Group aims to identify what UI students should gain from education

BY MORGAN OLSEN | APRIL 01, 2010 7:30 AM

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University of Iowa officials want to ensure alums have the skills they need to make it in the global economy by searching for the answer to one question: What should a UI graduate know and be able to do?

The UI Council on Student Learning, a committee of the Office of the Provost, has spent two years identifying four preliminary answers to the question.

“It’s been a huge task,” said Rachel Williams, a member of the council and an associate professor of art education. “We’ve spent about two years figuring out what happens at this university and what students are learning here.”

The effort is the first of its kind to create an umbrella goal for undergrads. The group has already shared its findings with faculty and plans to ask student and parent groups for feedback.

“It’s not what we’re doing to students, but what we’re doing with students,” said Beth Ingram, the associate provost for undergraduate education. “So we need feedback from across campus.”

The list highlights four main learning outcomes: gain broad-based knowledge and understanding of human cultures and of the physical and natural worlds; acquire intellectual and practical skills; develop personal, intellectual, and social responsibilities; and be able to apply knowledge and skills in new settings and situations.

“The outcomes aren’t specific to certain subjects or programs,” said Wayne Jacobson, the coordinator of undergraduate assessment. “The goal of this is not to say, ‘What outcomes should we have,’ but what outcomes we already have in operation.”

Feedback has been mostly positive, the team said. Faculty Senate Secretary Katherine Tachau asked several questions about the plan during a recent presentation.

“The outcomes are looking at the larger picture — but we don’t want to fall into the national mania of measuring,” Tachau, a history professor, said later. “If we want to know how people think, we can’t have a quantitative approach.”

Tachau said the draft of outcomes is neither qualitative or quantitative right now, and that’s something the Council on Student Learning will determine with its findings.

The eight-member council, composed of faculty as well as representatives from student life and advising, looked at outcomes for undergraduate majors from departments across campus and identified common themes.

Williams said the group also looked at the Association of American Colleges and Universities’ Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative, a program that focuses on learning outcomes on campuses nationwide.

Jacobson said the outcomes are not meant to be a test that graduating students will be expected to complete. Rather, the skills will be used to express what students can learn at the university.

“It’s been a long process, and we’ll never really be done,” Williams said. “Things change, and this list will grow and change as well.”

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