Self-Study Report: Chapter Four
Student Learning and Effective Teaching
Over the past decade, and with increasing intensity over the past five years, Calvin College has refocused its efforts on its main business, teaching and learning, with new scrutiny and creative energy. It has developed systems for assessing learning, a new core curriculum, a research and programs institute that is focused on teaching and learning, a deanship for instruction and program of teaching development, some major new instructional facilities and the renovation of older ones, and a major build-up of infrastructure and services in information technology on behalf of campus instruction and inquiry. One of the most important drivers of this intensified activity has been the college’s careful and detailed Expanded Statement of the Mission of Calvin College (ESM),1 which provided a much-needed update on the college’s basic educational aims. What it set forth in broad and often dramatic terms, the college has been working to flesh out in practice.
Defining Calvin’s Educational Goals
Calvin faculty and staff have a clear sense of the kind of graduates the college would like to produce. In the words of the ESM, a Calvin education consists of “vigorous liberal arts education that promotes lives of Christian service”; a Calvin education should “connect the way we think with the way we live.”2 In the ESM—and in the core curriculum and the major programs—the college lays out the aims of a Calvin education in ways that make assessment of its progress possible.
Goals for a Calvin Education
The ESM outlines the goals of a Calvin education in broad and hopeful language. It sets out four interlocking educational goals: (1) knowledge—of God, of the world through “critical inquiry into its problems and potential,” and of ourselves; (2) “insightful and creative participation in society”; (3) the “development of abilities and competencies that enable people to be effective in the tasks of knowing and caring”; and (4) the fostering of commitments, to Christian faith and to “values such as stewardship, justice, truth, and gratitude.” These goals have provided a framework for curriculum development and review since the ESM was adopted in October 1992. Therefore, these aims are operative for both the core curriculum at Calvin and for major and minor programs.
There is common agreement that at Calvin, education should accomplish more than the development of a set of practical skills or a body of objective knowledge. A Calvin education does not consist merely of the self-interested pursuit of career skills nor even of the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. It “aims at developing that Christian wisdom which envelops knowing and doing, which compels perspective and praxis to enrich each other.”3 This approach has become crucial at Calvin in view of the fact that the college has always combined liberal arts and professional training, intertwining them in an understanding that work is a calling and a vocation.4 Moreover, after the charter educational documents, Christian Liberal Arts Education (CLAE) and Professional Education and the Christian Liberal Arts College (PECLAC), were written and the previous core implemented in the early 1970s, Calvin developed in the direction of what the Carnegie Classification once called the “comprehensive college,” since about half of its graduates receive degrees in the college’s various professional programs of study. About 40 percent of the incoming first-year class places itself in one of three large professional programs: engineering, education, or nursing. In the most recent Carnegie Classification (2000) Calvin is classified as “bachelor’s–general,” as distinct from “bachelor’s–liberal arts,” because the college annually grants fewer than 20 master’s degrees, and more than 50 percent of its bachelor’s degrees are awarded in professional programs. But, in fact, the college remains heavily involved in the liberal arts. In 2003-2004, the largest professional program of the college, education, enrolled more than 20 percent of the student body. Since many of these students in teacher education complete disciplinary majors in their chosen fields—biology, English, and the like—the majority of Calvin students get degrees in the liberal arts departments. The lively “both–and” tension within the college’s statements of educational goals, therefore, is a good fit for the assemblage of programs that make up the college.
Goals for the Core Curriculum
The most significant recent development in the college’s efforts to foster effective teaching and learning has been its new core curriculum. Two developments in the early 1990s supported the reform of the core curriculum. The first was the adoption of the ESM, with its outlined educational goals. The very act of stating those goals seemed to imply a need to think deliberately and explicitly about how a broad, general education contributed to reaching them. Yet the general sense of need did not create a clear vision for how to meet it. The 1994 self-study report summarized the situation at the time: “Revision of the core curriculum is another goal that has yet to be achieved, despite the efforts of more than one faculty committee and considerable all-college debate. To date the faculty has been unable to develop a working consensus on how current general education requirements ought to be changed.…”5
A second impetus for core curriculum reform was the implementation of a new assessment program that gave the college some revealing results related to its old core. Beginning in 1995, assessment of the core curriculum began in a pilot project involving a longitudinal study of a sample of 60 first-year students, focusing on student understanding of the mission of the college. A report released in the second year of this pilot program did much to break down faculty resistance to core curriculum revision and galvanize a movement for change. The data showed that “after a year of Calvin study, the perspective of the college is not clearly evident to these students.” In written essays and in structured interviews, students were asked, “Do you think Calvin College has a worldview? If so, what do you think it is?” The report noted,
For a college that prides itself on its commitment to developing a Christian worldview within its students, these data were disturbing. They provided the motivation the faculty needed to support the work of a core curriculum review committee that had begun its work in late 1996 as a subcommittee created by the Educational Policy Committee (EPC) with a mandate approved by Faculty Senate. The new core curriculum, which was finally approved in 2001, was the first thorough revision of the core curriculum at Calvin since the late 1960s.7
The Process of Core Curriculum Revision
The new core was revised in two phases. The first phase was a careful articulation of the goals of the core. These goals were built upon the broader goals of the ESM. In the introduction to the core curriculum document, and in the textbook that is read by first-year students in the required course Developing a Christian Mind,8 the goals of a Calvin education receive direct attention, appearing in a conceptual vocabulary closely linked to the ESM.
Three of these four educational goals—knowledge, skills, and virtues—were adopted and made the basis of the organizational structure of the core curriculum; the fourth, participation, can be seen as a recurring motif throughout several categories of the new core. The core curriculum document expanded upon these basic goals, spelling out 15 areas in which Calvin students were to gain knowledge of God, the world, and themselves; identifying 14 fundamental skills that Calvin students would develop; and defining 15 virtues that Calvin students would encounter, if not acquire, through the core curriculum.9
These goals, as described above, were discussed by the faculty in several “town hall” meetings, debated at Faculty Senate, and finally adopted by the whole faculty in November 1997. After the goals were adopted, the Core Revision Committee took on the task of determining what kinds of courses were needed to meet these goals.
