Commission evaluates tenets of undergrad experience

By PETER JI | December 7, 2017

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COURTESY OF ALYSSA WOODEN Visiting professor Jonathan Cole talked modern undergraduate education.

The second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2), a group of faculty, staff, alumni and current undergraduates, has been working since April to evaluate the state of undergraduate education at Hopkins.

CUE2 is charged with developing a report on the  values of an undergraduate experience and identifying the key qualities that should define a Hopkins education. An initial report is expected by the end of fall 2018 with a second feedback period before the final report is released.

The commission is co-chaired by Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Dean Beverly Wendland and Whiting School of Engineering Dean Ed Schlesinger. University President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar convened CUE2 as a part of the “Ten by Twenty” plan.

Assistant Vice Provost of Education Janet Schreck, who is a member of the commission, said that it is too early for CUE2 to identify any final recommendations.

Schreck addressed the need to reassess the state of undergraduate education today.

“With the changes that happen around us and the changes in technology, it’s time to look at the next stage,” she said. “We all feel like the first Commission’s recommendations were focused on extracurriculars and student life. We wanted an opportunity to look at the curriculum more.”

The first Commission on Undergraduate Education, completed in 2003, offered 34 recommendations in four areas: the academic experience, diversity,  student life and advising and career support.

The second Commission aims to take a similarly extensive look at the Hopkins education, but with a greater focus on improving undergraduate learning both inside and outside of the classroom.

Schlesinger said that they aim to equip students for the modern world after they graduate.

“Our students pursue an incredibly wide range of careers,” he said. “So one of the biggest questions we have as we think about undergraduate education in the 21st century is, how do you prepare students for any career path?”

According to Wendland, one main goal of CUE2 is to evaluate how to incorporate a modern understanding of teaching and learning at Hopkins.

“A lot of the current national conversations are about what a higher education is good for,” she said. “How can we be sure that we’re delivering the best that we can in light of those concerns?”

Additionally, Wendland said that CUE2 is working to incorporate student voices into their recommendations and has worked with the Student Government Association (SGA).

“We have students who are actually commission members. [Schlesinger] and I have regular meetings with the executive committee of the SGA,” she said. “There’s a website where anybody at any time can submit their thoughts and recommendations.”

CUE2 has set up a student focus group with assistance from SGA and has held two ‘coffee chats,’ public meetings with Wendland and Schlesinger where the group gathers ideas from students.

At the coffee chat with the CUE2 co-chairs on Nov. 30, Schlesinger noted that increased use of technology may cause students to interact less with their professors. However, he doubts that technological learning can replace in-person education.

“It is a prevailing belief that one-on-one interaction with professors will be replaced. If we operate on the basis of that always being a model, we will be left behind,” he said. “What we’re talking about with technology is... not a replacement, but what emerges is a different experience.”

Another question CUE2 aims to address is how to create shared academic experiences among students, without a core curriculum.

Schreck noted that this may involve providing additional guidance to students who value these experiences or organizing more community-building activities, but said that most students are opposed to additional course requirements.

“I don’t think that a core curriculum is what we really want,” she said. “I think we’re trying really hard to honor the tradition of what students really value [in a] Hopkins education but also speak to the challenge of students who want that kind of experience. What we’re focusing on is the appeal of a core.”

An initial report is expected by the end of the next semester, with a second feedback period before the final report.

Schlesinger discussed the commission’s next steps after it publishes the draft recommendations next fall.

“Once we have draft recommendations, we want to share them widely with the Hopkins community,” he said. “Once we feel there is a report and a set of recommendations that are accepted, then there will be processes put in place for their implementation.”

Schlesinger noted that the University continues to track the recommendations of the first CUE, about 75 to 80 percent of which have been implemented. He said that it may be difficult for the commission to determine which recommendations will be the most impactful.

“One of the challenges that we’re going to ultimately face is prioritizing recommendations,” he said. “Some undoubtedly will be recommendations that will take longer to implement.”

Over the next year, various experts will come to Hopkins to discuss ways other universities have modernized undergraduate education. Professor Jonathan Cole of Columbia University visited Hopkins on Nov. 28 to speak about the diversity of the student body and the structure of the curriculum at similar research universities.

Cole noted that Hopkins tends to attract students who are interested in medicine and health fields. He believes that the students which the University chooses to admit will affect the nature of its undergraduate education.

“The shape of the curriculum is going to be affected by the nature of the students,” he said.

Cole also said that it was important to establish a diverse Hopkins community.

“You might well want to diversify the kinds of backgrounds of the kids who are coming in in order to diversify the young people who are going out and graduate,” he said.

Schlesinger stressed the importance of student engagement with CUE2.

“Some of the best input we’ve had already has been from our student members on the commission,” he said.

One of these students is senior Philip Shin, who is part of a focus group on research and another on community learning.

“We try to look at any available data we may have from just looking at statistics, course evaluations, trying to pull other possible data that we have to develop recommendations around issues or problems we see or even just how to change,” Shin said.

Another student member, junior Nathaniel McKeever, encouraged students to share their experiences.

“People have very strong opinions about what is happening on campus,” McKeever said. “Do share them... it will have an impact. Share some of the experiences you have had, anything from housing to class size... all that stuff matters.”

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