Reflections and New Directions

Philadelphia University

New university-wide forum: The College Studies Committee

Perhaps the most significant long-term result of the ILP initiative at Philadelphia University has been the addition of a new university-wide committee to the shared governance structure at our institution. The College Studies Committee is a permanent faculty committee that brings together faculty from the School of Liberal Arts with representatives from each of the University's professional schools (Architecture, Business Administration, Design and Media, Engineering and Textiles, and Science and Health) to supervise the ongoing development of the general education core curriculum: our College Studies program.

The membership and charges of this new committee will make it an effective forum for planning related to liberal-profession integration. The College Studies Committee will be responsible for selecting and approving proposals for the new Professional Integrative Seminars (junior year of the College Studies program), and it can also serve as a coordinating body for First Year Experience initiatives and for assessment of the senior capstone course.

Approved proposal for the College Studies Committee
This is the proposal (approved by the University faculty in February 2006) that created the new College Studies Committee. The committee will begin its work in the Fall 2006 semester.

Assessing and strengthening integrative learning in the First Year Experience

Given our goal of fostering student learning characterized by liberal-professional integration, our ILP initiative intended to lay the foundation for this outcome at the beginning of our curriculum. The First Year Experience (FYE) program at Philadelphia University, with its unifying theme, common book, co-curricular programming, and core courses, was already integrative by design, and we were interested in exploring the possibility of adding a liberal-professional element to student learning in the first year.

The assessment that we conducted as part of the ILP indicated that the FYE was producing increasing levels of integrative learning. At the same time, it also suggested that coordinating the three different first year core courses around the FYE theme, the common book, and the co-curricular activities was already a considerable organizational challenge, and that expanding this program into the first year professional courses (or adding a professional component to the core courses) would further strain our resources.

The ILP initiative has allowed us to assess the success of integration between the core courses and the co-curricular activities, and as the FYE program matures, we will have opportunities to revisit the issue of liberal-professional integration, especially with the help of the new College Studies committee.

Reflections on liberal-professional integration in the senior capstone course

Under the auspices of Integrative Learning Project, our faculty have devoted a great deal of effort to examining the issue of liberal-professional integration in our general education senior capstone: Contemporary Perspectives. Lee Shulman's concept of "signature pedagogies" has proven to be a very useful tool for our efforts to explore the potential for integrative learning in this course. In the Fall 2005 semester, we conducted a series of faculty workshops that convened faculty from our professional schools with the faculty responsible for teaching Contemporary Perspectives. The agenda for these meetings was to use the concept of "signature pedagogies" to discuss the challenges of achieving liberal-professional integration in student work, and to examine the various project assignments through which we hoped to achieve this goal.

These cross-campus discussions proved to be very enlightening, and they revealed a wide array of responses to the idea of signature pedagogies, ranging from the idea that each discipline and sub-discipline is so specialized that it is useless to think in terms of general pedagogical approaches common to broad fields such as the sciences or design, to the idea that all academic fields are united in teaching their students to become effective in terms of persuading the audiences of their work of the truth, wisdom, or appropriateness of their response to a given topic or task. The idea of signature pedagogies was also applied to assignment creation, as the Contemporary Perspectives faculty tried to create new hybridized project assignments which would allow students to approach the global issues of the course in formats and methodologies specific to their professional majors. These experimental assignments included problem-based learning (PBL) scenarios geared towards specific professional fields, case study projects in which each student responded to a common topic from the perspective of their own profession, and group projects in which an inter-disciplinary team of students had to develop a realistic response to a global issue which would draw upon the various professional expertises represented in the team. In each case, these experimental assignments transcended the confines of academic research papers in an effort to draw upon the signature pedagogies and signature performances that students were accustomed to in their professional training.

At the end of the fall semester, the best work from each of these experimental assignments was collected and assessed by the same faculty who participated in the signature pedagogy workshop. This assessment meeting (and a similar one held at the end of the spring 2006 semester) helped to clarify our thinking about liberal-professional integration at the senior level. On the positive side of this assessment were findings that some students were able to produce work that showed evidence of deep integrative thinking, that the more "authentic" formats of these experimental assignments seemed to increase student engagement in their work, and that the faculty members from the professional schools tended to see these assignments as more relevant than the traditional research paper. On the other hand, even these more specialized assignments did not fit well with each of the different majors on campus, the students often seemed uncertain about how to apply the standards of their professional discipline to a project within a general education course, and the Contemporary Perspectives faculty could only provide limited assistance with questions about professional content and formats. Because there is currently no place in the university curriculum, either in general education or in the professional majors, where students are asked to work in this hybrid mode, it seemed counterproductive to make this demand in a high-stakes assignment in their senior year.

At the conclusion of these workshops and assignment experiments, the Contemporary Perspectives faculty reached a consensus that, in the absence of a major curricular overhaul, the most effective means of achieving liberal-professional integration outcomes in the general education capstone was to ask students to examine their professional field in a global context using the type of academic research assignment for which they had been trained in their previous College Studies courses. Beginning in the fall 2006 semester, the new College Studies Committee will offer a forum in which to consider how well our senior capstone course is meeting our integrative objectives, as the members of this committee will also serve as the jury for the "Liberal-Professional Scholarship Awards" that we grant each semester to the best capstone projects from each professional school. The creation of this new committee and the ongoing awards process should guarantee that issues of integration and capstone outcomes will receive regular scrutiny from faculty from across our campus.

"Signature pedagogies" presentation
Here are the PowerPoint slides from our presentation at the ISSoTL conference, Vancouver. This presentation explains how we have been applying Lee Shulman's "signature pedagogies" concept to the liberal-professional integration aims of our senior capstone course.