By Casey S. Elliott
Ohio University's transition from quarters to semesters offers the opportunity for a comprehensive review and revision of the curriculum, and the four-year timeline will allow that to occur in a thoughtful and logical way, say members of the team that will map out the process.
The Quarters to Semesters Transition Team met for the first time Tuesday afternoon to review its charge and exchange initial thoughts. Made up of 18 members representing students, faculty and other university community members and 12 ex-officio members serving in an advisory and supporting capacity, the group expressed enthusiasm about the task ahead and the opportunity it poses.
"If we do this right, our curriculum just got better," said University Curriculum Council representative David Thomas. "It should bring us up."
Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education David Descutner, who is co-chairing the team with Professor of Classics and World Religions Tom Carpenter, agreed, saying college deans see this as the opportune time for their schools and departments to update the curriculum.
"This is the chance to go into our curriculum for the first time in a very long time and make it better and stronger," he said.
Descutner, Thomas and others noted the number of models that exist for a quarters-to-semesters transition. Among those is Virginia Tech, where Carpenter served on the faculty during such a conversion. "I know one can do it and live," he told the group.
President Roderick J. McDavis and Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy Krendl have recommended the switch to the Board of Trustees, in large part to put the university in better alignment with other University System of Ohio schools. State officials have urged all public universities to follow the same academic calendar, and currently, only Ohio University, Wright State University, Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati are on quarters.
Trustees are expected to approve the conversion at their October meeting. According to the current timeline, the first classes under the semester system would be offered in the 2012-13 academic year.
Developing a blueprint
The transition team's focus is to develop a blueprint for the conversion. Specifically, the team will make recommendations on:
- Development of a coordinated approach that schools and departments will take to convert their majors, major-specific courses and general education courses
- Implementation of a comprehensive advising program that will focus on the needs of "transition students," those graduating after fall 2012
- Establishment of a semester system academic calendar that will consist of two regular 15-week semesters as well as summer sessions.
The timeline for conversion may seem long, but that is intentional in order to address curricular issues and implement a new student information system (SIS), said ex-officio team member Martin Tuck, associate provost for academic affairs. The intent is to bring the new SIS online a year ahead of the switch to semesters to ease the conversion process. Most schools accomplish the conversion in three years; the University of Toledo did it in 27 months, Tuck said.
Chief Information Officer Brice Bible, the team's executive staff representative, said the new SIS is crucial, both because of this conversion and because Ohio University is one of only four universities still using the Informs SIS. Trustees are expected to consider the purchase of a new SIS -- Oracle's PeopleSoft system -- in October.
Three basic assumptions
The transition team will map out the process and timelines associated with the conversion over the next two months, after which a yet-to-be-named conversion director or team will manage the implementation. Three general assumptions are:
- That the conversion be viewed as an opportunity to engage in a comprehensive review of the curriculum
- That it should be neutral in terms of the size and structure of the curriculum and the resources needed to deliver it to the same number of students
- That its success depends on departments and schools consulting with one another in a coordinated way to ensure that their curricular revisions do not adversely affect the resources of another academic unit.
Andy Jorgensen, associate professor and director of general chemistry at the University of Toledo, will advise the transition team. Jorgensen was selected because of his experience leading Toledo's conversion in the mid-1990s.
Under the current timeline, this academic year is considered the planning year. Work in 2009-10 will focus on departments' and schools' curriculum discussions and conversion. Starting in 2010-11, the new curriculum is expected to be loaded into new SIS software, and in 2011-12, advisers will work with transition students to ensure they are clear on what they need to do to complete their degrees.
Putting students first
Descutner stressed the importance of advising and always putting students' academic needs first. He urged the teams' three undergraduate and one graduate student representatives to engage fully in the discussions and bring other students' views to the team.
"Students are our primary concern," Descutner said. "Our desire to implement a comprehensive advising program is all about meeting and supporting students' needs."
The Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost's Web page includes information on the transition team's charge; a conversion timeline; assumptions, constraints and principles; and team membership. Click here to view the documents.