As the University of Georgia’s student body changes, the policies, curriculum and technology must adapt with it.
The President’s Task Force is a group of 20 UGA faculty members that was assembled to “advance the institution’s longstanding commitment to excellence in undergraduate education,” according to its 2017 Report of Progress and Recommendations released in December and its updated report released in March 2019.
The objective of the task force was to evaluate UGA’s performance as a whole and observe what improvements should be made. The initiative was co-chaired by Vice President for Instruction Rahul Shrivastav and Vice President for Student Affairs Victor Wilson.
The group of 20 included faculty from professors in animal and dairy science to those in political science. The co-chairs wanted to “bring a large enough group that would cover diversity and need of approaches but also handpick those who had a talent in helping students,” Shrivastav said.
The report consists of 12 initiatives concerning student affairs, changing curriculums, and making UGA a site of “active learning,” which is an effort to introduce innovative lessons and activities in the curriculum. The task force spent a year looking at ways to improve the educational environment at UGA and “elevate it beyond what it was,” Shrivastav said.
Since the final report was released, most of the initiatives have been approved, aside from the first two recommendations listed: “Emphasize Writing Skills in the Curriculum” (#1) and “Make Data Literacy a Core Part of Undergraduate Education” (#2), as they must receive the University Curriculum Committee’s approval, but Shrivastav said he expects them to be approved in fall 2019.
Other initiatives include the ALL Georgia program, which aims to support rural students at UGA, the Freshman College Summer Experience, in which first-year students live and study for four weeks here over the summer, and the Active Learning initiative that aims to “provide our students with a rich, meaningful classroom experience that provides a long-term impact,” per their website.
Per enhancing the experience of UGA rural, first-generation and first-year students, the Division of Academic Enhancement hosted the Scholars’ Success Day. It was a workshop held to introduce 123 students to all the resources available at UGA. In addition, the DAE holds academic workshops every semester.
'Active Learning' and listening
Dean of the College of Education Denise Spangler was a member of the task force’s subcommittee for the active learning initiative that was primarily focused to ensure UGA classrooms “match what happens in the real world,” Spangler said.
This included renovating classrooms to make it easier to work in groups, providing better technology, developing professional faculty and changing curriculum style.
“We wanted to students to be intellectually actively engaged in different ways, especially with their peers around legitimate problems and their discipline, which necessitate changes in space and teaching styles,” Spangler said
To ease the transition for faculty, the Center for Teaching and Learning sponsors active learning workshops every summer in which faculty members come in with a course in mind to work on. They collaborate with their peers on ways to redo the courses or their own teaching style.
At the workshop, “the faculty actually practices what active learning looks like,” Spangler said.
As for the future of active learning, Spangler said she predicts more renovations of classrooms, but also imagines more integration of technology. She isn’t sure when these changes will incur, but “students are demanding it.”
Benefits for transfer students
The task force was centered around the best ways to improve the student body, and a large aspect was the transfer student element.
Transfer Student Coordinator Judith Iakovou was tasked with leading the implementation of the programs presented by the Transfer Student Working Group committee.
The recommendations included creating Iakovou’s current position, as she was previously director of Academic Advising Services, and implementing programs to connect with potential transfer students in order to eliminate confusion for course selections.
Although there are advisors in most colleges at UGA, Iakovou felt more action should be taken. Recently a transfer advisory group was formed and their first meeting was May 1. The committee is composed of advisors, faculty members, student affairs staff and members from the DAE.
“We want to make the existing programs more dynamic and aim for the group to work together and learn from one another,” Iakovou said.