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   from the issue of March 24, 2005

Special Insert - Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence

ITLE grants fund improvements in teaching enterprise

In his September 2004 State of the University Address, UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman stated his on-going commitment to sustaining and improving undergraduate education.

"While research can be measured in dollars, ultimately our teaching success is measured by how well we help our students achieve their full potential. . . . The tragedy of wasting even one mind should compel us to continue to devote our energies to achieve even higher levels of student learning and success," he said.

The chancellor also noted that faculty and administrators have in the last few years struggled to find ways to support the teaching enterprise in innovative and effective ways.

"I am now convinced that for us to make substantial progress, we must insist that student learning outcomes be the measure for the success of any effort to enhance the undergraduate experience. Great teaching does not depend on how good students feel about the experience but on how much they learn," he said.

"The shift to student learning poses many questions. Can we change the structure of higher education so it measures students' progress by their learning achievements rather than by how long they sit in a classroom? Is our curriculum structured and coordinated in such a way that facilitates interdisciplinary thinking? Can we allocate the valuable time of faculty toward those students who might benefit the most from faculty attention? Can we more fully exploit technology to enhance student learning at less cost? How will we respond to the growing pressure for giving dual credit for high school courses or for accepting credits from other institutions of varying overall quality? The answers to all of these questions are much easier if we focus on learning outcomes."

The chancellor announced a new initiative on teaching and learning funded by a grant of $427,000 from the University of Nebraska Foundation. He also stated his intention to secure additional funding. The goal is to support projects related to selective implementation of the recommendations of the Transitions to the University Task Force report or for such other activities relating to undergraduate education. The task force was created in May 2003 to review and assess the effectiveness of first-year undergraduate orientation programs and courses.

"All of us at the university have an opportunity and a responsibility to help make sure students are better when they leave than when they enter. We hope to support these efforts wherever we find them," he said.

Later in the fall, an internal competition was announced to solicit proposals; 100 proposals were submitted by the deadline, Jan. 14.

"When the Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence was launched we knew that our faculty and staff were eager to get support for specific projects that would enhance student learning," said Barbara Couture, senior vice chancellor for academic affairs. "But to receive 100 proposals from across the campus - this response far exceeded our expectations."

Couture appointed an advisory committee to review and assess the 100 proposals received. This committee of faculty, staff, and students represented Academic Affairs, the Teaching Council, the Academy of Distinguished Teachers, the Instructional Technology Advisory Committee, the General Purpose Classroom Advisory Committee, the Academic Planning Committee, ASUN (Student Government), the Academic Senate, the Office of Undergraduate Studies, and Student Affairs. This advisory committee forwarded its recommendations to a panel in Academic Affairs and Undergraduate Studies. That group forwarded recommendations to Couture, who made the final decisions on funding. The review at each step made special notice of project goals, project plans, assessment plans, impact, and budget.

"I wish to thank the 15 members of the faculty/staff/student advisory committee who reviewed the proposals;" said Couture. "They had an especially difficult task, as funding this year could only support a quarter of the proposals submitted.

"The Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence will help faculty and staff create the best undergraduate experience for our students through engaged teaching that focuses on learning," Couture said. "I am delighted that the chancellor has provided funding for a wide range of projects, including ones that bring new technologies into the classroom, involve whole departments and programs, assist individual instructors, and enhance student advising. ... In reviewing the proposals submitted, I was impressed by the depth and range of innovative classroom projects, many incorporating new instructional technologies and involving faculty and staff partnerships across several disciplines and units. We look forward to learning from those who received awards what projects worked best to improve student learning."

The entire insert is located here.



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