The Open Pathway requires the institution to undertake a major Quality Initiative (QI) designed to suit its present concerns or aspirations. The QI usually takes place between years 5 and 9 of the 10-year Open Pathway Cycle, but because this was the first cycle, our QI took place between years 7 and 9 of this cycle (2013-2016). A QI may be designed to begin and be completed during this time or it may continue an initiative already in progress or achieve a key milestone in the work of a longer initiative. The QI is intended to allow institutions to take risks, aim high, and if so be it, learn from only partial success or even failure.
CMU submitted its QI Proposal in May 2013 with a focus on Academic Challenge. This topic built upon many earlier reports such as Raising Academic Performance (2009) and Foundations of Excellence (2007). The campus conversations around the "Academically Adrift" findings of Drs. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa helped to form the initiative. Preliminary input to the proposal came from the Teaching and Learning Collective, the Academic Senate Executive Board, and leaders of the Student Government Association. Dr. Debra Poole, Psychology Department, is the project leader. In fall 2013, she and the leadership team coordinated a campus-wide dialog that helped the team select CMU's first projects. As the QI moves forward, the team anticipated new projects to address academic rigor, the role of liberal studies, and academic practices that improve retention. Our goal was to prepare students for success after graduation.
Timeline of CMU's Quality Initiative
CMU sent a QI proposal to the Higher Learning Commission and introduced the QI to the campus community.
A QI Leadership Team formed, and the Core Team reviewed reports from prior related committees.
The QI Leadership Team hosted a campus-wide conversation about academic challenge. Team members visited numerous campus groups and solicited feedback and project ideas via an email address and ideation websites for students, faculty, and staff. Repeatedly, members of the campus community expressed a need for resources and strategies to advance students' reading, writing, critical thinking, and independent learning skills. The Leadership Team made plans to develop and test demonstration materials for a Teaching and Learning Toolkit—short instructional modules for instructors and students on high-impact teaching and learning practices. Initial materials included print resources, PowerPoint presentations, and test-item banks. (The first video module went into production after feedback from a pilot project.)
The Leadership Team surveyed instructors and students to assess their needs. Thirty-three instructors volunteered for a pilot project involving two 3-hour workshops covering the high-impact teaching practices described in draft Toolkit resources. A survey conducted the following academic year compared course changes initiated by this group with changes initiated by a group of instructors who had attended other campus presentations about teaching. Results showed that exposure to Toolkit concepts impacted teaching practices. An unexpected finding was that pilot project instructors often made course changes that were unrelated to the topics they had listed as interests when they enrolled in the project. This finding supported the value of multiple-topic workshops and suggested that information about a variety of high-impact teaching practices should be distributed at every presentation about teaching.
Based on feedback from the pilot project volunteers, the QI Leadership Team made plans to add video modules to the list of Toolkit resources. They selected three possible topics for video-based demonstration projects and built partnerships with the relevant campus offices: A short online course for instructors of writing intensive courses, an online orientation for new undergraduate students about learning in college, and an expanded orientation for new faculty.
Toolkit drafts were reviewed by an editor and forwarded for final formatting. In partnership with CETL, the QI hired Troy Hicks, English Language and Literature, to deliver three workshops for instructors of writing intensive courses and to serve as creative director for the production of an online workshop. The QI hired CMU alumnus Kevin Smith to serve as the multimedia producer for the online workshop.
The QI made progress on the Toolkit. Throughout the first two years of the QI, the focus had been to promote the development of evidence-based instructional modules, both print and video-based, with the goal of creating a shared dialog about teaching and learning throughout our campus community.
The QI released the online Writing Intensive workshop and the Teaching and Learning Toolkit demonstration materials. Multimedia producer Kevin Smith continued work on an academic orientation video for students. The QI, purchased equipment to support expanded multimedia production capabilities and funded staff hours to begin converting Read This Before You Teach into an online faculty orientation module. With assistance from other CETL staff members, Troy Hicks organized a summer Writing Intensive Institute.