The W finished the third year of its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) in May of this year. The QEP is a five-year plan designed to have a transformative effect on student learning and is a critical component of the university’s re-accreditation process.
After two-years of reviewing relevant academic data and conducting numerous conversations with all university constituency groups, W faculty and staff selected Think Outside the Books: Cultivating Intellectual Curiosity for the QEP topic. The consensus was that enhancing curiosity in our students would cause them to become more engaged in their learning and improve higher-order thinking skills, such as critical thinking, analysis and problem solving and writing effectiveness.
Think Outside the Books: Cultivating Intellectual Curiosity was implemented in the fall of 2014 following MUW’s SACSCOC reaffirmation visit in March of the same year. The plan included two overarching goals:
- Goal 1 (Learning): Increase student intellectual curiosity to improve student success.
- Goal 2 (Environment): Incorporate effective APIL strategies in The W curricular and co-curricular programs.
Active Learning, Problem-Based Learning and Inquiry- Based Learning (APIL) strategies are those that fully engage students in the learning process. Education research indicates that students who are actively involved in their learning have a better learning experience. This has caused faculty to move away from the passive learning techniques that have traditionally existed in higher education. Millennials have grown up in a world with immediate access to endless information. Effective learning with this group has become a matter of managing and understanding the information as opposed to becoming information centers themselves. Twenty-first century students need to recognize relevant and irrelevant information to perform critical evaluations. They must be able to use the information to solve complex problems and then convey the solutions in a clear and concise way. Most of all, students must develop a love of learning that will keep them intellectually engaged in the world around them for a lifetime.
The most significant objective under Goal 2 was to establish an on-campus center that would support faculty development in incorporating APIL learning strategies in the classroom. This was accomplished in the fall of 2015 primarily due to a generous gift from Connie (’64) and Tom Kossen. The Connie and Tom Kossen Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL), under the direction of Dr. Amber Handy, has provided ongoing faculty development opportunities in support of the QEP. The CTL has provided a two-day Fall Development Conference each year. This and other workshops and seminars have supported W faculty in their efforts to incorporate active learning strategies in the courses they teach.
Third-year results of the QEP are very positive. Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA+) results indicate that critical thinking improves significantly in students who attend The W. The CLA+ is the leading national exam that assesses higher-order thinking skills in college students. The W is the only college or university in Mississippi that administers the CLA+ and is one of only a few in the South. The CLA+ is given to freshmen and seniors each academic year. Figure 1 provides the results of the CLA+ in W students over the last four years. As the figure indicates, W students consistently improve in overall critical thinking as a result of their college learning experience. Additionally, Think Outside the Books: Cultivating Intellectual Curiosity has assessed student “love of learning” using the Need for Cognition Scale, which is used to indicate intellectual curiosity. As with critical thinking, W students consistently and significantly increase love of learning while attending The W.
The W’s QEP has many other positive indicators. Faculty have been creative in incorporating APIL strategies and students have been receptive of different teaching styles. The QEP will be completed in the spring of 2019 with the submission of the 5-Year Impact Report to SACSCOC.