relevant coursework or disciplinary experience. For example, Cognitive Science is an undergraduate program with elements of linguistics, computer science, philosophy, psychology and other disciplines. A graduate student in any one of these disciplines is not a student of Cognitive Science, and hence will be ill prepared to deal with all relevant aspects of Cognitive Science coursework. Hence, as no Cognitive Science graduate program exists, the members of the student body most educated in Cognitive Science are undergraduates. Thus, qualified undergraduates are in the best position to help students in recitations. Similar arguments can be made regarding International Relations, PPE, or even within the Pilot Curriculum.
Secondly, while SCUE appreciates and understands the intense financial circumstances requiring some graduate students to become teaching assistants, SCUE also recognizes that the high proportion of international graduate students in certain disciplines can sometimes lead to a language barrier. In certain recitations, particularly those found in mathematics and the sciences, the primary function of TAs is to clarify lectures and go over assignments. In such cases, clarity of presentation must be valued over theoretical expertise--even at the cost of replacing more expert graduate students with more easily understood undergraduates.
SCUE does, however, greatly value the work all graduate students are doing at this university. They are certainly among the world's brightest students and will be at the forefront of the next generation of researchers and university faculty. As such, and in accordance with earlier chapters, SCUE strongly encourages graduate TAs, wherever appropriate, to share their research experiences with their undergraduate students. By providing the perspective of another intellectual, graduate students will provide a greater value to the lecture classes they assist. Additionally, such teaching will help stimulate undergraduates to consider their own research potential. Finally, SCUE believes that by occasionally incorporating their research into their teaching, graduate students will become more passionate teachers. In so doing, the atmosphere and learning environment of a recitation will be markedly enhanced.
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Helping Students Make Informed Academic Decisions
Major Advising Program (MAP)
The wide range of academic disciplines at Penn enables students to follow their interests in almost any field imaginable. Although this breadth of subject matter sets the University's students at a great advantage, many underclassmen find the limitless possibilities daunting. With so many options, SCUE has found that many freshmen and sophomores have trouble deciding which field of study best suits them. Compounding the issue is the fact that most underclassmen's experience with a certain subject is limited to their time spent in an introductory class. These large lectures are often not exemplary of upper level courses that they would take as a major.
With these issues in mind, SCUE intends to implement a new program which will help students make decisions about their major, with guidance from their peers. The Major Advising Program (MAP) will match an undecided freshman or sophomore seeking guidance with an upperclassman majoring in a field of the underclassman's interest. Through the pairing, this underclassman will be able to attend an upper level class and have his or her questions about the department and course of study answered by a fellow student. Our hope is that this hands-on experience and personal advice from a peer will permit underclassmen to choose their major with greater ease and with more knowledge and confidence.
Although initially invented to assist students, MAP could also benefit smaller departments at the University. The structure of MAP would permit underclassmen to explore disciplines of interest beyond their own coursework. This could potentially lead many students to major in fields of study with which many freshmen and sophomores are unfamiliar, thus maximizing the vast resources available and lending greater security to smaller departments.
MAP will most likely be administered through a website which will describe the program and also permit interested upperclassmen to apply to become advisors. The website will include anecdotes from students explaining why they chose their major and what their experience has been since. These quotations should provide a convenient and lively glimpse into the various academic avenues one can pursue at Penn. SCUE, in conjunction with the College advising office, is currently working out the logistics of the website. SCUE sees the system and the website in their completed state being maintained by the advising offices at Penn.
Our hope is that this program will help students make critical decisions about their future, and will provide an innovative tool for the advisors looking to guide them. SCUE believes MAP has the ability to harness the value of hindsight and experience only upperclassmen can offer.
In a university with as wide and diverse a course offering as Penn, choosing classes can be an art unto itself. Before signing up for a class, students must consider many factors, including, but not limited to: interest in the subject area, timing, degree of difficulty, completion of the general requirement, completion of the major requirement, and last but not least, the slipperiest question of all: "What's the professor like?" Fortunately, the Penn Course Review, while certainly not perfect, does help students assess the quality of a professor by providing other students' input and evaluations.
At the same time, the current book format of the Course Review takes nearly a year and a half to publish, costs students ten dollars upon publication, and is not printed in large enough quantities to meet the demand of the entire student body. The delay in particular impairs students' ability to make informed decisions, since the Course Review is unable to keep up with new professors, new courses, and innovations made to existing courses.
