A Transformational General Education Project that Integrates Technology focused Competencies
Universidad Metropolitana (UMET) embarked in 2012 on a transformational project to revise its General Education (GE) component. The comprehensive faculty-lead process resulted in ten (10) GE competencies aligned to the university’s mission statement. Technology is an integral part of this revision, as one of the competencies and as an important tool in teaching and assessing student learning. In addition, UMET’s mission statement proposes and directs the development of humanistic, ecological and civic competencies. This project has resulted in a Policy for General Education that provides the university’s community with a clear route to implement this component throughout the curriculum. The purpose of this Policy is the continuous improvement of the academic programs. This Policy is also aligned to the UMET’s mission statement, recognizes the diversity of audiences that it serves and establishes a description/characteristics of the type of citizen that UMET aims to graduate.
For the past five years institutional studies related to the student success have indicated that the acquisition/development of students’ skills has to be reviewed. The Policy for Assessment of Student Learning (2013), which assesses four main criteria: content, critical thinking, writing, and use of technology indicates that students’ reading and writing skills in Spanish and English need to improve. Furthermore, in the Estudios de Candidatos Próximos a Graduarse (2013), and the Estudio de Patronos y Egresados (2013), participants perceived that the areas that need improvement are: development of oral and written communication skills in English (17.9% graduates/ 52.8% alumni); development of technological skills (10.7% graduates) and the development of mathematical/logical skills (8.4% graduates and 67.3% alumni, 2013). This data confirms the need to effectively present and develop these skills (and others) in order for UMET’s students to be competitive in the job market. One important aspect of the GE revision to be presented in this showcase is the full involvement of the Commission for General Education in the assessment of student learning. This will be a permanent commission, integrated by faculty from all the academic schools, which will work continuously on the revision of curricula and the assessment of the competencies aligned to the institution’s mission statement. Their evaluation of these results will provide recommendations for the continuous improvement of this component.
In order to implement the GE Policy, a strong faculty development component has been established. The faculty development center, the Teaching and Learning Innovation Center (TLIC) will provide training in competency focused education including competency focused teaching, competency focused syllabus revision, competency focused assessment, and education research through the use of various technologies. In order to support this endeavor, UMET received a $2.7 M USDE/HSI Title V grant.
UMET has a Wi-Fi enabled campus that supports the use of internet platforms in the classroom as well as a series of hybrid courses within the institutions GE component (Sistema de Educación Universitaria Externa, SEDUE). This includes the use of Blackboard as the standard. UMET has dedicated personnel to provide Blackboard technical support to the faculty. In addition, all classrooms are enabled with projectors for internet and computer assisted use of platforms such as PowerPoint, video, etc. In addition, the TLIC has an instructional designer who will work alongside faculty, students and academic administrators in the integration of various technological tools throughout the enhancement of UMET’s academic programs. UMET also has a series of teaching laboratories (Education, Computer Sciences, Math, Natural Sciences, TV Studio, Audio and Digital Production, Language and Writing Labs, among others) that promote the use of diverse technologies as part of the teaching and learning process. The Language Laboratory and Writing Center provides students with the opportunity to listen, understand, speak, read and write in the target language while using computer programs, internet tools, earphones, microphones, smart boards and other devices. This laboratory is also set up for multiple/multi-media activities. The Writing Center uses the technologies previously mentioned to provide students with workshops, tutoring and other activities geared towards helping them improve their written and oral communication competencies. The Language Laboratory and Writing Center as well as the Natural Sciences labs are an integral part of the development of the GE competencies and the Title V project that will be highlighted in this showcase.
Explain project results
The project designed through the GE Policy and Title V grant that will be presented in this showcase impacts the lives of the socioeconomically challenged students that UMET serves to spearhead their education with competencies that promote their academic and professional success. In addition, the students will be offered with multiple strategies to demonstrate attainment of these competencies, which will help to further their opportunities to be successful in their personally lives as well as their academic and professional careers. Moreover, the faculty training component will benefit the GE component through the professional development of all the faculty through the enhancement of skills and methodologies in order to improve the teaching and learning process. The education research component provides a platform to convert UMET into a competency focused education hub that will impact the training of hundreds of faculty, students in teachers in preparation programs, and in service teachers.
Why it should be considered best practice?
As other projects that have been successfully implemented at UMET (Improving Performance of Hispanic Students in Northern Puerto Rico; First Year College Experience Enhance, and many others), this project aims to continue facilitating a broader access of diverse academic experiences through the use of technology to disadvantaged populations. It integrates the development of technological competencies throughout the GE component that impacts all students. These and other GE competencies will be presented through active learning methodologies and will be developed and assessed throughout each students’ academic experience at the basic or introductory level, intermediate, advanced and capstone levels. Finkelstein et al. (2016) recommends to follow “best practices in higher education which connect student success with active learning, collaborative engagement, and student-faculty interactions for effective teaching and learning.” These connections, collaborative engagements and interactions will be evident in an annual symposium where the project’s participating students and faculty will present their curricular products, best practices, and research findings. The products generated though this project, will provide all academic programs with a solid faculty training nuclei that will serve as the basis for the competency focused GE component. In addition, it will aid in the dissemination of practices that will result in the integration of multiple best practices to other programs in the university and the creation of new multidisciplinary teams and programs.
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