One of the largest changes in the new core, therefore, is its organization around goals and objectives, not around departmental distribution requirements. Therefore, courses are now required to meet specific objectives in, for example, learning about “persons and communities,” but these courses may come from psychology, philosophy, sociology, or another department. Students are required to take courses in each of 19 categories. Each category addresses a certain group of objectives, with most objectives being addressed by several categories. These categories are organized into four broad groups, which roughly represent stages in a student’s progression through Calvin College.
In its adoption of the core curriculum, the faculty allowed for an altered core for several professional programs whose requirements were too large to accommodate the full core. This accommodation was given in the spirit of Professional Education and the Christian Liberal Arts College (PECLAC), a 1973 statement on professional programs at Calvin College. Professional programs were asked to address how their programs would meet the educational objectives of the core categories from which they were seeking exemptions. The adoption of the new core was an occasion for professional programs to revise their requests for core exemptions. Every professional program except engineering ended up requesting fewer exemptions.10
A unique feature of the core is its emphasis on virtue as an important educational outcome. The language of virtue is closely related to but not exactly the same as the language of commitment found in the ESM. In the course approval process for core, departments were asked to address how course content and pedagogical strategies for a given course addressed the virtues.11
The Goals of Major and Minor Programs
Compared with the general and college-wide interests of the core curriculum, major concentrations are a “study in depth,” sequenced from elementary to advanced courses. Major programs provide “preparation for service with expertise,” giving “more detailed and complete understanding of a particular field.” The ESM cautions that in order to avoid “careerism,” major programs should be placed “in the larger contexts of culture, society, history, and religion.” Major programs at Calvin should recognize the importance of proficiency in a field, but should give “equal importance to the way in which one achieves, holds, examines, and assumes such a proficiency.”12 The Educational Policy Committee (EPC) is the primary college agent in ensuring the integrity of academic majors, minors, and individual courses. For new course proposals EPC uses a standard template that asks for learning objectives and a description of how they will be assessed.13
Academic departments are expected to develop goals and objectives for programs and majors that are consistent with the broad goals and objectives of the ESM. Departments are given broad latitude in how they do this because of the wide range of programs they offer. Naturally, the professional programs that are accredited by outside agencies (such as nursing and education) have lists of goals that are more specific and extensive than other programs that prepare students for a broad range of vocations.14
While major programs of study are essential to degree requirements, Calvin College also has 60 minors that can appear on transcripts and are listed in the catalog. Students do not need a minor to graduate. Many minors exist for the purpose of the educational program’s state certification; other minors exist essentially as advising tools, as ways of guiding students who want to group their free electives into meaningful patterns. Several minors are interdisciplinary programs. The educational goals for minors are far more variable than they are for majors, but they must be consistent with the educational mission of the college.
The Goals of the Co-curriculum
The Student Life Division of Calvin College operates with a mission statement and educational goals that grow out of the ESM. These goals for the holistic development of students undergird the wide range of programs in the Student Life Division. The goals of co-curricular programming are found in the division’s mission statement:
This mission statement, which was developed in 1994 in response to the all-campus review and strategic planning occasioned by an accreditation visit, has provided a rubric for the Student Life Division’s developmental programs. Each month of the division’s programming calendar features one of the themes listed above, such as faith formation, relational development, political/ communal development, and aesthetic development.16
With the coming of the new core curriculum, the Student Life Division has taken a more formal role in addressing its goals. Student Life staff members participated in the planning of the new core, and they are the principal instructors for the fall semester component of the first-year program, called Prelude. Student Life’s mission statement above finds concrete articulation in the five sections of Prelude: faith, culture, diversity, discernment, and calling.17
Are We Meeting Our Educational Goals? Assessment of Learning Objectives
Assessment of the college’s educational goals is the primary responsibility of the Assessment Committee, but it is shared by every academic department, the educational oversight committees, and every other unit in the college.
The college adopted an all-college assessment program in the spring of 1994. This program mandated two different levels of all college assessment: assessment of major programs and assessment of the core curriculum. EPC created the Assessment Committee in 1996, mandating it to review, coordinate, and report on the assessment work that was going on in departments throughout the institution. Responsibility for directing assessment efforts was given to the dean for instruction. As that deanship grew in scope, it became clear that assessment needed more undivided attention, so the college created a separate director of assessment position in 2003.
There is a wide range of data that is used to examine whether Calvin is meeting all-college objectives. For example, regular alumni surveys have been an important part of the review of the college curriculum for many years.18 The college has regularly participated in national assessment surveys such as those conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) and National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE). Calvin has participated for five years in the Collaborative Assessment Project of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. As part of the preparation for this accreditation review, the Assessment Committee prepared a report organizing this survey evidence around the goals of ESM. This exercise was valuable, and the Assessment Committee will do this on an annual basis.19
One challenge in assessment is that the broad goals of the ESM are addressed by the core curriculum, the programs of concentration, and the co-curriculum. Responsibility for assessment is thus found on different levels within the college. Some goals are shared by the whole college, some are placed primarily in majors, some are limited to the core, and some are addressed primarily in the co-curriculum. The breadth and qualitative nature of the college’s goals, coupled with the multiple levels and locations at which they are addressed, have added greatly to the complexity of the college’s task of assessment. For example, learning to “write standard English well” is an explicit goal of the ESM, but it is addressed in the core as a particular core goal and is also a goal in most majors. Because writing is an explicit part of both the core and major programs, the assessment of this educational objective is also distributed across the college. Student writing ability is assessed in the introductory core course and at selected points in the major programs, depending on the major. In order to more effectively coordinate both the instruction and assessment of writing, Calvin instituted a “ writing across the curriculum” program 11 years ago. All major programs have a writing plan, and all departments are asked to periodically assess their plans. The writing program as a whole was evaluated in several ways during 2002-2003. After self-evaluations by departments and the Writing Program Advisory Board and a survey by Calvin’s Center for Social Research, the college hosted a team from the Council of Writing Program Administrators, which evaluated Calvin’s program and made recommendations accordingly.20
The Core Curriculum and Assessment
Creation of the Core Curriculum Committee, the most significant structural innovation in the new core curriculum, has gone a long way toward ensuring that ongoing assessment will feed adjustment and renewal of the core curriculum on a continuing basis, and that the college will regularly review the relationship between its mission and values and the effectiveness of its core program.
