I. Teaching and Learning Goal: Augment teaching and learning resources to match our increased student body size, emerging curricular expectations, and evolving student expectations.
Strategy A: Strategic Planning for the Curriculum. Beginning with a review of both curricular offerings and faculty resources, devise and implement a plan to develop and refine the curriculum and to increase faculty and support resources in such a way as to advance the mission and vision of the university.
Several factors combine to require the University to undertake a thorough, combined review of faculty resources and the curriculum. IWU has not had a systematic review of faculty resources since the CARP plan of 1989. Our curriculum and our faculty have therefore grown without a comprehensive process by which we can prioritize among competing interests and needs. At the same time, our Mission and Vision Statements identify areas for new curricular growth including social justice, internationalization and sustainability, and alumni report the need for additional preparation in still other areas, such as oral communication. Yet many faculty are concerned about achieving an appropriate balance between our traditional disciplines, interdisciplinary programs, and our criteria-based general education program. Several departments report that they do not have sufficient faculty to serve existing programs, much less to expand into new areas, even as students report an insufficient number of classes in May Term and in some areas of general education. Because curricular offerings are necessarily limited or determined by the faculty available to offer them, the review of faculty and the review of the curriculum must be part of the same process.
Strategy B: Enhancing Support for Student Learning. Strengthen and integrate academic advising and other academic and student support structures to enhance student learning inside and outside of the classroom.
IWU’s commitment to lifelong learning must be coupled with the dual recognition that teaching and learning are not restricted to the classroom and that effective teaching and learning depend on strong academic and student service structures. To enhance learning outside of the classroom, we must ensure that those support structures respond to student needs, better coordinate and integrate the work of all support structures (departments, offices, programs), and couple the work of student support services with our curriculum.
Assessment data suggest a number of areas in which IWU can—and should—improve student services to provide a more supportive campus environment. The area in most pressing need of improvement is academic advising: first-year advising, advising within a major, advising for students with multiple majors, international student advising, and consistency of advising across campus. Students also express a desire for greater non- or extra-academic advice to help them lay the foundations for their lives—educational, professional, and personal—post-graduation. IWU’s growing commitment to diversity and internationalization requires us to provide guidance and training, outside of formal advising, to help students negotiate intercultural, social, and civic interactions. Furthermore, national data indicate that students entering college today come with greater medical and mental health needs and learning disabilities.
To address these various student needs and, more generally, to enhance learning outside the classroom, we must coordinate and expand existing campus support structures, including (but not limited to) the Registrar’s Office, the Hart Career Center, the International Office, the Multicultural Student Affairs Office, Information Technology, The Ames Library, the Writing Center, Counseling and Consultation Services, and the Arnold Health Center. Moreover, we should incorporate learning throughout the undergraduate experience by integrating curricular programs with co-curricular offerings. Finally, IWU should expand and continue to invest in our physical and virtual learning spaces, from enhanced classrooms, field sites, and language labs to tutoring centers, online learning communities, and electronic resources.
Strategy C under the Student Development planning goal (see below) addresses the need for similar initiatives. The two strategies are entirely compatible, differing only in the matter of relative emphasis. Actions to address the strategy presented above should focus primarily on strengthening academic advising and academic support structures, all the while recognizing the interconnectedness among academic and co-curricular structures.
Strategy C: Strengthening Teaching. Foster innovative and intellectually challenging teaching practices that actively engage students’ critical and creative faculties and that address their diverse needs, backgrounds, and ambitions.
At the core of IWU’s educational mission lies the ability of its faculty to teach effectively. As the profile of the student body changes and new teaching technologies become available, and as the curriculum moves in new directions, new expectations and opportunities arise for the faculty to reassess and improve their teaching practices. At the same time, many faculty report that they lack the resources and time to reflect upon their teaching, to gain exposure to recent research on teaching and learning, and to become acquainted with new teaching technologies now available on campus. And assessment data indicate very mixed results with respect to graduates’ sense of their preparedness to enter the workforce (in terms of communication skills, analytical/critical abilities, work-oriented knowledge, and confidence). It is therefore imperative that the University provide development resources to the faculty to enable them to respond to these challenges. Apart from re-visiting and honing basic teaching skills, areas of teaching innovation may include: refining interactive teaching techniques or developing pedagogical activities outside of the classroom to promote active learning; introducing new types of assignments; including experiential learning or action research experiences; sharing learning environments between classrooms or across space through technology; and developing grading strategies that facilitate learning as well as produce a grade.
Strategy D: Supporting Scholarly and Artistic Achievement. Recognizing the interdependence of teaching and research and the multiplicity of relationships between them, strengthen and expand the existing support structures for scholarship and artistic production, develop new initiatives to promote a rigorous scholarly and creative environment, and foster productive cooperation between teaching and research in and outside of the classroom.
Research is an integral part of academic life and as such needs to be supported during all stages of faculty careers. Faculty members’ active intellectual engagement with current scholarship in their field, as well as their own on-going research agendas, play an important role in preparing students for graduate school and instilling the habits of lifelong learning. They also frequently enliven teaching. Similarly, student research fosters skills of critical discernment and active enquiry. It is therefore imperative that IWU support artistic and scholarly production by faculty and students, both to promote successful teaching and to foster a vibrant intellectual climate on campus.
