The Austin Peay State University think tank for quality enhancement planning in fall 2012 accepted the task of surveying Austin Peay’s learning outcomes and recommending a concept for the next Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). After researching the comments, observations, and concerns of various University constituencies, the think tank has identified a natural feature of university education still needing enhancement: Students learn their academic subjects but should learn more how to transfer their academic skills and knowledge to nonacademic settings by practically applying those skills and knowledge to engage their workplaces and communities.
Considering information from existing University research on employers and alumni, information from our think tank’s own surveys of students, faculty, staff, chairs, and administrators, and examples of QEPs at other universities, we have identified a need and interest in enhancing our students’ ability to engage more effectively with nonacademic situations by applying their academic skills and knowledge. While a university’s responsibility is to provide theory and understanding, ultimately theory and understanding will cross into practice and technique.
The University mission and vision statements highlight how education contributes to “intellectual, economic, social, physical, and cultural development.” Not only will final outcomes of learning be improved by a bridge of engagement and application from the classroom, but the process of learning may also go more smoothly, convincingly, and securely with students aware of a sense of purpose and use.
We believe many students at Austin Peay already experience courses and activities that allow them to apply their learning to and engage in the global society, including
We recommend that the University begin by documenting students’ current qualifying experiences. The University may then proceed to improve and add opportunities for such experiences and to clarify for students the relation of their educations to continued learning in the workplace and in society.
This guidance for students to engage and apply offers two dimensions for growth. First, although we believe many of our students do already experience such practical application of the skills and knowledge that they learn, we suspect that not all of them do. Some may have home and work lives that leave them only little time to dedicate to coursework, others may view a degree as simply a formality on the way to a career, or other issues may diminish students’ ability to consider the extended purpose of a university education. The University’s first steps are to foreground, target, improve, and increase the means students have for becoming involved and documenting their experiences. Ultimately, all students graduating from Austin Peay should be able to record examples of practical learning. The second dimension for growth lies across the areas of the BRAVO learning outcomes. Documentation of applied and engaged accomplishments coupled with successful completion of general education and disciplinary study will serve as evidence that a graduating student has achieved the Basics, Reasoning, Awareness, Values, and Outcomes. Outstanding graduating students who achieve additional breadth of engagement and application beyond the established baseline experience will receive additional recognition. The University can encourage such breadth of engagement and application by recognizing these outstanding students.
We believe the tool or system for measuring students’ application and engagement is a portfolio, and we recommend that the group writing the QEP investigate portfolio software to store each student’s artifact or artifacts demonstrating application and engagement as well as any other academic and professional materials that the student and the student’s department may want. Students will take part in their transformative experiences and file a document that has already successfully demonstrated application and engagement. Maintaining the portfolio will further show students’ skills in writing, digital literacy, critical thinking, and organization.
The proposed quality enhancement concept targets graduating students’ abilities to apply academic skills and knowledge that are articulated in the University’s BRAVO student learning outcomes. Students will complete electronic portfolio artifacts documenting skills and knowledge learned in the classroom. Such artifacts may include, for example, designated assignments deemed ‘portfolio ready’ by virtue of receiving positive evaluation. Students will also provide evidence demonstrating how they are able to apply what they learn to practical experiences by preparing additional appropriate artifacts that meet established criteria. Resources supporting this concept will need careful consideration as the full quality enhancement plan is being developed. Implementing a portfolio of engagement and application may require selecting a user-centered portfolio software system, securing computer space and access for storing the portfolios, providing a checklist or rubric for students to follow in submitting acceptable artifacts, or otherwise orienting and training students in how to prepare their portfolios.