June 2015 CLAS Acts

CLAS Logo

June 2015
Vol. 8, issue 10 Monthly newsletter for the tenure track faculty of CLAS


FROM THE DEAN'S DESK

Frederick J. Antczak, Dean

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable. ~Lucius Annaeus Seneca In June, as the faculty see the sails of their summer projects fill, the College Office is engaged in something more like a delicate docking maneuver. We try to bring one academic year to close as we prepare to launch the next one, even if the dock sways a bit, the wind can change, or the fog can suddenly obscure what a moment ago could be seen clearly. It helps so much-thank you-that our units were able to manage their budgets so ably.  That enables us to match  remaining funds to the responsibilities and opportunities we have.  We will read the tell-tale signs about the year to come with care and consultation to distinguish immediate needs from things we can defer or manage by other means. On the horizon, we see that  the demographers were right, and we may not totally escape the fates that sister institutions have been wrestling with for years: the decline in the number of traditional age college students in our state and surrounding states could begin to have some effect on the number of available students.   It wouldn't be a surprise if in the foreseeable future our rate of growth slowed further.  After so many years of growing numbers, we'd be unaccustomed to  a little downward dip, even if it has been in the forecast for some time.  As you know, state funding is such a low percentage of how we operate that our budgets are to a significant extent tuition-dependent.  But we are not off course, and if the winds shift, we will haul or ease the line and change the tension in the luff to shift that point of maximum draft in our sails.  We will adapt. But there's something you can do: continue to be a great ambassador for this place.  Encourage the people you know to get to know us better through attendance at our wonderful cultural events and performances.  If your unit has been talking about starting a scholarship, let us know, and we can work with you and University Development.  If you have been putting off engaging with your alumni, this will be a good year to get that effort moving again, and we will be happy to share some of the effective ideas we have seen in action in our most alumni-active units.  Wave the flag a bit (goodness knows, other universities in this state have been known to).  If someone asks you what your discipline is about or why your research matters or why their high schoolers should consider GVSU, be ready.  It helps when you know what is at stake for the parents you meet.  Some resources: Estimate cost of attendance:  http://www.gvsu.edu/financialaid/price_calculator.htm Tuition: http://www.gvsu.edu/financialaid/tuition-fees-68.htm Comparisons with other universities on various measures: http://www.gvsu.edu/cms3/assets/B8910F19-F21C-4F0E-A914E28DFD89C2BA/141023_accountability_report_official_web.pdf Grand Valley talking points: http://www.gvsu.edu/identity/facts-recognitions-and-more-32.htm I'd also like to thank the very large number of you who have done something special in the last year to help students thrive and persist.  You have volunteered to do scholarship interviews, helped with orientations, made yourself available, done some prodigious advising, held down the fort at majors fairs and Saturday events, written so many letters to propel your students toward their next challenge, made connections for students in need with the services on our campus and beyond, sought out up-to-date information and training on everything from inclusion to the Student Success Collaborative, and most recently some of you are helping to contact those students in good standing who have not yet registered for fall, to help nudge obstacles aside if that's needed.  Thanks for all those hats you've worn. And at Grand Valley, there is one commodity that is never in short supply.  Please do share your successes with us.  When you or your students receive special recognition in your field, let us know.  When your research comes to fruition, consider contacting Mark Staves so that you can tell us about it at the CLAS Faculty Research Colloquium.  Let us help you promote your upcoming departmental events so that audiences outside your usual suspects can be enriched by what you do.  I wish your summer projects smooth sailing, but I also wish each of you some more relaxed moments, Lake Michigan moments, when the breezes are light and the sky is pellucidly clear.     The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is a student-centered and diverse learning community that engages in critical inquiry extending knowledge to enrich and enliven individual and public life.
  clas@gvsu.edu         

Need a Message Makeover? Summer is a great time to walk the halls and look at your departmental website as if you were a prospective student.  Sure, that event poster from 2013 had cool graphics-but should it still be on your door?  Is the "student success" you are boasting on your departmental bulletin board already defending her dissertation?  Might someone walk down your department hallway and fail to notice it was your department hallway?  Could an uninitiated viewer look at your department website and easily learn something intriguing about your field and the ways your students and faculty are having impact?  Do your upcoming events stand out?  Has that faculty member even loaded on his profile page his change in rank and a citation for that book that came out months ago? Five minutes spent reducing the load of extraneous messages and making arrangements for some new material can pay off.  Thinking longer term, the Higher Learning Commission will make its visit in a little over a year.  What message will your communications send?     Are you moving house this summer?  Don't forget to send a change of address to Heidi (nicholhe@ gvsu.edu).    

