The University Record, March 22, 1993

Regents briefed on new programs for LS&A undergraduates

By Mary Jo Frank

Today’s students need more than just the tools to land their first job. Universities need to prepare them for their third and fourth jobs too, LS&A Dean Edie N. Goldenberg told the Regents at their March 12 meeting.

“We also need to think hard about how to instill the joy of learning,” Goldenberg said as she opened a presentation about LS&A’s efforts to improve undergraduate education, particularly for first- and second-year students.

Large research universities such as the U-M have a special mission, she said. They are populated with expert learners, faculty who learn for a living, and consequently are able to provide a breadth of experiences not available at smaller institutions.

Not surprisingly, students learn what they study, noted Michael M. Martin, LS&A associate dean for undergraduate education and professor of biology.

What students study is largely determined by the curriculum, which is under the control of the faculty; how much they learn is determined by a host of environmental factors, only some of which are under the University’s control, he explained.

LS&A’s Undergraduate Initiative addresses both curricular and environmental factors that influence the educational experiences of a diverse student body.

Educational research has shown that those students who are most seriously and productively engaged in their studies are involved, whether that involvement be with ideas, social causes, research projects, faculty or other students.

Martin noted that studies demonstrate that a student’s freshman-year experience is a major factor affecting future involvement in the academic enterprise.

A heavy schedule of large, impersonal lecture courses, inadequate advising and a residential situation that is frivolous or anti-intellectual work against creating an “involved” student, Martin told the Regents.

Major initiatives are, or soon will be under way in a number of areas, Martin said, including introductory science and math courses, introductory writing courses, foreign language instruction, new courses that emphasize quantitative reasoning, undergraduate research, teaching assistant training, residential living-learning programs and academic advising.

One of the initiatives with potential to improve undergraduate education is the Gateway Seminar Program, a freshman seminar program being developed by the director of the English Composition Board, the director of the Freshman Composition Program and the chair of the Department of English Language and Literature.

The plan is to place every first-year student in a low-enrollment course that emphasizes writing and analysis within the framework of subject matter of interest to the student.

Martin said he hopes the program will be implemented in fall 1994 and be fully in place in two or three years.

The seminars also will be used as a venue for orientation and counseling.

Extending the academic life of the University into the residence halls is an effective way to encourage student involvement, Martin said. Last year the LS&A Office of Student Academic Affairs took an important step in making the advising process a more integral part of student life by having academic advisers spend a portion of one day every week in the residence halls.

The program has been well received, Martin reported, and has enhanced both the reality and the perception of accessibility of the advisers to students.

Residential living-learning programs such as the Residential College, the Twenty-First Century Program and the Pilot Program, are effective mechanisms for encouraging student engagement with the academic life of the University and need to be expanded, according to Martin.

One of the outstanding successes of the Undergraduate Initiative is the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), which began as a program for underrepresented minority students and women and is now open to any first- or second-year student in good academic standing. The program grew this year from 150 to 355 students and now involves faculty from 12 professional schools and colleges as well as from LS&A.

UROP benefits from, rather than compensates for, the inherent characteristics of a large research university, Martin noted.

Martin believes that many of the problems in large research universities are a consequence of a misdirected focus on what happens during college: too much concern about course content and too little about learning outcomes.

The Regents asked a number of questions of Goldenberg, Martin and two other presenters, UROP Director Sandra M. Gregerman and Brian P. Coppola, lecturer in chemistry, who outlined curricular reforms that have been instituted in introductory chemistry.

In response to a question from Regent Laurence B. Deitch about what incentives the University provides for excellent teaching, Goldenberg said promotion, salary and distinguished honors are used.

“No honor should go to a faculty member without consideration of the University’s total mission, including teaching,” Goldenberg said.

Regent Nellie M. Varner asked what percentage of courses are taught by teaching assistants (TAs). Goldenberg said 30 percent of the credit hours in LS&A are taught by TAs, 17 percent by lecturers and the remainder by tenure-track faculty.

Martin asked the Regents not to assume that TA-taught sections are of poor quality. They can be excellent when TAs are properly trained and supervised, he said.