Summary: Enhancing Student Learning
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The Enhancing Student Learning Task Force has worked from the guiding principle that research universities should "create maximal opportunities to learn through inquiry rather than simple transmission of knowledge." In fact, the opportunity for our undergraduates to engage directly in the process of discovery is one of the most important benefits of attending a major research institution. The University of Washington community must be committed at every level, from faculty to departments to colleges, to the concept of learning through inquiry. When we teach, we must emphasize the process of discovery, so that our students learn how to: formulate good questions within a discipline; answer those questions in ways that combine specific knowledge with the conceptual and theoretical frameworks of the discipline; define, locate, evaluate, and experimentally create valid and compelling evidence related to the questions asked; and use the information to make cogent and valid arguments orally, numerically, graphically, and in writing.

The deeper demands of this focus on inquiry require developing a new culture of teaching and learning in which faculty, students, and staff (especially advisers) develop avenues of scholarly discourse concerning the teaching and learning going on inside and outside the classrooms at the University of Washington. This new culture is best seen as a movement toward a more integrated undergraduate experience in which intellectual, personal, professional, and civic development reinforce one another.

A key goal for enhancing student learning is to promote engagement: our students must become engaged learners who take responsibility for their learning, who are academically involved and energized by the learning process, and who can apply what they learn to new situations. Development of these intellectual skills and attitudes define the major goal of undergraduate education at the University of Washington: to cultivate the skills needed for life-long learning. However, to create engaged learners, we must recognize and exploit the essential social nature of learning. To this end, the Task Force calls on the university to create a renewed sense of community within our classrooms, departments, colleges, and institution. Inclusion of a diverse student population is critical for developing robust learning communities that value and promote intellectual and cultural pluralism.

Creating or extending learning communities will also help accomplish another essential goal for enhancing student learning: a shift from a teaching-centered to a learning-centered model of undergraduate education. An important step toward becoming more learner-focused is promoting the scholarship of teaching in which teaching is viewed as a scholarly, collaborative activity rather than a secondary, solitary pursuit. Our discourse about teaching and learning must engender a global sense of ownership of and responsibility for the curriculum and the quality of University of Washington graduates. Accomplishing such a shift in attitude would have an extraordinary impact on undergraduate education.

The shift of focus from teaching to learning requires that learning objectives and outcomes are clearly articulated within each class, department, and major at the University of Washington. Shared student and faculty responsibility for learning also needs to be acknowledged, emphasized, and accommodated. Excellence in learning requires that faculty have greater opportunities to reflect on their teaching, that students have greater opportunities to reflect on their learning, and that both faculty and students learn together. In addition, we need to place greater emphasis on assessment as a key tool for measuring both our success in meeting our learning goals and also capturing emergent or serendipitous learning outcomes not anticipated in those learning goals.

The ability to communicate and persuade in writing, using reasoning, examples, and evidence to make clearly-stated arguments, is a critical skill for all of our students. However, the UW currently neither requires nor provides sufficient experiences for students to gain proficiency in writing, particularly within their discipline. Providing students with challenging writing assignments and more opportunities to write, with systematic and thorough feedback on drafts and works in progress, is essential for enhanced student learning.

This report details many strategies for improving student learning, most of which ultimately depend on faculty input and action. However, faculty efforts are already stretched in teaching undergraduate and graduate students, conducting research, and performing service to the university and the community. As a consequence, it will be difficult to implement any vision of improved undergraduate education, much less the ambitious one proposed by this task force, without increased resources and renewed priorities. By committing these resources and refocusing our priorities, we can fulfill the promise of the University of Washington as a research institution that offers all of our students a unique and robust education.

Synopsis of Recommendations and Immediate Action Items

How do we provide a campus climate and context that enhance student learning?
  • extend opportunities for students to participate in diverse learning communities.
  • maintain and support a diverse student population and ensure that all members of the UW community feel welcome.
  • emphasize the value and importance of connecting classroom learning with real-world practice
How can we promote teaching as a scholarly activity?
  • promote discussions among the college's faculty and students about teaching and learning issues.
  • reward teaching excellence on a par with research excellence.
  • promote policies and supportive structures that encourage faculty to develop multidisciplinary classes.
  • support programs that advance the use of technology in teaching and learning.
How can we more effectively promote and assess student learning?
  • provide necessary resources to enable faculty and departments to describe student learning outcomes for each major and course.
  • promote policies that emphasize students' responsibility for their own learning and encourage active reflection on the learning process.
  • create a more sustained and substantial commitment to writing instruction, increase the general writing requirement, and implement a more meaningful replacement for the current "W" course requirement.
  • articulate curriculum-specific information literacy objectives.
What changes in administrative structures would enhance student learning?
  • reorganize the current daily class schedule to improve opportunities for interactions.
  • develop a system that allows greater efficiency in classroom assignment and use.
  • undertake research concerning the academic calendar that best supports student learning needs.
  • schedule two weekdays as reading days to allow students to prepare for final exams.
  • engage more students with advising.

Recommended Immediate Actions:

  • Redesign the new course application process to include discussions of community, diversity, experiential learning, learning objectives, learning outcomes, assessment, and information literacy.
  • Convene a task force to address mechanisms for improving the writing requirement and opportunities for our undergraduates.
  • Develop a yearly Arts & Sciences Teaching and Learning Convocation to discuss teaching and learning at the UW and to build global community.
  • Create a pilot program to increase time between classes. Schedule two reading days prior to final exams.
  • Design a pilot program to allow students, exclusively in collaboration with advisers, to register for 2 quarters of courses.

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