The Core Curriculum Committee reviews all courses proposed or designated for fulfilling core, and it assesses the entire core curriculum on a rolling schedule, covering four of the sixteen main categories each year. Additionally, it oversees the work of the coordinators of Prelude, Developing a Christian Mind (DCM), Research and Information Technology (RIT), and cross-cultural engagement (CCE) and receives annual assessment reviews from each of them. Because the college is early in the implementation of the core, it is still early in this cycle of assessment. During the process of introducing the new core curriculum, the primary means of assessment has been through a careful analysis of “input” rather than performance measures; faculty must carefully detail proposed content and pedagogical strategies in order to meet core objectives.21 Core course proposals are thoroughly evaluated by the Core Curriculum Committee. As the workload related to the initial implementation has decreased, the Core Curriculum Committee has turned its attention to assessment. Assessment instruments for each category are being developed in coordination with the rolling assessment schedule, in order to keep the work level manageable. Core assessment uses faculty and student surveys to measure how well individual courses meet the objectives of their core category. The surveys are constructed by the Core Curriculum Committee with advice from instructors teaching courses in the target category. The assessment activities are managed with clerical support from the Office of the Dean for Instruction, though some of this support will likely shift to the Office of the Director of Assessment when it becomes operational in the fall of 2004. Summary assessment data are reviewed by the Core Curriculum Committee.22
Major Programs and Assessment
Calvin’s 25 academic departments offer 88 major programs. Each department is primarily responsible for determining and assessing its educational objectives, but each is subject to oversight from the Educational Policy Committee. The Assessment Committee exists to give support to these departments as they carry out their assessment responsibilities. All departments have adopted mission statements, departmental goals and objectives, and assessment mechanisms. All of these plans are expected to have multiple measures of student outcomes. Most rely on a combination of survey data, performance measures, national test scores, and placement rates.23
The most mature and well-formed of the assessment plans were created by professional programs, such as engineering and education, whose standards are set by external accrediting agencies. Four of these professional programs have had recent external reviews by their respective accrediting bodies.24 The Education Department, which recently reorganized its office staff to free up a full-time position of coordinator of assessment, has developed a strong assessment system, an important feature of which is its organization around key assignments that are given at various stages in the program. Rubrics for these key assignments were designed by teams of faculty members—in many cases from a number of departments across the college.25 This system was favorably reviewed by site visitors from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education Programs (NCATE) at its November 2003 visit.26 Both the Engineering and Computer Science departments have developed assessment programs in accord with the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) requirements for certification.27 ABET expects programs to develop educational objectives that are aligned with those of the college, and expects that programs will have well-developed systems for assessing these objectives. These programs were favorably reviewed with site visits within the last three years.28 Similarly, the college’s new (2002) nursing program, with its accompanying assessment program, received a favorable review by site visitors from the Collegiate Council on Nursing Education.29
Programs without external accrediting bodies have had less guidance in developing effective assessment plans. The assessment plan of 1994 intentionally gave departments wide latitude in developing objectives and measures and in implementing their plans. As a result, the college has a wide variety of assessment programs, and some are better than others.
The annual "State of the Department" reports written by academic department chairs and submitted to the divisional deans early in the fall semester are the primary mechanisms for reporting on planning and assessment activities. These reports function as self-study reports within the Academic Affairs Division.30 The template used for these reports requires departments to describe their mission statements and the connection between these and departmental curricula and programs; to collect and organize data on enrollment trends; to calculate staffing needs on the basis of these data; to analyze their budgeting trends and needs; and to note the relationship of the department to all-college programs such as the core curriculum, assessment plan, college writing program, and anti-racism initiatives.31 The principal reason for these reports in the past has been planning resource allocations. A new emphasis within the past few years has been the connection of resource allocation with assessment results. Implementing this change in emphasis has been a challenge.
The Co-curriculum and Assessment
Planning for co-curricular programming routinely includes an assessment of ongoing needs and past successes and difficulties. The Student Life Division makes extensive use of survey data to evaluate programs and understand students, and it regularly brings in consultants to assist in effective programming.
In 2002, for example, the vice president for student life commissioned a survey of students living on campus.32 The survey covered physical space satisfaction, renovation suggestions, study habits, spiritual formation activities, code of conduct compliance, and church and chapel attendance. The data were analyzed by the chaplain and the Chapel Committee for programming decisions. The Office of Residence Life used the study habits data to influence the enforcement of “quiet hours” in the residence halls. The code of conduct data were reviewed by the judicial deans, and in 2003-2004, there was a decision to establish an Office of Judicial Affairs separate from the Office of Residence Life. The entire survey was reviewed by the senior leadership team33 of the Student Life Division to assess how they were meeting their goals as a division. They found that many of their programs were achieving the outcomes they desired.
In the spring of 2002 the Student Life Division received the results of the ACHA-NCHA34 survey— a nationally named survey. This survey covered the following areas: general health of college students; preventive health; academic impacts; violence; alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use; sexual behavior; nutrition and exercise; and depression. The results were reviewed by the senior leadership team of the Student Life Division, the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees, and the president of the college. The data supported (1) the formation of an Office of Judicial Affairs, (2) the implementation of Health Services’ programs for HIV/STD testing and women’s health services, (3) the necessity of the current number of staff in the Broene Counseling Center, (4) the upgrade to online depression screening, and (5) the creation of the Sexuality Task Force.
How does the college know if it is meeting its educational goals? Calvin has traditionally relied on student and alumni reports, analysis of “inputs,” anecdotal comments from employers and graduate school supervisors, placement and acceptance rates, and faculty judgment. Because these sources have been overwhelmingly positive, Calvin has not had to ask tough, performance based questions about its educational goals. The college has had a history of revising programs and majors in response to student feedback, perceived needs, and external review. The History Department, to cite one example, relied on an alumni survey and the recommendations of an external review team for developing its revised curriculum in 1999.