In recent years, IWU has taken significant steps to promote research and make it more visible on campus (such as the Faculty Colloquium Series, ASD grants, Junior Faculty Leave, Senior Course Release, and the John Wesley Powell Student Research Conference). Such initiatives may be expanded in several ways, e.g.: opening Junior Leave opportunities to more faculty; providing senior faculty with an equivalent to the Junior Leave; promoting faculty exchanges or faculty research leaves (including Fulbrights); promoting curriculum opportunities for faculty to build classes around their research; offering more seminar-style research-based classes that incorporate faculty/student research collaborations; rewarding research-based independent studies and funding independent student research; increasing the flexibility of the sabbatical policy (e.g. allowing faculty who take a full year to teach May Term as a way to make the leave more affordable).
A study of available data suggests that a significant number of faculty at IWU raise serious concerns about unclear expectations both for balancing teaching and research, and for determining what ‘counts’ as scholarly or artistic production. Recognizing that scholarly activity is important both for successful teaching and for a full intellectual life, IWU needs to clarify these criteria. Evaluative criteria must be flexible enough to take into account disciplinary differences as well as differences in career stage (e.g. a junior faculty member may need to focus more on output, while a very senior faculty member may be able to be more experimental).
Strategy E: Improving the Writing Program. Reform and improve the all-University writing program, with particular attention to issues of staffing, training, consistency, quality, and faculty incentive in Gateway Colloquium and Writing Intensive courses (or courses that replace them in a reformed program).
Although writing instruction is part of the curriculum as a whole and thus might be considered as part of the curriculum review called for in Strategy A and although certain reform efforts must be undertaken in conjunction with a reevaluation of our general education program, the writing program as a whole merits separate consideration. Writing is of the highest importance both in college and beyond: it has both expressive and communicative functions, yet it is so integral to intellectual activity in all disciplines that it transcends both. Writing well is thinking well, and learning to write is learning to think critically, to be attentive to nuance and complexity, and to organize ideas. Moreover, the need for reform of our all-university writing program is particularly urgent. The Gateway Colloquium has had staffing problems since its inception, problems which have had adverse effects on morale and collegiality. Students report wide variations in quality and workload in both Gateway and Writing Intensive sections. Some faculty express anxiety about teaching writing, and note a lack of incentives, or even significant disincentives, for participating in the writing program. Training in teaching writing is not mandatory for participants in the program and the optional training sessions offered are often poorly attended. Responsibility for supervision of faculty in Gateway courses is unclear, and coordination of the writing program as a whole depends largely on two persons with half-time administrative positions, multiple responsibilities, little formal training in composition and rhetoric, and no supervisory authority.
Strategy F: Addressing Faculty Time Pressures. Find flexible, fiscally responsible ways to free up faculty time for teaching, scholarly and artistic activity, and service (with a longer-term goal of faculty course load reduction in mind), while maintaining or improving the quality of instruction at IWU.
For faculty, lack of time is the biggest single obstacle to improving teaching, research, and faculty governance. Time constraints limit the degree to which faculty can work individually with students via advising, supervising internships and independent study courses, directing or serving on honors research committees, collaborating on research, holding conferences on drafts of papers, mentoring, or even having personal conversations on future plans or intellectual issues. Lack of time restricts faculty in their ability to learn new pedagogies or work on improving the ones they already employ, to incorporate research on learning or writing pedagogy into their course design and teaching practices, to learn the best uses of new technologies in a liberal arts college setting, to develop new courses or revitalize old ones, and to visit one another’s classes or discuss issues of teaching with one another. Simply keeping up with research in one’s field takes time that many faculty feel they do not have; maintaining an active research program requires substantially more; bringing one’s research back into the classroom in meaningful ways requires still more; keeping fresh intellectually by exploring new areas of inquiry for which the payoffs might not be immediate--learning or practicing a second language, for example, or reading outside of one’s discipline, the kind of lifelong learning that we want to instill in and model for our students--necessary though it really is, is perforce treated as an unimaginable luxury. Meanwhile faculty routinely call for strong faculty governance, yet committees have difficulty finding times at which members can meet, the Nominating Committee has a harder and harder time building slates for elective committees or filling appointive ones, and the time demands upon committee members are so great that some part of the year’s agenda gets carried over to the next year or simply dropped altogether. There is a reason that the schools to whose company we aspire have lower course loads than we do--and it isn’t only that lower course loads allow them to attract higher quality faculty (although this is in itself a substantial benefit). In brief, one cannot teach well, research well, or serve the University well without adequate time for those endeavors.
For these reasons, course load reduction should remain a goal for IWU, even if that goal is long term indeed. In the meantime, we need to find ways to free up time for improving the quality of faculty work, such as incremental increases in course releases and leaves. It is crucial that accomplishing this end not come at the cost of lowering the quality of teaching; decreasing course loads by increasing class sizes and decreasing offerings, for example, would be self-defeating. It is also important that the mechanisms for freeing up time be flexible. At present, the majority of course releases are for administrative and governance work; releases for research (other than sabbaticals) are fewer; releases to improve teaching are non-existent. Moreover, faculty needs vary tremendously across the disciplines and over the course of a career. Mechanisms for freeing up time need to be flexible enough to meet individual needs and to address all aspects of faculty member’s career.