By moving the Course Review online, the problems caused by the delay will be solved. Evaluations filled out by students in fall classes could be processed by advance registration for the following fall semester, and input on spring classes could be available early in the summer. Beyond making the information available to all members of the Penn community, this would allow incoming freshmen to learn about courses at Penn before first-semester registration. Furthermore, if the program proves successful, the capabilities of the Internet could allow the evaluations to be one part of a complete "center" for course information, with links to the course description, syllabus, and semester timetable. Moving the Course Review online should also allow for a more sophisticated and detailed presentation of the data.
It is important to note, however, that in the process of putting the Course Review online, SCUE would like to revamp the forms in order to suit all members of the Penn community as best as possible. We are deeply interested in hearing input from faculty, students, and administrators alike.
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Preceptorials are short, small, non-credit seminars generated by students and led by some of the University's most lauded faculty. The program is designed to foster discussion-based student-faculty interaction and learning for its own sake; to that end, there are no grades or tests. Students are emphatically encouraged to attend all meetings of the Preceptorial and to complete all assigned readings. This program was designed and proposed by SCUE in 1995 and has flourished since its inception.
Approximately thirty Preceptorials are now offered each semester, and many of them have upwards of seven hundred requests for enrollment. Most Preceptorials meet three times over the course of the semester, for 1-1/2 hours per session, but some are one or two-day trips. There are no more than 15 students in a Preceptorial, and they are open to students of any year or school. There is no fee to participate; all expenses, including food and travel, are paid. Thanks to work by students, registration for Preceptorials occurs through Penn In-Touch during advance registration, just as it would for a regular class.
Because of the growth of and demand for Preceptorials, SCUE is in the process of partially divesting itself of the Preceptorials program in order to provide adequate human resources. Preceptorials now operate, therefore, through a separate organization. While SCUE still funds Preceptorials, this immensely successful program should have separate funding in order to continue to grow and to meet student demand successfully.
Other Programs Similar to Preceptorials: The popularity of Preceptorials has spawned numerous similar programs across campus. Hillel, the Engineering School, the Joseph Wharton Scholars Program, the College House System, and other groups have begun creating small, student-initiated, faculty-led seminars. SCUE encourages the development of such programs through these forums and others. Understanding the exceptional benefit of fostering extra-classroom contact with faculty members, SCUE believes that such programs strongly complement the SCUE Lunchroom and Preceptorials programs.
The overwhelming popularity of the Preceptorials program has also left many students unable to secure coveted places within a preceptorial. Thus, SCUE further recommends that departments consider offering their own version of Preceptorials: well advertised, broadly accessible seminars with standing faculty. Specifically, those fields which are narrowly accessible for students without the appropriate backgrounds (sciences, professional fields, etc.) should consider increasing their participation within the Preceptorials program, or offering similar opportunities to the undergraduate population at Penn.
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New Student Orientation
In conjunction with the administration and the Undergraduate Assembly over the past year, SCUE has sought to fundamentally reshape New Student Orientation (NSO). SCUE's motivation has been to turn what was once a hectic, relatively unorganized process into a cohesive period of time that can prepare freshmen for many aspects of their lives at Penn and in Philadelphia. To this end, SCUE has lobbied for and will continue to lobby for emphasizing Penn and Philadelphia's resources, communities, and histories as a proper orientation to life at Penn.
In the fall of 1999, a joint SCUE/UA proposal to the Council of Undergraduate Deans (CUD) resulted in the campaign to expand and revamp the existing NSO. The following is the proposal made to CUD, which SCUE believes should continue to guide the process of NSO revision currently underway.
Objectives of NSO: SCUE believes that a successful NSO should leave freshmen with an understanding of both Penn and Philadelphia's resources, community, and unique history. The following is a list of objectives intended to help students gain a better perspective--academically, socially, functionally, and culturally--of Penn as an educational institution and the city in which we all live.
An Introduction to Penn
Academic Resources: One of the most difficult challenges upon arriving at Penn is learning how to take advantage of the wealth of resources and opportunities here. If students are to make the most of their experience at Penn, they must be provided with the appropriate tools to do so in the earliest stages of their education. To that end, SCUE believes the following objectives must be met during NSO.
In order to integrate new students fully into academics at Penn, the advising system must accomplish three major tasks. First, advisors must take time to inform students about requirements, and to apprise them of valuable educational opportunities students might not otherwise recognize. Advising should not only help students know how to meet degree requirements, but should empower them academically by helping them build a cohesive and meaningful experience. Without the sense of confidence and command over their education that result from sound advising, students cannot make the most of their time at Penn. The groundwork for such must be laid during NSO.
