Enhancing Student Learning
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.
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 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
Recommended Immediate Actions: