Core Experience

Core Learning Experience Implementation Plan, June 2006

Executive Summary

In June 2005 the Core Experience Task force submitted its recommendations on core learning experiences for all Ithaca College students. The Task Force Report responded to two goals in the College’s Institutional Plan under Academic Program Development: “Create opportunities for shared academic experiences for all Ithaca College undergraduates” and “Explore creation and implementation of a core set of courses for all undergraduate students.” This document presents an implementation plan for five of the six recommended experiences developed by the Core Experience Task Force: New Student Orientation, The Ithaca Seminar, Learning ePortfolio, Aesthetic Appreciation, and Capstone Experience. Early in the discussion, it was decided that elements of the IC Residential Seminar could be folded into The Ithaca Seminar.  The First Year Experience Coordinating Committee (FYECC), chaired by Roger Richardson, and three working groups met through the 2005-06 year and developed implementation drafts for each of the core experiences. This document is a synthesis of these implementation plans.

(NB: A fourth working group, Social and Environmental Responsibility/Diversity, was organized during the spring 2006 semester and had only foundational discussions about the group’s charge, to develop an implementation plan that will reconcile the Diversity Task Force recommendation on required courses and the Core Experience Task Force identification of Social and Environmental Responsibility as one of the seven attributes in its report. No recommended experience was identified to address this attribute. This working group will need to continue its work during 2006-07 and make a recommendation at some point during the year. A goal should be to integrate that experience into the core experience program, with artifacts and reflection included in the student’s Learning ePortfolio.)

Three important aspects of this implementation plan should be highlighted: the core experiences are proposed with an underlying goal of integrative learning that connects to the College mission, vision, and Institutional Plan; the academic adviser and a newly identified role, the ePortfolio mentor, are central in guiding the student’s learning experience; and student involvement as faculty assistants and peer mentors can contribute greatly to the core learning experience. A Core Experience Steering Committee is recommended to further develop, facilitate, and manage the implementation of the core experience program. A four year implementation timeline is proposed, 2007-08 through 2011-12, with 2006-07 dedicated to planning and preparation.

A summary of the essential elements of the proposed implementation for each of the core experiences is provided below, followed by information on training for students, faculty, and staff, as well as IT, budgetary, and other support information.

New Student Orientation (NSO) will continue to be reviewed and revised during the next two to three years to reflect the “stories” approach developed for NSO 2006.

Viewed as a “gateway” experience, further consideration will be given to the following: full development of an electronic communication system that is linked with admission and recruitment activity; consideration of administering placement exams and indicating pre-registration preferences prior to NSO online or by some other means; shortening NSO to one overnight; and further exploration of developing Continuing Orientation into something other than a “start of school” activity. NSO can serve as an effective introduction to the core experience program and possibly even permit students to establish their Learning ePortfolio.

The Ithaca Seminar will continue as an interdisciplinary seminar with linkage to other core experiences. It is the centerpiece of the first year experience and will lay the foundation for developing the other core experiences. Skills such as reading critically, writing, speaking, and listening will continue to be emphasized, with outcomes such as learning to analyze and critically evaluate ideas, arguments, and points of view as goals. Continued development of the Ithaca Seminar through the next two years (2006-08) will result in replacing all other existing first year seminars by fall 2008. Significant communication with faculty in all departments regarding development of the Ithaca Seminar program will begin early in fall 2006.

The Learning ePortfolio, like The Ithaca Seminar, is an anchor in the set of proposed core experiences. It provides the student with a means to document their cumulative learning and personal growth and achievement through four years, while developing  habits of thoughtful judgment and reflection. The ePortfolio is introduced in The Ithaca Seminar and culminates in the student’s fourth year with a Capstone project that reflects his or her cumulative and summative learning. The student’s adviser and ePortfolio mentors will guide the student in developing the portfolio. Additional support provided by student and faculty ePortfolio mentors and department portfolio programs, e.g., portfolio cohort groups, will reinforce the process of reflective learning that is integrative and reinforcing of a larger learning culture across the College. The Learning ePortfolio provides opportunities for assessing student learning at all levels--courses, program, and institution. The Learning ePortfolio is graded pass/fail and successful completion is required for graduation.

The Aesthetic Appreciation experience provides each student with the opportunity to develop a “path” that “elevates the human spirit and affirms connection of the individual to a larger cultural context, not limited to but often expressed as a work of art.” The definition that is the basis for the approach taken here comes from John Dewey’s Art of Experience and holds that aesthetic appreciation can be developed through multiple ways not limited to what are considered traditional areas of the arts. Structured experiences built around designated “art events” are the first tier in developing aesthetic sensibility, and “open” experiences provide broader options. One from a list of support courses will also be required. A final aesthetic appreciation reflective essay will be required and entered in the student’s Learning ePortfolio. A number of methodologies will be incorporated in these various learning experiences.

A Capstone Experience in the student’s discipline or one that is self-designed focusing on an interdisciplinary combination or a campus-community experience will be required of each student. The Capstone project demonstrates “synthesis, integration, and application of previous knowledge.” The student’s adviser and portfolio mentors play an important role in guiding the student in the development of the Capstone. The Capstone project as well as the Capstone Reflective Essay must be documented in the student’s Learning ePortfolio.

Training for students, faculty, and professional staff will be necessary to implement this complex, multi-part program. For each core experience program special training materials and programs will need to be developed. To support the Learning ePortfolio program, the Core Experience Steering Committee will need to work with faculty and IT personnel to develop the necessary components of the existing college eportfolio template and appropriate training. This should be a priority for the Steering Committee in its early work.

IT and budget support will be essential in the implementation of the core experience program proposed here. For each of the experiences there are specific IT needs, but especially the New Student Orientation and the Learning ePortfolio will require concentrated development of software, hardware, and additional staff to support 6,000 students fully engaged in these programs within four years. A number of these issues have already been opened in conference with Mike Taves but it will be essential that timely development of software especially occurs so that implementation in fall 2007 can happen. Additional budget support will be need for program and staffing support in the New Student Orientation, The Ithaca Seminar, Learning ePortfolio, and Aesthetic Appreciation programs. A full estimate of cost is not possible at this time, but current projections for full implementation are approximately $750,000.

The proposed core experience program has the potential to transform the learning culture at the College. It offers an opportunity for integrative learning that spans the student’s four years and cuts across the divisions that artificially segment the student’s living and learning experience— academic and student affairs, schools and departments. The FYECC and working groups have developed a spirit of innovation that is unique at the College and a vision that will enrich learning for all of us.

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