Nevertheless, the college is well aware that it has improvements to make in the area of assessment. As described above, Calvin’s educational goals are beautifully written and consistent with a broad view of the effects of education. However, the goals are not written in language that is easily operationalized in the instrumental language of “measurable outcomes.” The college’s department-based hopes for assessment have resulted in goals and strategies that do not always align themselves easily with the outcome statements in the ESM, making it difficult to collate results across the college in a meaningful way. Calvin has a strong departmental culture—and also a strong humanities culture—and it is fair to say that assessment requirements have been met with skepticism and resistance by some faculty members. It is probably fair to say that the college has not always provided adequate resources for departmental assessment (except in the case of professional programs), and it has been too lean in administrative support for assessment. Some departments are still operating with assessment plans that rely heavily on grades, courses passed, and satisfaction surveys. Even when the college has important findings that could be used to improve instruction, it has not always been consistent in “closing the feedback loop.” Calvin has devoted many institutional resources to developing the new core, and it is only now in a position to turn its attention to developing an assessment of it. Even so, the college has made major strides in developing the structures and processes to provide a regular and full flow of assessment data. The tasks ahead are to sharpen the methods used in some sectors and to develop a more robust and regular pattern of using the data that are generated.
The NCA’s “Assessment Culture Matrix”36 gives Calvin a helpful rubric to analyze its progress in assessment. On most of the criteria on that matrix, Calvin is at level four or five. The following efforts suggest that the college is making progress across the matrix in the following ways:
Calvin has appointed a director of assessment to a partial-load position. Michael Stob, who recently served as an academic dean, is now the director of assessment. His experience will be of enormous benefit to the assessment program.
The Assessment Committee is currently working with departments to align their educational outcomes more closely with the outcomes described in the ESM.
Efforts to meet State of Michigan and NCATE criteria for teacher education programs, which involve almost every academic department, have led to more performance-based assessment within the major programs.
The Assessment Committee has instituted an annual assessment report in which all measures that are relevant to the goals of the ESM are collated into one document and presented to the Educational Policy Committee.
The Core Curriculum Committee has begun a program of core assessment, and early results from these assessments are already influencing curricular decisions in the core.
Calvin’s Commitment to Effective Teaching
Calvin College is committed to hiring, developing, and supporting faculty as teachers. Its goals for teaching are prominent in the ESM.
Faculty members at Calvin College have no doubt that, of the several responsibilities assigned to them—teaching, scholarship, academic advising, and service—effective teaching is to be their first priority. The Handbook for Teaching Faculty states, “Teaching is the primary vocation and responsibility of the Calvin College faculty.” At Calvin, teaching is more than a job; it is a vocation that orients all other professional activities of faculty members.37 Calvin invests heavily in faculty talent to ensure high-quality teaching. In a day in which many universities have increased their complement of part-time instructors, Calvin has held the line. Only 21 percent of its teaching force is part-time, and only 12 percent of the teaching at Calvin is done by part-time instructors. Eighty-three percent of faculty members have earned the highest degree in their field.38
The primary body responsible for review of faculty appointments, reappointments, tenure, and promotion is the Professional Status Committee (PSC), a committee made up of five faculty, the provost, and the president, who serves as the chair. The divisional deans sit with the committee to advise the members on personnel matters.39 After an academic department requests a faculty hire and PSC declares an opening, the primary operational responsibility for recruiting and selecting candidates falls to the academic department, with the advice of the dean and provost. Departments bring in candidates for interviews with the department and with the academic dean. Departments, in consultation with their deans, select their final candidates, who must then be interviewed and approved by PSC before an offer is extended.
Central to the hiring decision is a judgment about the teaching abilities of the prospective faculty member. Evaluation of teaching ability is central to both hiring and reappointment.
Evaluation and Promotion
Faculty who hire into tenure-track appointments at the entry level receive immediate attention from departmental mentors and student evaluations of each course. They are formally evaluated by their departments and PSC in their third, fifth, and seventh years, according to the requirements laid out in the Handbook for Teaching Faculty. The final evaluation results in a decision for or against tenure. Tenured faculty members have a full post-tenure review every sixth year, with more frequent evaluations of teaching.40
At each pre-tenure review, teaching is evaluated in a number of ways. Each faculty member submits a self-evaluation and a philosophy of teaching statement. Each department has a system for peer review of teaching, and each collects evaluations from previous students, including alumni, non-majors, and majors. An important component of the evaluation of faculty teaching is regular evaluation by students. For many years Calvin used an internally designed form and developed its own norms, but in the fall of 2002, after two years of study by the Faculty Development Committee, PSC adopted the Instructional Assessment System, an instrument developed by the University of Washington. One important feature of this instrument is that there are several forms, suitable to many pedagogical approaches. All courses were evaluated in the fall of 2002 and spring of 2003 to gather benchmark data.41 One of the most gratifying findings in this initial use of a national rating form is that in more than half of all sections taught, the instructor was rated above 4 on a 5-point scale, suggesting that the mean rating of instructors is between “very good” (4) and “ excellent” (5).
These evaluations are put to immediate use. They are reviewed first by the academic dean and department chair, then shared with the faculty member for common reflection about his or her professional development as a teacher. Course evaluations become part of the portfolio presented to the department, dean, and PSC for reappointment, tenure, and promotion cases, and they are shared with the dean for post-tenure reviews.42
Recognizing that “becoming an effective teacher is an ongoing and complex process characterized by striving, growth, and change,”43 the college gives support to the development of good teaching. The Faculty Development Committee functions as the principal agent of the college faculty in these matters. It creates and reviews programs for the development of teaching, scholarship, and advising.
The program of teaching support begins with the assignment of departmental teaching mentors to all new faculty members in the summer before they begin employment at Calvin. These mentors become the first point of departmental contact with new faculty members, helping them prepare syllabi, advising them about what to expect from Calvin students, observing and providing feedback on their classroom teaching, and easing their transition into the Calvin community. Mentors for new faculty are asked to continue meeting with mentees throughout the year. In addition, all new faculty on tenure-track and term appointments are required to attend the new faculty orientation meetings before the semester begins; these meetings include a focus on teaching development. A monthly series of meetings for new teachers is offered throughout the first year.
Teaching development programs are offered to veteran faculty in several ways. Periodic “ teaching and learning lunches” are held throughout the semester. These lunch meetings are focused on a single topic, such as “Teaching Sophomores,” “ Academic Dishonesty,” and “Teaching for Justice,” and often showcase the expertise of a Calvin faculty member.44 Several summer faculty development seminars are offered in the beginning of the summer. Support is given for faculty who want to participate in national or disciplinary teaching conferences. During 2003-2004, faculty participated in a number of national conferences on teaching, including those sponsored by the Chautauqua Institute, Council for Undergraduate Research, Project Kaleidoscope, and Lilly Network of Church-Related Colleges and Universities.