Faculty Feature

Thinking Like a Student and a Curriculum Guru with Mary Schutten

Academics lack perspective. In a debate on whether the world is round, they would argue, 'No,' because it's an oblate spheroid. They suffer from 'the curse of knowledge': the inability to imagine what it's like not to know something that they know.
~Steven Pinker Perspective is worth 80 IQ points. ~Alan Kay Associate Dean of Students and Curriculum Mary Schutten , effective July 6, 2015 , will be moving on to the position of Dean of the  College of Applied Sciences and Arts at San José State University.  With experience including chairing a department, coaching, chairing the CLAS Curriculum Committee, and serving as its ex officio member since she became Associate Dean in 2009, Mary knows first-hand what it takes to build practices that are effective and avoid pitfalls that lead to intervention by an Associate Dean.  We asked Mary to share some of this wisdom with us.

Good Communication Prevents Frustration Over her time in the CLAS office, Mary has seen a trend toward syllabi that are more student-focused.  She believes this helps faculty to avoid the sort of gaps in information that can lead to student grade complaints or perceptions of unfair practices and lack of notice about course requirements.  She recommends to faculty creating or tweaking syllabi resources such as ·         http://www.gvsu.edu/ftlc/syllabus-design-learning-outcomes-85.htm ·         http://gvsu.edu/clas/academic-integrity-294.htm ·         http://www.gvsu.edu/dsr/making-documents-accessible-90.htm ·         http://www.gvsu.edu/dsr/responsibilities-of-students-17.htm "Clearer expectations on grading scales," Mary offers as an example, "such as 'do you round up or don't you?' are the sort of details that are received well by students."  She also recommends that you stick to what you have stated in the syllabus.  "If you say it, do it."  In the case of a necessary exception, she recommends that faculty communicate personally with the student involved why the exception is being made. Mary terms another area subject to student complaints "Strong language and strong opinion."  She recommends that you refrain from these unless you have built a classroom climate that permits these more confronting practices in the context of valuing the opinions of everyone.  Without that sort of safe learning environment where all voices are valued, student complaints to the chair or dean can be the result. Other areas that tend to cause reported student frustration include miscommunications about whether a professor will be in announced office hours and the timeliness of feedback on assignments.  "If you hold your office hours and get assignments back promptly, it certainly is a lot easier," Mary notes. "One of the biggest trend we see is students reporting when they don't feel a faculty member has been sufficiently available whether that is in person or by email."  

Smooth Sailing through the Curricular Process "Curriculum Mapping is not a fad!" Mary exclaims.  "It is a great way to make sure you are current, relevant and deliver what the department wants students to have in the major or minor."  Noting that by working backward from the desired result, the knowledge, skills and attitudes the department intends to instill in its graduates will allow the faculty to design programs that really do address what students need to know and be able to do without accidental gaps or redundancies. "In my first year of teaching I didn't do this.  I tried to go down the path of skills and never actually got to playing the sport!"  Mary says from the perspective of painful experience.  "Curricular Mapping, by contrast, helps ensure that you have the coverage, depth, and minimizes regrets about what you do and avoids duplicated effort."  "It also helps to get departmental 'buy in' before a proposal goes forward," Mary explains.  She provides an example from Biology which has a departmental curriculum committee.  "They make sure the i's are dotted and t's crossed -- that way the majority of the department supports what goes forward." Curriculum Mapping also helps departments spot issues with resource.  "With limited resources, you can't base your proposal on what we don't have, such as faculty expertise in a particular area or specialized classrooms that have yet to be built or prioritized," Mary warns.  She has seen proposals fail on those bases. "Some programs have more clearly defined standards than others," she admits."  Those programs with specialized credentialing or that have separate accreditation have explicit content standards and that makes any gaps easier to define." But she notes that any department can map out where in its curriculum the particular skills and knowledge areas are introduced, reinforced, and assessed.    This makes the assessment point obvious.  "The Student Success Collaborative turns out to be a treasure trove of data about your students and department that can help you tweak what you are doing."  

Making the Most of Our Relationships with Community Colleges As the traditional high school graduate pool dwindles and with it our major source of FTIACs (that is, "first time to any college" students), it behooves us to be savvy about some rich resources that often receive less than deserved attention.  "A good relationship with community colleges is a rich resource," Mary explains, "if courses transfer." "It is worth your while to keep up-to-date and make sure this happens," Mary notes.  "Look to what Exercise Science, English and Writing are doing.  Get with your GRCC counterparts to make pathways to majors at Grand Valley."  In the GRCC catalog, there is a section on a two-year plan toward the exercise science major here.  "GRCC are our partners, share values for student success, and can help us make great things happen," Mary explains from her experience working with her counterparts there.  "We have many linkages, even our own colleagues who also teach there," Mary observes, adding that at a recent meeting between the English and Writing departments of GV and GRCC, many faculty were surprised to find people they already knew.  As community colleges move toward being free, many students will take that route and then transfer or just take some courses at community colleges elsewhere when that is convenient or prudent.  The growing potential for that phenomenon should be part of departmental planning.  

Some parting thoughts Mary had some things that must be said before leaving this interview.  "People here are awesome-willing to work together.  There is a collaborative spirit, esprit de corps.  If you dream it, you can find the people to make it happen here." And ever the super-advisor, Mary Schutten leaves with the reminder that this article should provide the Advising Repository link.  No worries, Mary.  http://www.gvsu.edu/facultyadvisor/