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Let's All Get on Board with Quality Enhancement Plan

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the organization that oversees Old Dominion's accreditation, has been asking its member institutions to prepare a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) since 2003-04, in addition to supplying the traditional myriad reports and data that speak to institutional effectiveness.

Because the reaccreditation process occurs only every 10 years, this will be our first time to develop a QEP, which has been defined as "a carefully designed and focused course of action that addresses a well-defined topic or issue(s) related to enhancing student learning." Accreditation is something that colleges and universities take very seriously, for obvious reasons, and we should view this new piece of the process not only as a challenge but, more importantly, as an opportunity to make our great university even better for the students we serve. And that requires that faculty and staff continue to share their input and, ultimately, get on board with the plan.

Worth Pickering, who is co-chairing our QEP Committee with Mona Danner, in fact, likes to use a drawing of a sailboat to show how many constituent groups among the university community have a stake in the QEP. Faculty are at the helm - they steer and navigate the sailboat; staff comprise the mast and rigging, which support the sails and boat; students are in the mainsail, which provides primary power to the boat; and alumni, employers and community members are in the jib sail, which also provide power and stability to the vessel.

A team of faculty members worked hard to develop our QEP, which is called Reasoning through Writing and Research (RWR). All of us, including our students, face many complex decisions in our lives, both professional and personal. Decision-making requires asking questions, seeking out multiple sources of information, evaluating that information and then drawing conclusions. Employers want job candidates who have the ability to reason and to make informed decisions, and certainly we all want our fellow citizens to have these abilities.

According to the team that drafted the QEP, RWR "will promote the development of scholarly reasoning and informed decision-making skills in our students through active, problem-based learning, academic writing and scholarly research.

"The complex issues students face in their careers, personal lives and roles as citizens requires that they draw conclusions and make decisions based on competing arguments, multiple sources of information and empirical evidence.

"Employers are most interested in job candidates who have the type of scholarly reasoning and informed decision-making skills that are the focus of this QEP proposal. Further, it is important for all educated people to develop the skills necessary to apply existing knowledge to new situations and to search out and appropriately apply new knowledge."

As currently envisioned, once the Quality Enhancement Plan has become engrained in the ODU curricula, students will be able to:

• Articulate a problem or question

• Identify and apply existing knowledge

• Assess the quality and source of information

• Decide whether additional information is necessary to differentiate between opposing claims or options

• Seek out and comprehend new information

• Formulate conclusions based on sources and empirical evidence

• Clearly articulate their conclusions and justifications in writing.

When we first surveyed faculty and administrators last fall, asking in what areas of student learning ODU should invest over the next five years, the two concerns that came up most often were analytical thinking and writing. RWR certainly addresses those concerns.

As Mona and Worth have noted, however, our QEP is still in the early development phase and they remain open to ideas on how Old Dominion can best enhance students' skills and abilities in writing, research and reasoning. I encourage our faculty to contact them with their suggestions.

If we are to improve as an institution of higher learning, if we are to be more responsive to the needs of our students - to the needs of society - we must have a plan that not only is good, but also one that faculty can embrace, for it will require significant work on their part to make it successful. As Mona has pointed out, "Engaged faculty lead the way to improvements in student learning."

Since student learning is what we are all about, I ask that you all get on board so that, when we do launch our QEP, we are confident it will have a successful voyage.

This article was posted on: January 21, 2011

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