A confidential program of remediation is in place to help struggling teachers or any teacher who wants targeted advice. In such cases the divisional deans call on certain willing master teachers to conduct classroom observations and give constructive criticism and coaching in problem areas.
Faculty and Curriculum
Faculty members are the chief agents in shaping the college curriculum, and three faculty committees share these duties. The Educational Policy Committee (EPC), whose mandate includes development and supervision of the curriculum, includes faculty from each division, the academic deans, the dean for instruction, the provost, and a student. The January Interim curriculum is supervised by the Interim Term Committee, also a faculty-run committee. Likewise, the Core Curriculum Committee reviews and approves the structure, sub-programs, and individual courses of the core curriculum.
Changes in the curriculum are usually initiated by an academic department in response to student learning needs, external requirements, or faculty interest. A new course proposal, for example, is initiated at the departmental level. A new course description must be completed and inserted into a proposal that includes learning objectives, assessment plans, perspectives on faith and learning, global perspectives, racial justice, pedagogical approaches, and resource implications.45 This proposal must first be reviewed by the academic department, Academic Affairs Division, appropriate program committees (e.g., Teacher Education, Core), Registrar’s Office, and Hekman Library (for resource determination). The proposal is then presented to EPC for review. If substantial additional resources are involved, the proposal must pass through the Planning and Priorities Committee (PPC) as well. After passing EPC and PPC, the proposal is forwarded to Faculty Senate for final approval.
Although this long process suggests that considerable faculty time is invested in course approval, the system has worked well for both guarding the depth of the curriculum and fostering its breadth. Recently, however, EPC has noted the increased size and complexity of the curriculum and has begun an inquiry about the effects of “curricular sprawl” on departmental faculty resources and course enrollment patterns.46
A Holistic, Effective Learning Environment
Calvin College is committed to creating and sustaining an effective, holistic learning environment for its students. The college recognizes that learning does not happen in the classroom alone, and it strives to create a campus community in which all students are supported, and in which the messages related to learning are consistent across environments.
The Calvin Accelerated Program
The Calvin Accelerated Program (CAP), a degree completion program for adult learners, is a good example of the way the college uses evaluative measures to promote discussion of its mission in new initiatives.
Although the college had experience with adult and continuing education during the 1980s, its efforts in that regard had been phased out by the early 1990s.47 Approved by the Calvin faculty and Board of Trustees in 1993, CAP was a new initiative, based on extensive market research and careful curricular development. The college responded to low initial enrollment in the first registration period by restructuring the program to shorten its length and lower its cost for prospective students. The resulting program consisted of a mandatory nucleus of courses primarily in an organizational leadership major and a set of auxiliary liberal arts courses selected by students in order to fulfill general education requirements.48 In this form the program began on a three-year pilot basis, with its first cohort in January 1994.
After three cohorts of students had entered the program, the July 1995 cohort was cancelled due to low enrollment attributed to the inconvenient summer start date, full employment in a booming economy, and stiff local competition from other colleges.49 Two reports reviewed the program with strategic considerations in mind.50
At the end of the pilot period, a review and evaluation of the program were conducted.51 The data used in the evaluation included records of the CAP office, course and program evaluations completed by all CAP students, a survey of the Calvin faculty members who had taught CAP courses, a survey of inquirers who had decided not to enroll, a phone survey of graduates of the organizational leadership major, and results from a 1997 research study of CAP done by a CAP student. The review found that degree completion goals had been reached. A total of 21 students had graduated; 46 more students had completed the organizational leadership major but had not yet graduated (i.e., they needed to complete general education courses); and 48 more students were in progress toward completion. Of the 94 students who had enrolled, only 11 had withdrawn.
Student and faculty evaluations were positive. The accelerated course framework was found effective in most, but not all, disciplines. Concerns were raised about the difficulty of mastering, in the shortened time frame of the program, mathematical and statistical material in courses that included it. Additionally, enrollment in CAP had declined from three cohorts in the first year to two in the two subsequent years, and these two cohorts had a bare minimum of ten students enrolled in each. With only two cohorts the program could not cover its instructional and administrative costs and ran significant operating deficits.
Table 4.1 Fall Day Ten CAP Enrollment, 1994-1998
The CAP review listed four constraints on the program. Significantly, the mission of the college was the first listed. The report noted that “since Calvin is a comprehensive Christian college rooted in the liberal arts, the college cannot and should not compromise its sense of mission in working with adult students.” Other constraints included the nature of financial aid available for adult students, competition due to employment opportunities in a strong regional economy, and competition from degree completion programs at other local institutions.52
Thus the comprehensive review was frank in its judgment of the financial picture of the program, was aware that enrollments would probably continue to be low, and knew that CAP was too different from the rest of the college for its own good. The recommendations outlined a plan for continuing CAP in a sustainable way, outlining choices for the college. These included developing a blended program of both accelerated and traditional semester-length programming and fitting the calendar of the program to the traditional academic year; making specific programmatic changes in the organizational leadership major while offering additional concentrations such as human resources, business communications, and nursing; and offering more courses over a standard, semester-long academic term. The Planning and Priorities Committee (PPC), however, moved to phase out CAP, on the recommendation of the college provost. The college would still honor its commitments to currently enrolled CAP students, however.53 Indeed, by 2004 a total of 59 students had graduated from the program, and two others continue to make progress toward graduation.
The central consideration in the PPC action was strategic evaluation of the mission of the college. In his assessment of the program, the provost noted the program’s successes. CAP had held a commitment to integrity and quality in such areas as the use of full-time Calvin faculty as instructors, on-campus instruction, and requirements for general education in the liberal arts. Calvin’s program was thus longer and more expensive than that of the competition—Calvin “had created a Buick product for a Chevrolet market.”54 More importantly, while Calvin was committed to serving the mature learner, it did not see a formal instructional program as a high priority and felt “no compelling need to mount an aggressive, expansionist program in this field.” Calvin’s enrollments and fiscal health were not under serious threat, and the college felt no ambivalence concerning its overall mission, as many schools do who invest in successful continuing education or degree completion programs. Rather, the college’s mission was “still most intently focused on traditional undergraduate instruction.” In designing programs for adult learners, it needed to play to its strengths by making them congruent with its current undergraduate course offerings. 55 CAP had its roots in an earlier vision of the educational mission of the college and its role in promoting lifelong learning. Since the mid-1990s, however, a slightly different strategic picture of the college’s mission had been embraced across the campus. As chapter six will show, the college’s vision for lifelong learning has been robustly expressed in its award-winning January lecture series, a senior citizens’ academy, and some immensely successful national conferences and summer seminars. All of these seem to fit better with the college’s mission than the accelerated degree-completion programs did.
