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Curiosity, engagement and innovation are all a part of the learning experience at Mississippi University for Women.

Engaged Learning

The W just announced that it is at the midway point of its five-year Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which is designed to foster a culture that develops self-motivated student learners. Titled “Think Outside the Books: Cultivating Intellectual Curiosity,” The W’s QEP is a critical part of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaffirmation process.

Specific goals for the QEP include ensuring that students are able to develop relevant and valid research questions; effectively pursue answers and solutions to their own questions, problems, scenarios or lines of inquiry; and produce and author knowledge by exploring open-ended questions, problems, scenarios or lines of inquiry.

Active Learning, Problem-Based Learning, and Inquiry- Based Learning (APIL) pedagogies have been implemented to teach and reinforce the multiple learning skills needed to become an active learner.

Dr. Handy

Dr. Amber Handy.

In the fall of 2015, Dr. Amber Handy began coordinating efforts to help faculty develop more interactive and innovative classrooms with the creation of the Kossen Center for Teaching and Learning. Handy served as chair of the Faculty Development QEP Committee, co-wrote the proposal for the plan and served as a committee member on the Academic Integrity Committee.

“Professors have been incorporating active learning approaches in the classroom to try and shake things up— connecting skills that students have to what they already know,” she said. “You have to take risks, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.”

Handy said as part of the undertaking more faculty are stepping out of their comfort zone and are being more transparent in explaining teaching methodologies to students. She also noted gaps that have been revealed as part of the QEP process, particularly how the plan can be introduced to the online learning environment.

In addition, Handy said there is a plan to redesign UN101, a freshman seminar class, and make it more active and engaging to set the stage for what students should expect over the next four years at the university.

Faculty will also take advantage of the renovated space in the library to develop more programming. The revitalized facility is perfect for student research and study and is the only library in the immediate region with an Automated Storage and Retrieval System, also known as “Athena”.

“The library has been an unexpected partnership that has been great to us. It has been a valuable resource for us to engage students,” Handy said.

Dr. Bean

Dr. Mark Bean.

Going into the process, Handy said the team knew that it had designed an ambitious plan, particularly the ability to measure students’ desire to learn--their intellectual curiosity. Dr. Mark Bean, QEP director, said the university is measuring “intellectual curiosity” with the Need for Cognition Scale (NCS). The NCS is an 18-item survey designed to assess the “love of learning.” It is administered with the Collegiate Learning Assessment. “We have seen a statistically significant difference in NCS between MUW freshmen and seniors each year, with seniors scoring higher. So, our students seem to increase their love for learning and intellectual curiosity as a result of their experience at The W,” he said.

The process has also revealed some interesting data. “Possibly the most striking thing is that our seniors tell us, through the National Survey of Student Engagement, is that they don’t use numerical information (e.g., charts, graphs, tables) in evaluating information. This seems to be a trend nationwide and gives us something to target during the last two years of the QEP,” Bean explained.

As the numbers continue to be crunched, Handy said they will look at the outcomes at program and department levels to determine how those outcomes tie into the university’s priorities.

To date, 45 APIL Teaching Innovation grants have been awarded to individual or joint faculty applications.

Faculty projects have run a wide gamut, from creating a courtroom classroom to incorporating role-playing games in courses to looking for new ways to adapt technology to suit face-to-face and online courses.

Handy said, “We knew this would be a very fluid process and we’ve had to make some adjustments. Nationally, people are still trying to measure lifelong learning to give students the skills they need to thrive. The W’s QEP is a testament to the innovative spirit of the university.”

Bean added, “We haven’t made a lot of changes in the QEP. Most of our original objectives have remained relevant, and we are seeing positive movement toward them.”

The QEP is a five-year process that will conclude in 2019 with a Fifth-Year Interim Report submitted to SACSCOC. At that time, MUW will begin its second QEP initiative.

Degrees of Success

While The W is known for its many traditions, it continues to remain flexible and incorporate adjustments in the curriculum to meet the needs of today’s students, offer career pathways and provide skills for a rapidly changing job market. Community college students are able to make a seamless transition with transfer or technical credits toward a new bachelor of applied science in public health education.

The program is ideal for students who have completed an associate of applied science degree in the health sciences from a Mississippi community college.

These students will be allowed to transfer up to 43 career/technical credit hours from their AAS degrees to the bachelor of applied science in public health education at The W.

Four degree programs were renamed to clarify degree offerings and attract more students. The bachelor of applied science in business administration, formerly a bachelor of technology, allows students at a community college to transfer technical credits toward a four-year degree that will help them advance.

The bachelor of arts in theatre, formerly a bachelor of arts in fine arts, will bring students greater success in the job market by allowing students to graduate from a thorough, distinct and unique theatre program. Prior to becoming an MBA, the master of science in Global Commerce program held all the traditional elements of an MBA program. A master’s in health education is being renamed a master’s of public health, a more common industry name that better reflects course offerings.

“We expect the names changes to clarify our degree offerings and to be more appealing to prospective students,” said Dr. Thomas Richardson, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We expect to see all programs grow as a result of these changes.”

The master’s in fine arts in creative writing program has more than doubled enrollment since its inception two years ago. It was ranked No.1 by nonprofitcolleges.com after just one full semester.