Courses coming into line with ACE program

Dec 4th, 2008 | By | Category: Campus News, December 4, 2008

The stack of courses awaiting certification under the university’s new Achievement-Centered Education program is shrinking, and interim-ACE director Nancy Mitchell is seeing a pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel.

About 200 courses have been certified since June when faculty began submitting courses. That’s about 40 percent of the 500 that have been submitted, she said. Most of the submissions rolled in near the Oct. 15 deadline. That’s meant a lot of work for the Interim ACE committee, composed of faculty from each college, who meet weekly to certify courses.

Luckily, Mitchell said, the initial reviews are done on-line through a system developed by Information Services. All I-ACE committee members must be in agreement before a course is certified. Some proposals have sailed through with little to no argument; others have required some discussion; and some have been returned to faculty with recommendations for improvement, Mitchell said.

“We do send a lot back,” she said. “But they come back with modifications that help them meet certification.”

On the whole, the acceptance rate is nearly 100 percent.

And that’s a good thing because the February deadline for courses to be included in the 2009-10 bulletin is driving the workload right now. That and the desire to have a full complement of courses available for students who will enroll for Fall 2009. They will be the first students to matriculate under the new ACE rubric. Currently enrolled students will continue under the IS/ES general education model.

Some 430 of the 500 submitted courses are discrete courses designed to meet a single ACE outcome. The others are designed to meet two outcomes. Students, however, can fulfill just one outcome per course, so they will choose which outcome a course will fulfill.

Mitchell said the discussions among the I-ACE committee members have been productive. Among the topics is ensuring consistent standards for certifications and maintaining laser-focus on outcomes and helping students achieve stated outcomes. The over-arching mission of ACE is focuses on outcomes and learning, she said, so courses must be designed to meet those outcomes.

One interesting discussion arose over cross-disciplinary courses in which methods of scientific inquiry were being utilized in a social sciences discipline, she said. So the question became, which ACE outcome or outcomes did this particular course satisfy?

“This is redefining the lines in hybrid disciplines,” she said.

In addition to the course-certification process, Mitchell, along with Dean of Undergraduate Studies Rita Kean, and Academic Transfer Coordinator JoAnn Moseman, have met with officials from all of Nebraska’s community colleges, from UNK and UNO, and other state institutions to ensure that transfer students’ courses will certify with ACE. Courses with a direct equivalent that is certified for an ACE outcome will transfer as an ACE course, she said. Alternatives are being set up to address courses lacking direct equivalents, but likely to meet ACE outcomes.

ACE discussions have sparked changes in many colleges, she said. Several are reworking their college distribution requirements (courses required by colleges in addition to ACE requirements). Mitchell said the complexity of the project has been surprising.

“In my head, I envisioned a really simple system, but the project really demands us to think in terms of complexity,” she said. “We are trying to be really mindful of the efforts that faculty have put into this. It’s great that faculty have been so thoughtful and engaged. But the goal to really keep in mind is improved student learning. Really what we are doing is creating a systematic process to help faculty reach that goal.”

The most rewarding part of the job, Mitchell said, has been working with individuals in various colleges.

“Even working together to solve the most-challenging problems has been fun. The cooperation has been great. Even if they have been frustrated, we know it’s a frustration that comes from trying hard to do the right thing.”

Some of the courses that have been submitted sound fascinating, Mitchell said. “Sometimes I think, ‘wow, I’d like to take that!'”

Mitchell applauds Kelly Dick, undergraduate curriculum associate, for her work as a liaison between faculty and Information Services and for her diplomatic customer service skills. Information Services also deserves kudos, she said, for working hard to fix glitches in the course-submission software. Those glitches caused deep frustrations for early birds, as the software was unable to handle the amount of information being inputted.

Even as the certification process winds down (the I-ACE committee will dissolve and its duties will transfer to the University Curriculum Committee in August), there is much work to be done, Mitchell said.

The Web site,, is updated weekly with new course certifications. She also is planning Web content for advisers and students. Eventually, she hopes that course proposals can be viewed by anyone who’s interested so the process will become more transparent.

ACE has earned national notoriety and Mitchell, Kean, Jessica Jonson and others have presented at several conferences and are contributing a chapter to a forthcoming book.

Mitchell said the time will have been worth it if the goal of transforming general education at UNL is fully realized.

“We hope that students will understand the ‘why’ of particular courses, why they are taking it, what we want them to learn, and how they will learn it,” she said. “And if this also prompts faculty to talk more about how general education relates to majors, that’s a plus as well.”

— Story by Kim Hachiya, University Communications

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