Multiple Learning Environments
Over the past decade, Calvin has devoted increased attention to the varieties of ways in which students learn and to the creation of multiple learning environments. To cite several examples:
Figure 4.1 Number of Students Participating in Internships
Technological Innovations That Support Student Learning
Calvin has embraced technological innovations that support student learning. Efforts in this area have been under the leadership of the Teaching and Learning Team in Calvin Information Technology. Examples of these technological innovations include:
A Diverse Student Body
Calvin is also committed to supporting the learning of a diverse student body. This diversity can be described in a variety of ways. Calvin’s relatively open admissions policy alongside a reputation for challenging academics has produced a fairly wide range of ability and achievement, such that during recent years the college has enrolled 60 to70 first-year students who are conditionally admitted, but also 15 to 20 first-year students who have won National Merit Awards. In order to accommodate these students’ and others’ diverse educational needs, the college has developed a variety of programs.
Students with disabilities. Over the past decade, the number of students with formally diagnosed disabilities has increased from less than 100 in 1994 to nearly 500 in 2004 (see Figure 4.2).
Figure 4.2 Number of Students Receiving Disability Services, 1995-2004
The staff of Student Academic Services (SAS) provides these services to students with disabilities:
The past decade has been particularly challenging for SAS, as it has seen a steady decline in the number of conditionally admitted students (see Table 4.2)—its traditional constituency—and a steady increase in the number of students with relatively high scores on entrance exams and high school grades but with diagnosed learning disabilities. Over time the staff of SAS has gradually shifted its focus from providing developmental course work and tutoring to finding ways for students and faculty to accommodate disabilities while still achieving learning objectives.
Table 4.2 Number of Full Conditional FTIAC Admits and Enrollees, 1994-2003
The number of SAS staff positions dedicated to supporting students with disabilities has increased to 2.5, partially through the support of a gift to the college. A particularly helpful handbook for instruction was developed by SAS and is given to all faculty.59 SAS also offers periodic faculty development seminars on teaching and various kinds of diversities.
A new approach to foreign-language learning for students with disabilities was initiated three years ago. The new multisensory French class has provided an intensive learning experience for these students. Assessment results suggest that this effort has been particularly successful; this past year, the program size doubled to two sections. This cutting-edge program has received national and international attention.60
Honors students. Calvin College invites almost one-third of its first-year students to enroll in honors courses. Students qualify for this invitation by having an ACT score of 29 or higher or an SAT score of 1290 or higher, plus a high school grade point average of 3.5 or higher. The program offers specialized honors courses, honors course work within regular courses, an honors track within each major, and special opportunities to engage with distinguished visitors to campus. Ten years ago Calvin graduated four or five students with honors in a typical year; in recent years 60 or more students graduated with honors (see Figure 4.3). The program also includes the Honors Council, which provides student leadership and feedback for the program. Several years ago, the Honors Council identified a need for more interaction among honors students, so in 2002 Calvin applied for and received a grant from the McGregor Fund for special sophomore-level honors programming. Under the new program 40 sophomore students are chosen each year by application and participate in up to five events designed to help them think seriously about an academic career. These students also receive mentoring over the year from honors faculty members.61
Figure 4.3 Number of Students Graduating with Honors, 1995-2004
Learning support. Peer tutoring is available to students in a variety of settings. The Rhetoric Center provides writing assistance, conducting over 1,500 half-hour tutoring sessions each year. SAS hires student tutors—115 in the spring of 2004—who provide one-on-one and group tutoring to first- and second-year students. The demand for these services has risen steadily over the years, and limitations have had to be imposed on the services that can be provided, given budget constraints. Study groups in the residence halls provide group support and tutoring for many of the initial science and mathematics courses. Foreign-language programs provide native speakers as conversation partners for tutoring in basic language courses.
North American minority students. Calvin has developed structures for recruiting and supporting an ethnically and racially diverse student body and supporting their learning. Over the past decade Calvin has added several programs to support the retention and learning of AHANA (Asian-American, Hispanic-American, African-American, and Native-American) students. Professional staff members in the Admissions Office, Office of Pre- College Programs, Student Academic Services, Student Development Office, and Office of the Dean for Multicultural Affairs are all responsible for the recruitment and retention of students of color. These efforts have received a new impetus with the adoption in 2004 of From Every Nation, a renewed set of policy mandates and campus-wide goals for attaining more just and reconciling relations regarding race and ethnicity on campus. These efforts are evaluated yearly in the annual reports of the Multicultural Affairs Committee.62 (See Table 4.3 for AHANA retention and graduation rates and Table 4.4 for AHANA enrollment over the past ten years.)
Table 4.3 Retention and Graduation Rates of AHANA Students, 1994-2003
International students. Calvin College is enriched by students from more than 40 countries, and it provides services to support their learning and development at the college (see Table 4.4 for enrollment growth among international students). A part-time director of international students is housed in Student Academic Services, and specialized positions in the Admissions Office and Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid provide services for these students as well. Each February, Calvin’s international student community hosts Rangeela, a student cultural performance that draws capacity crowds of 1,200 on two consecutive nights.
