Listening to a lecturer just to fulfill a graduation requirement may no longer align with the desires of the next generation of college students.
This year, Purdue outlined its Road Map for Transformative Undergraduate Education, which envisions a much more cross-disciplinary Purdue undergraduate education in 2030.
Building upon existing growth, the plan focuses on supporting effective teaching, developing transdisciplinary curricula and maximizing potential for all students as it adapts to the needs of the next generation.
The past few years have seen a growth in interdisciplinary certificates and scholarship with the Certificate of Entrepreneurship and Innovation launching in 2005, Purdue Systems Collaboratory establishment in 2015 and the Data Mine learning community expansion this year.
“The conversations, when I’m talking to students, have changed from ‘I want to major in’ to ‘I want to study’ and what you want to study is really cross-disciplinary,” Vice Provost of Teaching and Learning Frank Dooley said.
The plan suggests creating an administrative entity that meets “students’ needs for a flexible curriculum” and ensures “that students can develop their writing, coding or other skills that cut across disciplines.” Possible solutions include micro-credentials which certify mastery in a particular set of skills.
Innovative educational solutions have support from the top, as Purdue President Mitch Daniels is a strong proponent of institutional change to keep higher education relevant in the 21st century.
“But neither do we accept that the residential university experience is destined for the creative destruction boneyard,” Daniels said in a letter to the university in 2017. “Modernized and enhanced, we believe strongly that Purdue and its sister schools can still offer a compelling case to ambitious and talented young people decades from now.”
Daniel Guberman, a senior instructional developer at the Center for Instructional Excellence, said change may be slow with traditional disciplines. Disciplines must strike a balance between content and application of material.
“Even though we have the Internet that has all this information, you do need at least some basic understanding and something committed to memory ... to use it,” Guberman said. “It’s finding the balance and figuring out in each discipline what’s the basics that someone really needs to internalize to be able to use those higher-order skills.”
These higher-order skills are toward the top of “Bloom’s Taxonomy,” a hierarchy of learning that begins with recalling and understanding information and includes analyzing and applying that information. The University Senate emphasized higher-order skills through its embedded learning outcomes for undergraduates: interpersonal skills and intercultural knowledge, communication and ways of thinking.
The senate wants all undergraduates to have the “ability to think critically, practically and creatively within an ethical framework” and “use appropriate information to learn and explore ideas, demonstrate understanding of a subject and convey one’s conclusions,” according to a senate document revised in 2015 that establishes an outcomes-based undergraduate core curriculum.
This new vision for undergraduate education will likely allow students to cross-enroll in other departments and colleges. But having students from different majors come together may not always resemble what students will encounter within their industry, said Carlos Morales, a professor in computer graphics technology.
In his senior capstone class, students develop their own teams and job functions and are not required to have multiple majors be represented in a team, Morales said. Morales thinks that this is more effective in giving students an authentic experience and warns against forcing things to be “artificially interdisciplinary.”
Dooley is currently meeting with each of the colleges and is optimistic about interdisciplinary opportunities in undergraduate education.
“The faculty that we’re talking to are very interested in this notion of how we start to do more cross-campus,” Dooley said.
A recent example is the Applications in Data Science certificate, which allows students to complete a data-science concentration related to their current studies. Though most degree proposals take a couple years, the certificate was developed in five months, Dooley said. It was launched at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester.
Flexible degrees and credentials may allow students to take ownership over their degree and approach courses as a step for themselves rather than a step in a predetermined path.
“Traditional degree plans are very siloed and what students are saying is, ‘I want to have more control,’” Dooley said. “That won’t take us 10 years to get there. That’ll probably be among the things that we try to get to quicker.”
Another tenet of the road map is investing in course development through the Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation program, which has helped 385 instructors redesign their courses, according to the IMPACT website. To increase the reach of IMPACT, the Center for Instructional Excellence is piloting a hybrid version of the program. About 88% of undergraduate students will take a course redesigned through IMPACT before they graduate.
These courses can often be a new experience for faculty, who are used to the lecture-recitation style. For example, Physics 172 offers an IMPACT section that replaces lectures and recitations with two 75-minute problem solving and discussion sessions.
“We’re trying to work with faculty to do more scholarship about their teaching, to think about the classroom as a place to explore in the same way we explore our fields,” Guberman said.
The emphasis on teaching and learning at a large, research-intensive university makes Purdue relatively unique, with 82% of teaching staff hired full-time compared to the U.S. average of 51%, according to collegefactual.com. To promote high quality education with its large teaching staff, Purdue is putting efforts toward teaching scholarship and recognition.
The University established the new 150th Anniversary Professorships award last year to recognize outstanding teaching and mentorship and as a promotional pathway for continuing term lecturers.
“One of the things that Purdue is probably doing more than our peers is we are considering alternative ways of delivering education,” Dooley said. “What the roadmap is though is ... let’s just not get consumed with the day, but let’s also take a longer-term look.”