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Undergraduate symposium spotlights importance of integrative learning

Annual gathering draws record crowd, moves toward implementation of cross-disciplinary approaches

Panelists speak as part of CU Denver Undergraduate Experiences Symposium

By Chris Casey | University Communications

DENVER - Much of the discussion at the 9th Annual Undergraduate Experiences Symposium centered on the prefix "multi," which is fitting since 21st century students will go on to multiple jobs and multiple careers, all of which will require a broad, multidisciplinary set of skills.

"Twenty to 30 percent of freshmen will go into jobs that didn't exist when they came to our door," said keynote speaker Terrel Rhodes, of the Association of American Colleges and Universities. "By the time students are 38, they'll have 10 to 14 different jobs. We have to think about preparing our students differently to enter into that kind of employment arena."

Scenes from the Undergraduate Experiences Symposium:

A record 135 people attended the symposium, forcing host John Lanning, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate experience, to close registration lest the room at the Curtis Hotel overflow. Attendees enjoyed another robust discussion about undergraduate experiences and learning outcomes. The session included a nod to new CU Denver's new mascot in its title: "Shared Empowerment: Making Integrated Learning Ours (MILO)."

The half-day symposium opened with remarks by Chancellor Don Elliman and Lanning. Elliman said student success is the university's pre-eminent priority, and he cited integrative learning as a key opportunity for delivering such success. "I think that's the future of education," Elliman said. "And I think preparing people to solve real-world problems is going to require the sort of cross-disciplinary learning that we have an opportunity to introduce people to."

Lanning said last year's symposium, which had an internal and reflective format, generated more than 100 recommendations. An undergraduate working group distilled those to 13 and a campus-wide survey boiled those down to three top priorities. Two of the three have been at least partially implemented, he said: the graduation and degree audit system and the Canvas learning management system that has brought technological options into the classroom. The third goal, which still needs to be addressed, is expanding staffing in the Experiential Learning Center, to increase internships, he said.

He said a mini-symposium will be held next spring to see what progress has been made from ideas generated about integrative learning. "I want you to do a little dreaming," he told the attendees, who spent part of the symposium brainstorming at their tables. "I want you to think that an entering freshman or an entering transfer student knows what the learning objectives are at the University of Colorado Denver. ... None of us can pull this off without working together."

Rhodes' keynote focused on national efforts on shared learning outcomes and integrative learning. "I hope this is not offensive to anybody, but the (student's) major isn't the be-all, end-all. It is important, but equally important are the development of these cross-cutting skills and abilities," he said. "There's the importance of a liberal education, application of skills and -- we were surprised at this -- employers are interested in portfolios and partnerships with colleges and universities."

Rhodes cited results from a national online survey of 318 employers whose organizations have at least 25 employees. Findings included:

  • A majority of employers (56 percent) express satisfaction with the job colleges and universities are doing to prepare graduates for success in the workplace, but more than two in five indicate room for improvement.
  • Two in three employers believe most university graduates have the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in entry level positions, but only 44 percent think they have what is required for advancement and promotion to higher levels.

Universities need to increase "high-impact practices" (HIPs) that engage students and provide the cross-cutting skills required in the 21st century workplace, Rhodes said. HIPs include internships, writing-intensive courses and community service projects. "We have created curricula that is sort of a medical model of inoculation -- take this course, get that, move on," he said. "... If you want to get good at something you practice. You have to keep revisiting it. And you can't just keep doing the same thing, you've got to keep taking it a little bit farther, to the next step."

A CU Denver panel moved the discussion toward identifying integrative learning practices on our campus. Panel members were Jeff Franklin, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Cecilio Alvarez, academic advisor in the CLAS Academic Advising Office; Barbara Seidl, associate dean of the School of Education and Human Development; Khushnur Dadabhoy, dean of students and assistant vice chancellor of student life; and Mitch Handelsman, professor of psychology and CU President's Teaching Scholar.

Franklin and others at the symposium spent the last 18 months as members of the CLAS Learning Enhancement Task Force. The task force concluded that:

  • Students need a broad, cross-cutting set of non-discipline specific, transferrable capabilities.
  • Providing a more cohesive educational experience contributes to those skills.
  • It's necessary to take an integrative education approach.

A critical component of integrative education, Franklin said, is shifting from a quantitative model to a qualitative one. The quantitative model focuses on achieving a certain number of requirements, such as credit hours, seat hours and faculty contact hours. The qualitative model, on the other hand, is concerned with whether students are actually learning what is being presented.

"It's different. It's a different headset," Franklin said.

Archives of reports about each previous Undergraduate Experiences Symposium can be found at this website. Click the "Quick Links" section for individual symposium archives.

(Photo at top: Speaking on a panel at the Undergraduate Experiences Symposium were, from left, Jeff Franklin, associate dean, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Mitch Handelsman, professor of pscychology; Barbara Seidl, associate dean, School of Education and Human Development; Cecilio Alvarez, academic advisor, CLAS Academic Advising Office; and Khushnur Dadabhoy, dean of students and assistant vice chancellor, student life.)






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