Table 4.4 Enrollment of AHANA and International Students, 1994-2003
Gender. Calvin’s focus on student diversity includes a deliberate attention to gender issues. In response to the findings and recommendations arising from the 1994 self-study and accreditation report, the college made the ad hoc Gender Concerns Task Force into a standing committee, now called the Gender Equity Committee. This committee led in the development of a gender studies minor, approved in 1998, that includes a number of courses focusing specifically on gender issues from the standpoints of various disciplines. Calvin’s student body is relatively gender-balanced compared with many liberal arts colleges, with 55 percent women and 45 percent men. Women and men have equivalent representation on the Dean’s List and among honors graduates, but several student surveys show women to be more lacking in confidence about future careers and less likely to pursue a graduate education.63 The college has worked hard at growing the number and percentage of female faculty to provide role models for aspiring professionals, but these disparities in outlook persist, and the college wants to find out more about it. Concern for the career trajectories of female students is prompting an in-depth study of the gender climate for students during the 2003-2004 and 2004-2005 academic years.64
Resources at the Service of Learning and Teaching
Calvin’s Commitment to Excellent Physical Resources
As chapter three of this study makes clear, the college has been making major additions and improvements to its facilities. The greatest share of this development has been for instructional facilities. These academic buildings were planned by the college architect and faculty committees, as well as by outside experts in constructing instructional space for specific kinds of teaching. In each building project over the past ten years, building space was designed to meet particular pedagogical demands. One consequence of this is that Calvin has few new general purpose classrooms; rather, it has several technologically and pedagogically specific rooms. New buildings with a pedagogical focus include the following:65
1. Additions and renovations for the Hekman Library in 1994-1997 have contributed to the role of the library in student learning. Physically, the library added a new floor of books, computer labs, and study spaces. Just as important, the library’s services were expanded through the addition and organization of digital resources and a career information center.
2. Renovated space in the ground floor of the Hekman Library in 1997 made new space for the reorganized and reinvigorated Calvin Information Technology (CIT). This space includes instructional facilities, several kinds of computer labs, and the largest assemblage on campus of computers for general student use.
3. A fourth floor was added to Hiemenga Hall in 1997 to provide classrooms and offices for the History Department, a new archaeology lab, and extensive facilities for Student Academic Services (SAS) to support that department’s need for dedicated spaces for testing, tutoring, and counseling.
4. The state-of-the-art Music Lab, which was developed in 1998 and upgraded in 2003, makes it possible for students to interact with more realistic musical simulation as they drill musicianship skills, work on harmony and counterpoint exercises, compose, or work on arrangements. The Music Department has its own technology staff advisor to help the faculty take advantage of musical technology opportunities.
5. Several facility-related problems had been identified in the natural sciences and technological programs prior to the construction of DeVries Hall in 1998. The college lacked proper facilities for handling animals, and its laboratories were not up to environmental health standards. Faculty research labs were small and inadequate for the tremendous growth in faculty-student research over the preceding ten years. Labs in DeVries Hall, therefore, were designed to be flexible in support of a wide range of student learning and faculty-student research. The labs house sophisticated new equipment to support learning: a telescope, DNA sequencer, super computer, atomic force microscope, flow cytometer, and extensive animal testing equipment.66
6. The space vacated by the Chemistry and Biology departments in the old Science Building was completely remodeled in 1998 to serve the needs of the Psychology, Computer Science, and Nursing departments. Particular attention was paid to spaces that supported collaborative faculty-student research. A teaching laboratory for the new core course, Research and Information Technology ( RIT), was constructed. The new nursing program needed expanded teaching space, including an instruction laboratory furnished like a hospital room, and a new media center to support audio-visual resources. Renovation of the first floor of the old Science Building, delayed by escalating project costs, began in the summer of 2004.
7. The Vermeer Engineering Projects Center and Prince Engineering Design Center were built in 1998 with the help of donations and consultation from two engineering firms. These linked buildings provide 20,000 square feet of space for a key feature of the engineering program, the completion of a year-long senior design project, in which a team of senior students design and construct a prototype of a product. The building also contains support areas, such as a wood and metal shop, and areas for faculty research.
8. The DeVos Communication Center, completed in 2002, supports the Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Political Science departments. The CAS Department had grown significantly over the past decade, forcing students and faculty to use office and classroom space all over campus. The new building was carefully planned for instructional needs. It includes technologically sophisticated classrooms, a new theater that supports the film arts program and a sponsored film series, radio and video studios, editing suites, a speech and hearing clinic available to the public, and many spaces for faculty-student interaction.
9. The Bunker Interpretive Center, built in 2003-2004 in order to take advantage of the unique learning opportunities of Calvin’s Ecosystem Preserve, hosts both K-12 and college learning groups. The facility is environmentally friendly and has earned a LEED gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Much of the center—including paneling, insulation, and interior trim—is built of recycled materials. Gray water from sinks is recycled through a biomass, and waste is processed through chemical composting toilets. The building draws 60 percent of its power from a photovoltaic array on the building’s roof, which was conceived by a student research committee and funded by a $91,000 grant obtained by senior engineering students from the Energy Office of the State of Michigan.68
10. In the planning stages in 2004 are the remodeling of Art Department facilities that are 30 years old and environmentally sub-par, the planning of the renovation of the Fine Arts Center and Knollcrest Dining Hall, and construction of a new wellness center and a campus union.
The enduring issues in campus physical development are the maintenance and ongoing renovation of these facilities. All recently built facilities have endowments for operations, and recently, the Physical Plant team produced a ten-year projection of ongoing renovations at an estimated cost of $14.1 million.69 In order to keep up with these needs, the forthcoming capital campaign has set a goal of raising $20 million for a plant fund endowment and has added some high-priority renovation projects to the campaign goals.
Information Technology at the Service of Teaching and Learning
The Teaching and Learning Team within Calvin Information Technology (CIT) has as a central goal the enhancement of learning through the use of instructional technology. This team of information technology professionals supports faculty, staff, and students in their attempts to use technology for learning. Over the past few years, this team has overseen the conversion of more than 75 percent of the college’s classrooms into “smart classrooms,” equipped with computers, DVD and VCR players, monitors, and projectors.
Programs currently in operation to support faculty and staff include office computers, computer lab access for classes, periodic training sessions for many kinds of software, “smart classroom” training, weekly e-mails (IT Connection), the Digital Studio, seminars that support technological innovation in teaching, wireless classroom networks, test-scanning, and dial-up and take-home programs to support home computing for work-related purposes. CIT staff members have shared their expertise with others as well. In 2000 CIT took the lead in designing and producing a project for the 14 member institutions of the Michigan Colleges Foundation. This “ Teaching with Technology: Course Management Systems” project was funded by a $33,000 grant from the Ameritech Corporation. In 2001 Calvin received a $10,000 Ameritech Partnership Award for its “Technology Tools of the Trade” project.70
Librarians provide both formal and informal research literacy classes. Formally, librarians teach the research segment of the Research and Information Technology (RIT) first-year course. Each year, as part of this course, all first-year students attend four one-hour sessions devoted to research literacy. Informally, librarians are invited by instructors to teach subject-specific research literacy sessions. During the 2001-2002 academic year, for example, 195 research literacy sessions were taught, 70 as part of RIT and the rest as subject-specific sessions. A conservative estimate indicates that each year more than 50 percent of the student population receives some instruction about research skills and techniques.
