Academic Day looks at updating E/RS core, enhancing experiences

Fifth annual event offers several programs focusing on learning and the experience of students at Xavier | October 25, 2005

Next month, discussions begin concerning modifications to Xavier’s core curriculum. But University students, faculty and staff got a look at some possible alterations Tuesday, Oct. 25, as the University held its fifth annual academic day in the James and Caroline Duff Banquet Center at the Cintas Center.

An ad hoc committee of representatives of the departments of theology, philosophy, English, classics and modern languages presented an overview of the ethics/religion and society focus, laid out proposed alterations and discussed how some of those ideas can be integrated into current practice.

The E/RS focus is the heart of the University’s value-oriented core curriculum. All undergraduate students must take the E/RS focus of courses in philosophy, theology, and literature and the moral imagination, as well as an elective dealing with ethical and/or religious issues.

Panel member William Madges, chair of the department of theology, said the proposed changes include greater integration between the three mandatory courses and involve internally restructuring those courses around two basic questions: “What does it mean to be human?” and “What is the relationship between the individual and the community at large?”

The proposal also urges greater integration between classes and the annual E/RS lecture series. The goal of the proposal, Madges said, is “to make the focus more focused.”

Sarah Melcher, associate professor of theology, who wrote the first draft of the proposal, says the group will share suggestions for the fourth course in upcoming discussions.

The daylong event began against an aural backdrop of clattering coffee cups and classical music by the University chamber orchestra. Kandi Stinson, associate academic vice president, laid out the day’s theme—Learning: the Xavier Experience.

Roger Fortin, academic vice president and provost, offered the opening remarks, praising the current faculty and professional staff as the best group in University history.

“Once again we’re reminded that we try to the best of our ability to live up to the mission of the institution,” Fortin said. “Again, we’re addressing what we want to do best—namely help form students, intellectually, morally and spiritually, and when we do that, move them toward lives of solidarity, service and success.”

The second presentation was a panel discussion on enhancing the student's learning experience by integrating what is learned inside the classroom with that learned outside the classroom.

It addressed how the offices of mission and ministry, academic affairs, student development and information resources can combine efforts to maintain the goals of Jesuit education, underscore the importance of the core curriculum and help graduates develop confidence in their professional and personal lives.

The seven-member panel discussed a proposed "value-added learning option" for freshmen, which includes adding outside academic components to traditional class time. Madges, one of the panel members, says this would encourage "critical thought and artful expression that's focused on and connected to what is learned in the classroom."

Madges suggested a one- to two-year pilot program to determine faculty and student interest and outlined incentives for both constituents. Students, for example, would receive four credit hours instead of three and also benefit from a greater sense of community. Faculty would receive extra pay and build stronger bonds in the classroom.

The day's third session focused on the Information Fluency Institute. Designed to teach the merging of computer literacy, information literacy and critical thinking skills, the institute offers a workshop each year to assist Xavier faculty to incorporate more computer technology tools and online resources into their freshman core courses.

Instructional technology services director Bob Cotter presented a history of the institute and its progress, and a panel of faculty and library staff discussed their experiences redesigning courses after completing a workshop. A panel of students who have attended these classes also discussed their experiences in the redesigned courses.

Since 2002, nearly 50 faculty members have completed the workshop, coordinated by the department of instructional technology services and the staff of the University library. Faculty attend a three-day course in May to learn about the communication tools available on campus such as e-mail and the MyXU portal, research tools such as the library’s OhioLINK service to other universities, and design tools for presentations such as Excel and PowerPoint.

They redesign the curriculum of a core freshman course and return in June and August to share their work with each other.

Biology professor Dottie Engle found the course “very valuable.” Her redesigned Biology 101 course requires students to use the library and Internet to locate reference materials, evaluate information and sites they find on the Web for their validity and authority, and prepare graphs using an Excel spreadsheet.

“They learn to retrieve articles from scientific databases and they can’t just Google everything anymore,” Engle said.

One of her favorite tools today that she didn’t have before taking the class is the Blackboard quiz. Students must take the quiz online to show they’ve read the required material and are prepared to discuss it in class.

Balancing the value of using real books versus the Internet and computer databases was on Walker Gollar’s mind as he considered taking the course. “I love old books and holding them in your hand, standing face to face with your students,” he said. “So I was suspicious about information technology and how it would make us more distant.”

It turns out he was a closet techie with a knack for PowerPoint presentations. He loved the course. "The technology has helped me create a more critical educational environment.”