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Eastern wins major grant to support new liberal arts learning outcomes

Published on July 29, 2020

Eastern wins major grant to support new liberal arts learning outcomes

Eastern entrance

Eastern Connecticut State University has been named the recipient of a two-year, $245,000 grant to fund an innovative, faculty-driven project, “Implementation of New Learning Outcomes in the Liberal Arts Core (LAC).” The grant was received from the Davis Educational Foundation, established by Stanton and Elisabeth Davis after Mr. Davis’s retirement as chairman of Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc.

The project will support essential faculty development at Eastern to improve the teaching and assessment of newly adopted student learning outcomes.  It has three primary objectives: to create a faculty development program designed to train faculty members to more effectively teach the new learning outcomes and develop assignments that allow students to practice those skills; to grow the program into a long-term faculty development program, allowing Eastern’s faculty to lead workshops in subsequent years to train additional instructors across all disciplines; and to enhance student acquisition of the newly adopted Liberal Arts Core skills while creating a mechanism through which Eastern can develop a positive culture and a sustained method of assessment.

William Salka, Eastern’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, said the grant addresses several critical areas to Eastern’s new 2020 Strategic Plan. “The first objective is to revise our curriculum so that it better reflects changing discipline and employer needs. The aim is to ensure that every Eastern graduate receives extensive training in the skills that are most sought by graduate schools and employers. To ensure effective teaching of these new outcomes, the second objective of the plan is to support faculty development in teaching, which was the basis of our proposal.”

Okon Hwang
Music Professor Okon Hwang works with a student on piano.

Salka said the current, 15-year-old LAC contained 100 enumerated learning outcomes, too many to effectively assess. Moreover, students were unable to readily identify the value of the LAC and had difficulty explaining the skills they developed across the curriculum. 

To address these challenges, Eastern created the Liberal Arts Learning Outcome Revision Committee, which reduced the number of learning outcomes in the LAC to five — critical thinking, communication, quantitative reasoning, ethical reasoning and creativity. By this past spring, the five learning outcomes had been selected and defined, an assessment tool was created for each, and the University Senate approved the final plans. 

Eastern also created an Assessment Task Force to undertake consistent assessment of the new LAC learning outcomes. Courtney Broscious, assistant professor of political science, serves as the university assessment coordinator. She will collaborate with Patricia Miller, university assistant in the Academic Success Center and project coordinator, to work with faculty to design and lead workshops with curriculum experts. 

Broscious was a member of the Critical Thinking Task Force, funded by a 2017 Davis Educational Foundation Grant. “During the course of this previous project and the revision of the learning outcomes for the LAC, it became apparent that faculty had different definitions of the skills we hope our students develop at Eastern,” said Broscious. “This new grant project allows Eastern to provide expert-led workshops to our faculty to ensure we are using the most effective techniques to teach our students. Further, it sets up a train-the-trainer style program so that Eastern can continue to hold faculty-led workshops centered around our new LAC learning outcomes for faculty in the future. This will allow Eastern to continue to train faculty to adopt new pedagogical approaches and engage in meaningful community discussions about our curriculum.”

Psychology Professor Jenna Scisco lectures in front of her class.

Broscious said the learning outcomes adopted by the University are tremendous for students, as the outcomes focus on skills that students need to be successful in life and work in our fast-changing world. “Students will benefit from this grant project, as faculty will come to the classroom with new ideas, approaches and innovative assignments that help them to develop and refine these critical skills. The emphasis on continued training for faculty will help to ensure that our student’s needs and goals are discussed regularly in formalized training sessions and incorporated into our courses.”

Eastern began featuring the new learning outcomes in the LAC this summer. To encourage participation, early faculty adopters are paid to attend workshops and receive stipends to integrate what they have learned into their LAC classes.

Salka is excited at the opportunity to create a sustainable culture of faculty development and assessment. “The number and percent of faculty participating in continued workshops and course design; improved student achievement on learning outcomes attained through the Liberal Arts Core; and quality, long-term outcomes will be our performance measures. A redesigned Liberal Arts Core that focuses on the skill sets of a liberally educated person is what we want to achieve.”

Written by Dwight Bachman