The research specialists at the library reference desk provide a vital service to researchers by providing point-of-use instruction and by removing impediments in the researcher’s path. Students are taught the fine points of navigating, searching, and refining at a time when that instruction is most valued. The number of questions asked at the reference desk has increased during the past two years (see Table 4.5). This is a significant trend, considering that, nationally, librarians are witnessing a decline in the use of the services provided at the reference desk. At Calvin a 10 percent increase in reference desk queries was recorded during 2001-2002 over the prior academic year, and a 36 percent additional increase was documented during the first six months of the 2002-2003 academic year. These increases coincide with the introduction of RIT, which was first taught during the 2001-2002 academic year.
Table 4.5 Reference Desk Queries
The table below (4.6) compares the holdings, services, and use of the Hekman Library with those of peer institutions. The figures are based on statistics gleaned from two sources. Data from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) compare Calvin with approximately 350 other colleges and universities that fall into the “Master of Arts and Professional Degree- Granting Institutions” category. Data from the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) compare Calvin with the over 100 college and university libraries of CCCU institutions. Data for both sources are as reported in the 1999-2000 IPEDS data (with the exception of the number in the row “Classes”).
Even though enrollment size is nearly equal between Calvin and the average ACRL school, the use of the library and the size of the collection at Calvin are nearly double in nearly all categories. This difference is more significant when the Carnegie Classification is taken into account. Calvin has only a small master’s degree program, yet it is being compared with schools that have large master’s degree programs. Presumably, libraries supporting graduate-level programs should be used more than libraries supporting predominantly undergraduate programs. When compared with CCCU schools, Calvin’s collection and use are also proportionately larger. Calvin’s student body is three times larger than the average CCCU school, yet the use of the services at Calvin is generally four to five times greater.71
These statistics reinforce two significant characteristics of Calvin: (1) that Calvin takes seriously the life of the mind by providing excellent support for library resources and services; and (2) that Calvin students and faculty take learning and research seriously.
Table 4.6 Comparison of Hekman Library with Peer Institutions
Through a formal liaison program, librarians keep professors informed about the latest research tools and services offered through the library. All academic departments are assigned to librarians. The liaison librarian sends newsletters and brief e-mails, visits new faculty members, occasionally attends departmental meetings and other functions, and keeps instructors informed of changes and additions in library services. This program improves faculty research and allows instructors to effectively assist students in their research needs. Instructors are able to provide better research assistance to students because they know what tools and services are available through the library.
Resources are also provided through the Instructional Resource Center (IRC). These resources include audio-visual equipment, instructional graphics services, publishing services, video production, distance learning and teleconferencing resources, and a K-12 curriculum center. Beyond the traditional audio-visual support for classroom instruction, IRC regularly accomplishes a wide variety of tasks, from publishing college catalogs and conference symposia to producing a weekly talk show on the local PBS affiliate. IRC supports the production of Web-based graduate education courses; produces audiotapes, videos, and DVDs for promoting the college; and records and archives on-campus lectures.
Assistive Technology in Support of Teaching and Learning
The increasing use of technological resources for teaching and learning includes technology that allows students with various kinds of disabilities to participate in the teaching and learning activities of the college. Specifically, assistive technology includes four-track tape recorders; electronic texts; a Braille printer; computers equipped with Dragon Naturally Speaking, Read Please Pro, and Inspiration software; universal reader; computer stations in the library computer lab equipped with Jaws and Magic adaptive software; a C- printing and transcription system; assistive listening devices available in the chapel and auditorium; and scan-and-read software in the labs. The growth of assistive technology has been rapid, as has the college’s acquisition of it. One of the most significant challenges for the near future is for staff to understand the capabilities of these new tools and decide how best to employ them.
Administration in Support of Teaching and Learning
Because teaching and learning are central to the mission of this college, it would be fair to say that all of the administrative staff are here in support of teaching and learning. The academic deans and department chairs provide support for the teaching function of the college by hiring for teaching, mentoring new faculty, conducting teaching evaluations, and planning for curricular and personnel needs. Among the academic deans, however, the dean for instruction’s work is primarily focused on teaching support. This office manages programs for new faculty, faculty development workshops, resources for teaching enhancement, and assessment. This dean also oversees a resource Web site and a collection of teaching resources housed in the Hekman Library. This teaching resource center contains books and other materials that can be checked out by Calvin faculty and staff. The Office of the President adds an important symbolic measure of support each year by selecting, from departmental nominations, a professor to win the Presidential Award for Exemplary Teaching.72
An exciting new development at the college is the establishment of the Kuyers Institute for Christian Teaching and Learning. This institute, which was formed in 2003 and endowed as a part of the new capital campaign, will concentrate on Christian-predicated pedagogy on all levels and throughout the world. Its newly appointed director is David Smith, a professor in the Department of Germanic and Asian Languages and Literatures, who came to Calvin in 2000 from the Stapleford Centre in Nottingham, England, where he was engaged in a variety of pedagogical and curricular projects. He is the co-author of The Gift of the Stranger (Eerdmans, 2002), a study of Christian perspectives in the teaching of foreign languages, and is the editor of the Journal of Education and Christian Belief. Already, reading groups and conference presentations have been targeted toward the promotion of Christian teaching in higher education.73
Calvin College is clearly keeping teaching and learning central to its mission. It articulates a passion for producing graduates who are at once competent in their studies, committed to serving the present age, and vitally connected to the real-world venue of their service and learning. The college has made large strides in developing clear goals and workable plans for assessing student learning. There is room for improvement, particularly in completing the connection between evaluative research and development. The institution is vigorous in its support of learning, in both facilities and services, and is actively engaged in expanding these services. Faculty members are given ample opportunity to improve their teaching craft, are evaluated professionally with their teaching effectiveness as the foremost criterion, and are singled out for praise for exemplary teaching. Calvin is throwing itself with might and main into teaching and teaching support, and, increasingly, into teaching assessment and institutional research. The clear challenge going forward, however, is to be sure that between these two activities there is stronger collecting, connecting, and reflecting on how this research might inform teaching and guide support for learning.
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