Second, advisors should help students understand the role of the advising system, and how to best make use of it--two daunting tasks for students new to Penn. Finally, advisors should begin to build advisor-student relationships which can extend throughout a student's entire undergraduate career.
The library system is among the most extensive in the country; consequently, proper training is necessary in allowing students to navigate it and take advantage of it most successfully. While an intensive tutorial on the library system would be inappropriate during NSO, students must at least be cursorily introduced to the library. Students should learn about available research resources and tutorials so that they are comfortable with the mechanics of research from the outset. Students should also be made aware of the available study resources they can use throughout their Penn career, including study spaces, computers, and group meeting spaces.
Technology is another resource that requires a brief introduction during NSO. In order to help students make use of the technological advantages Penn offers, NSO should successfully introduce students to communal computer resources, inform students of the computer technical assistance available to them, and begin to introduce students to how technology can enhance learning.
History and Community: The sooner students understand Penn's rich history and distinguished and lively traditions, the sooner they will feel a part of Penn's community. For this reason, SCUE believes that NSO should not only introduce students to academic resources, but also to the spirit and the character which define Penn.
NSO should explain to students the history of higher education, particularly as it relates to Penn's growth as a university. In order to appreciate our university, students should learn the historical facts, nuances, and traditions which make Penn unique. The Penn community at large can be even further strengthened by building community within College Houses during NSO.
At the same time, it is imperative that NSO help students explore the different and overlapping communities which exist at Penn. NSO provides a valuable opportunity for students to begin to appreciate, meet, and exchange with other students from different cultures and backgrounds. New students should also be exposed to the myriad clubs, organizations, performing arts groups, and sports teams Penn boasts.
NSO can also strengthen the academic atmosphere at Penn by instilling in students a sense of academic community within their school and the University from the beginning. Academic integrity should also benefit from such an effort.
Finally, Penn should use NSO to instruct students about the physical campus community and the safety issues within it.
An Introduction to Philadelphia
Penn students should not constrain themselves to the borders of Penn's campus. In order to make the most of their education at Penn, students must take advantage of our urban setting, and the many resources and opportunities Philadelphia has to offer. Ultimately, students are not only members of the Penn community, but also citizens of Philadelphia. NSO can help students locate the resources and gain the tools to become productive citizens and to incorporate the richness of Philadelphia into their education.
The geographical comfort zone students define during their first few weeks at Penn often dictates to what extent they move beyond Penn's borders to take advantage of Philadelphia in the future. In order to broaden that comfort zone as much as possible, NSO can serve as an introduction to Philadelphia as well as Penn. From museums to symphonies to First Fridays, Philadelphia boasts a number of cultural opportunities with which students can be made familiar during NSO. A rich array of neighborhoods and communities comprise Philadelphia, and NSO is an ideal time to introduce students to them as well. Finally, NSO can show students the various retail and social opportunities across the city. Yet none of this will be successful if NSO does not help students understand the various transportation options across the city and how they work. If students do not feel comfortable navigating the city, they will not take advantage of the many resources here.
We are fortunate to live in a city with a unique and important history, an appreciation of which can be cultivated in students during NSO. Students can learn about Philadelphia's history and what gives the city its character today. Knowing the city and its origins will not only make students more excited about living here, but will strengthen the sense of community and attachment students feel towards both Penn and Philadelphia.
Fundamental Problems in the Old NSO
In reviewing past orientation schedules, it seemed that virtually all of the above objectives were addressed. However, much research and a compilation of personal experiences proved otherwise. The most important mission of the new NSO program should be to meet these objectives in an effective way. The following were identified as the central problems which previously prevented NSO from meeting the objectives:
1. NSO had a "rushed" feel to it.
This problem primarily stemmed from only four days being allotted for orientation. Attempting to fit everything into such a short period of time resulted in students (and parents) having too much to do at one time, and consequently not reaping the benefits of many valuable programs and resources. A primary goal of extending NSO was to reduce the amount of stress and to maximize the focus on important issues. For this reason, we do not want to expand the time to implement more university-sponsored programs, but rather to give students ample time for all of the activities and tasks that move-in and adjustment to Penn require. If NSO programs are simultaneously redesigned along the guidelines of (3), SCUE believes this can be accomplished.
2. Schedule NSO programs during "pre-academic" time.
The four-day orientation period forced the extension of orientation events into the academic year. This resulted in sparse attendance, failure to meet objectives, and therefore, inadequate preparation for the freshmen. In order to ensure students can give their full attention to orientation programs, the programs must be offered at a time during which the students can focus on them. Once classes begin, both statistics and our own experiences show that participation drops dramatically.
