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Thursday, February 26, 2004
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Creating a learning community

By Susan Green

Provost Stephen Kopp jump-started the University's move toward a learning-centered community when he arrived on campus nearly two years ago. He recognized that to be successful in the 21st century, graduates needed to be prepared to think critically and easily bridge the gap between vocational and intellectual pursuits.

To move the initiative forward, the University began a self-assessment accreditation process aimed at identifying its strengths and weakness, developing a long-range comprehensive plan to achieve its goals and charting its progress.

Four action projects were created to drive this change. They are the ongoing, specific improvement efforts that promote learning and culture change. And each of the action projects focus on elevating academic expectations, increasing student engagement, encouraging faculty to adopt pedagogies encouraging active learning and using residential spaces to advance the learning mission of the University.

This type of change depends on the commitment and involvement of everyone in the campus community.

"We look forward to learning about current classroom practices and perspectives from focus groups this quarter so that we can strategically develop a plan for greater engagement among first-year students," says Ann Paulins, associate professor and director of the School of Human and Consumer Sciences and chair of one of the projects. "Our potential target audience includes faculty, including graduate teaching assistants and part-time instructors, who regularly teach first-year students as well as residence life staff who interact regularly with first year students."

The Common Book campaign, initiated by Residence Life, engages first-year students in a campus-wide project to encourage intellectual curiosity and active learning beyond the classroom. By reading "Einstein's Dreams" before arriving on campus, they are able to make an easier transition to the rigors of college life. The book discusses how time is used to make decisions throughout one's life.

A new book will be chosen for next year, with broader inclusion planned in courses across campus.

Last summer, a team of 11 faculty, students and administrators attended the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) Summer Academy. This group has identified a variety of goals that need to be addressed as the University continues the process of creating a learning-centered community.

The AAHE committee is conducting focus groups with faculty and graduate assistants to address the challenges of teaching in a large, public research university and assessing the data concerning student engagement and strategies for the successful implementation of General Education, among other things.

"As a faculty member in the department of geography, I consider it my job to bring a faculty perspective to the deliberations," says Geoffrey Buckley, assistant professor of geography and a member of the AAHE team. "Essentially, we'll be asking faculty to identify what they see as the challenges they face in terms of teaching and research. We'll also be asking them what they need as we move forward with the mission of building a teaching-centered research university."

These are just a few of the many changes taking place on campus as Ohio University moves toward a learning-centered environment. The long list of ongoing initiatives includes, faculty learning communities, deans learning communities, Residence Life's civic responsibility initiative and Spotlight on Learning, which is in its third year.

Spotlight on Learning, a two-day event that highlights the best practices of the University's teacher-scholars will take place this March 4-5. Details about the upcoming conference can be found at www.ohiou.edu/learningfair/. To register for this event please visit, http://teach.citl.ohiou.edu/provost-calendar/index.cfm.

For more information on the Academic Quality Improvement Project and the four action projects please visit, www.ohio.edu/aqip/.

Susan Green is a writer with University Communications and Marketing.

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