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Quality Enhancement Plan

C. Expanding the QEP Curriculum and Communicating to Students

The table below presents an outline of the university's goals for expansion of QEP course offerings. This projection is based on a review of existing courses that include community-based research and/or may be appropriate for adaptation to QEP requirements, conversations with directors of CBR and service-learning programs at peer institutions, and Rice's recent experience with the Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication.

 

2006 - 2007  
  • Offer one Gateway course on working in the community and begin development of two additional Gateway courses on communication and presentation skills, and on identifying and designing community-based projects
  • Offer at least one QEP course in each of five Schools
 
2007 - 2008  
  • Offer two or three Gateway courses
  • Offer 10-12 QEP courses, including two in Architecture, spanning five Schools
 
2008 - 2009  
  • Offer three Gateway courses and expand enrollment capacity of Gateways as needed
  • Offer 15-20 QEP courses, including two in Architecture and one in Music, spanning the six Schools
 
2009 - 2010  
  • Evaluate/expand/revise Gateway program as needed
  • Offer at least 25 QEP courses, including three in Architecture and two in Music, spanning the six Schools
 

 

Experience and study of programs at peer institutions tell us faculty are willing to take on a new project when four conditions are present: the university supports the project with adequate resources; the project engages or stimulates faculty members' research agendas; the project provides exciting educational experiences for undergraduates; and, the project is a good "fit" with the faculty culture. 36  

 

Recent development at Rice of the Cain Project in Engineering and Professional Communication suggests the last two factors are particularly important at Rice, and informs the sense of optimism that underlines the Rice QEP. 37 The Cain Project began in 1998, when the Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation provided funding (nearly $6 million over a 10-year period) for communication instruction for science and engineering students. Less than seven years later, the Project fully supports 35 to 40 courses in science and engineering annually and accepts about 10 new courses for three-year development each year.

 

Generous funding certainly was important to the Project's growth, but faculty attitudes proved even more critical. Positive faculty response started at the top: The Dean of Engineering at the time, Sidney Burrus (a member of the QEP Steering Committee), formed a faculty advisory committee to supervise planning and implementation of the Project. Dean Burrus also encouraged this committee to be mindful in its planning of the favorable national context: The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) had recently adopted new criteria for outcomes-based assessment, including the ability to communicate effectively and the ability to work in diverse teams, that would be implemented in 2000.

 

The faculty advisory committee responded by adopting the goal of preparing students to lead through excellence in communication, as well as the four strategic objectives:

 

  • Foster positive attitudes toward communication and develop relationships;
  • Sponsor and support innovations in communication instruction in science and engineering courses;
  • Conduct research pertinent to the Project mission; and
  • Provide national and international leadership in the field of professional communication.

 

These goals resonated with engineering faculty. In a December 1998 survey, over 60 faculty members indicated a desire to work with the project. Faculty recognized from their own professional experience the importance of communication. As people whose careers depended on skill in writing proposals, articles for publication, reports, and lectures, giving talks at conferences, and developing visual aids for a variety of settings, faculty members knew their students needed similar competencies. What is more, many were frustrated by the lack of communication proficiency as demonstrated in students' semester projects, presentations, and lab reports. As a result, many faculty members were open to collaborations to address these problems, and they encouraged students to take advantage of the Project's offerings, such as presentation coaching and writing tutorials.

 

As individual faculty members engaged the Project and, in particular, as they witnessed the Project's notable impact on student learning and skills, word quickly began to spread across the Natural Sciences and Engineering Schools. Five years into the Project, three departments had voluntarily enhanced all of the courses required for their major with communication instruction. Today, a fourth department has done so and three others are in the third year of a National Science Foundation-sponsored curriculum and research integration project in which the Cain Project supports presentations, writing, and poster design.

 

Like the Cain Project, the QEP, we believe, will benefit from a national-and now institutional-context that encourages outcomes assessment and curriculum reform focused on community-based learning and civic engagement. Also, faculty enthusiasm for teaching undergraduates and applied work in their fields will prompt curricular innovation that includes research assignments beyond the hedges of our campus. Above all, we believe Rice University faculty members will embrace the QEP as the benefits of participation in QEP courses to student learning and achievement become apparent.

 

Growth of the QEP academic program will also depend on effectively communicating to students the goals and benefits of QEP participation. Efforts in this regard began in the fall of 2005 with formation of the QEP Student Advisory Group. Working closely with members of the Steering Committee, the Student Advisory Group composed a plan for informing undergraduates about the QEP, including designation of QEP liaisons for each of Rice's nine residential colleges.

 

Other key elements of the communication plan include:

 

  • Academic Advising: The Center will assist the Office of Academic Advising in the training of Divisional Advisors-faculty members who advise all freshmen and sophomores-ensuring that all Rice undergraduates are advised about QEP courses and the place of a research or design experience in a Rice education.
  • New Student Orientation: The orientation period at Rice, known as "O-Week," will feature panels on "Undergraduate Research and Design at Rice." The panels-organized by School-will be comprised of students who have participated in QEP projects and in research and design, both on and off campus, with Rice faculty.
  • Webpage: The QEP Web page ( http://www.rice.edu/qep ) will be featured as a prominent link on the Rice University homepage that almost all undergraduates use to access their campus email accounts, course registration, and the university events calendar.
  • The Student Newspaper: Articles in the Thresher will explain the QEP Program (see Appendix I).
  • Information Sessions: QEP liaisons will lead information sessions in each of the residential colleges.

 

Footnotes:

 

  1. Robert G. Bringle and Julie A. Hatcher, "Implementing Service Learning in Higher Education," Journal of Higher Education, 67, 2 (March/April 1996). See also "Incorporating Disciplinary Norms and Practices into Administrative Strategies," Conference on Undergraduate Research and Scholarship and the Mission of the Research University, November 14-15, 2002, University of Maryland, available at http://www.sunysb.edu/Reinventioncenter/conference/Norms%20and%20Practices/Norms%20and%20PracticesSession.htm .
  2. See the Cain Project website: http://www.owlnet.rice.edu/~cainproj/ .