3. The programs themselves were short and segmented activities.
We believe that this was the cause of the "boring program" and "what was the point?" reactions to NSO reported in the VPUL surveys. This can be solved by designing programs which are cohesive and integrated, and which can be successfully institutionalized. The Philadelphia Walking Tours are an example of a program which, when successfully designed and executed, will allow for many objectives to be met at once in an enjoyable and effective way.
4. Students were not developing meaningful and lasting intellectual relationships.
NSO did not seem to foster either intellectual relationships or exchange. This is not to say that social relationships are undesirable, but that intellectual interaction is an equally necessary component of NSO. NSO should become more academic in nature, so that there is a substantial foundation for cultivating such exchange. Heavily infusing advising into orientation will help this, as well as implementing the proposed Proseminars program.
5. Coordination and implementation needed to be improved.
As with any large event, without good coordination and imple-mentation, NSO cannot be successful. Two suggestions surfaced from RA, GA, and orientation staff reports, as well as from students: first, more attention needs to be paid to the details of orientation; and second, certain responsibilities need to be reallocated so that weight does not fall so heavily on a select group of people.
The following is the SCUE/UA proposed event schedule. We support the Orientation design that was implemented for the Class of 2004, but are including this because SCUE believes it exemplifies additional methods of addressing NSO objectives, and further ameliorating the aforementioned problems.
Remarks on the Newly Revised Orientation
SCUE supports the many innovations and alterations made to NSO academic programming. The extension of the Penn Reading Project is a valid means of introducing students to the resources of Penn's faculty. Extended advising hours introduce the freshman class both to Penn's advising network and to the myriad courses and departments available at the University. SCUE further supports the development and implementation of NSO programs aimed at exposing freshmen to the research component of university work. Beyond introducing students to the resources of the library system,
NSO might include an introductory research experience similar to the Penn Reading Project, in order to provide a balanced picture of the academic experience at Penn. Regarding Penn's community and culture, SCUE supports extended cultural arts programming throughout the NSO period. Further, Proseminars are a valuable means for initiating dialogue within and across the various communities at the University. Obviously, social programming and unscheduled periods are ideal for allowing Penn freshmen to develop their own friendships and social networks.
NSO should also contain substantive content on the history of Penn and its system of higher education, which will in turn provide a valuable context for choosing classes and guiding a Penn career. We believe that the "roadmap" tours, with further revision, can help accomplish this. Likewise, NSO should elaborate on the history, community, and resources of the city of Philadelphia. In this vein, SCUE helped organize and continues to encourage the use of NSO's walking tours of West Philadelphia and Center City.
SCUE's guiding principle is ensuring that freshmen have the ability to turn a large city and school into a personal experience in the best way possible. Through coming to know the city and the University intimately, Penn freshmen will learn how to make the best use of both and to broaden their Penn experience as much as possible, from the outset. SCUE enthusiastically supports the recent changes made to the NSO schedule and event planning, while hoping that all future reforms and changes will take into account the principles herein articulated.
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A major theme encountered throughout this White Paper is the notion of the universal Penn experience. We do not advocate, in this broad treatise, reforms intended to better the quality of a single department, or to expand the resources of a lone program. Rather, we ask the administration, the schools and the faculties to collectively engage in a process of revision and evolution to service all undergraduates. By bettering educational offerings, programs and services across the full expanse of pre-baccalaureate programs, we better the University as a whole.
We actively encourage departments and schools to seek out good models of service to students by observing how other groups at Penn manage their affairs. Just as there is a "Best Practices" award given to offices which administer their financial and business affairs well, there should be notoriety given to faculty, departments, programs and centers which fulfill their undergraduate mandate, be it through teaching, undergraduate research exposure or the like, beyond the normal call of duty. We have attempted to begin this precedent by publicly naming those who we believe have best exemplified this norm. We hope this trend continues into the future.
SCUE is also excited at the ever-growing attention paid to undergraduate issues by the University's central administration. Creation of organizations such as the Council of Undergraduate Deans and the Provost's Undergraduate Working Group show the high priority campus leaders give to future generations of Penn alumni. We look forward to working with these groups, and the numerous other ad hoc committees which affect undergraduate life, in an effort to build on recent progress.
In closing, we firmly believe that creating a true campus culture which respects innovative methods of teaching and learning requires a commitment to extending the traditional boundaries of education outside the classroom. In the future, we hope to continue this trend in hopes of ever bettering the tripartite Pennsylvania mission of learning, research and service.
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2001 White Paper on Undergraduate Education
The Student Committee on Undergraduate Education
Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 28, April 3, 2001