Transformational Learning Abilities

Transformational Learning Abilities Project


At the 2002 Faculty Institute, the provost outlined two major components for curricular development at Samford. The components included:

  • Undergraduate learning build upon previous undergraduate curriculum development and instructional improvements by pursuing goals tied to student learning outcomes.
  • Christian identity develop the relationship between our academic objectives and Christian mission in order to enhance the identity of Samford as a faith-based university.

Strengthening undergraduate learning and Christian identity is occurring through four initiatives:

  • Transformational learning abilities (TLA) identify critical competencies considered to be the mark of a well-educated student. This initiative is currently underway.
  • Cross-cultural understanding explore the feasibility of instituting a cross-cultural requirement for all Samford students with focuses on cultural diversity, cross-cultural studies, study abroad and service learning.
  • Vocation and Christian mission seek integration between the university's academic goals and Christian mission through emphasis on exploration of vocation, character and moral development and Christian scholarship.
  • Capstone institute a plan for every student to participate in a cumulative and integrative project that draws upon the skills, knowledge and competencies that have been fostered through the core curriculum and major.

Of these initiatives, the Capstone project has been in existence for several years and has been extremely successful. Vocation and Christian mission are being explored over a five year period with funding by the Lily Foundation. Cross-cultural understanding will be articulated at a later date. The project of this document's focus is the Transformational Learning Abilities Project. This project evolved from a need to strengthen student learning at Samford University by building upon previous initiatives such as the core curriculum and problem-based learning (PBL), and through the identification of key core literacies that cross disciplinary and school boundaries. Although there are numerous literacies that can and have been identified, the decision was made to focus on four particular ones: information literacy; quantitative literacy; oral communication; and written communication.

With funding by the Pew Charitable Trusts, initial discussions about the project began in the fall of 2002. Guidance and leadership of the project has been provided by the Samford Learning Roundtable. The Center for Teaching, Learning and Scholarship is supporting and facilitating the project.

Why this project and why now?

Aside from we have a responsibility to our students, community and accrediting bodies, Samford University wants to turn out leaders; leaders in their disciplines, in society and in learning. You can not be a leader without the knowledge and skills related to effective communication, numerical understanding and technological know-how. Obtain and refine the knowledge and skills will allow our students to communicate and contribute to the knowledge of their respective discipline, society and their own lifelong learning. We must constantly pursue the best teaching, learning and vocational strategies that will allow all our students, not just those in the top percentiles, to expand their intellectual, social, spiritual, physical, emotional and occupational horizons.

This project does not occur in isolation. The TLA is to incorporate the learning that occurs in the disciplines. The project weaves together the strengths of prior projects and initiatives of the past 10 15 years including Total Quality Management (TQM), the core curriculum, Capstone, Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC), Technology and Problem-Based Learning (PBL).

The TLA provides a prism to learning at Samford. It requires a focusing on the key abilities our students must acquire. We, as faculty, staff and administrators have the opportunity to work across the disciplines to accomplish these goals. The project is congruent with the University's goal to be a "learning university."

Project Goals

The mission of the project has been to design, implement and assess university-wide and interdisciplinary undergraduate learning outcomes in the areas of writing, oral communication, information and quantitative literacy. Operational definitions for each along with core, minimal literacies and respective assessment tasks in writing, oral communication, numeracy, and information have been developed. These efforts are displayed on these respective TLA webpages. The schools of arts and sciences, business, education, metro college, nursing, performing arts, and pharmacy have worked to develop operational TLA definitions and assessments applicable to their respective disciplines. The long term goal for these four core literacies is to become a branding distinctive of Samford graduates.

Project Process

Guidance and leadership of the project has been provided by the Samford Learning Roundtable (SLR) and the Center for Teaching, Learning and Scholarship (CTLS). The SLR, created by the provost, was comprised of the provost, the vice president for university relations, the six undergraduate deans, the vice president/dean of students, the associate provost for learning resources, the institutional research director, the CLTS director, and a faculty member. The SLR, in conjunction with the various disciplines and schools on campus, has worked to accomplish several objectives. These objectives included establishing student-learning goals for content mastery and cross-curricular literacies, developing tasks by which students demonstrate content mastery and proficiency in the literacies, setting minimal levels of mastery and proficiency for award of the baccalaureate, reviewing all courses and curricular in terms of their direct contribution to content mastery and literacy, and identifying patterns of student performance. The SLR appointed a Core Team to define operationally the four core literacies and their assessments and each undergraduate dean then subsequently appointed a School Team.

The Core Team, several of which had expertise in one or more of the core literacies, developed university-wide operational definitions and assessment strategies for the four core literacies that have served as guides for the adaptation of the core literacies within each school. Each school team shaped the core literacies and assessments to their respective disciplines. Using the core literacies and assessments, the school teams developed specific literacies and assessments for their respective disciplines and strategies for assuring that students demonstrate acceptable performance in them before receiving their degrees.

Project Results and Analysis

Considerable progress toward the project's purpose and expected goals has occurred over the past three years. The projected timeline for the project is included in the appendices. Developing operational definitions for core, minimal literacies and creating respective assessment tasks in writing, oral communication, quantitative, and information technology, was accomplished by the Core Team in the spring of 2003. In addition, they compiled annotated bibliographies and identified potential resources. Their efforts were shared with the school teams so they in turn could initiate work within their respective disciplines and schools. Initially, a WebCT site was created for all of the teams to communicate. Since then, the information has been shifted to the TLA website so the entire Samford community are aware of the TLA efforts. Faculty Institutes and a number of workshops provided additional forums for disseminating the information, progress and plan of the project.

Building upon the Core Team's efforts, several members of the Roundtable and a student attended the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) Organizing for Learning Summer Academy in Snowbird, Utah. It was during this most informative and rewarding conference that the timeline, communication pattern and faculty development were outlined.

School Teams made considerable progress on reviewing and adapting the Core Team's operational definitions of the literacies. The school teams in Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Metro Programs, Nursing and the Performing Arts took the abilities' definitions, criteria, and assessment measures, and reviewed them in the context of their particular discipline and school needs. Some schools modified the components to align them more with their particular accreditation standards.

Several of the undergraduate schools performed a baseline assessment of their entire program to determine which courses contained content and assessment of any to all of the abilities. The schools of Education, Nursing, and the Performing Arts performed extensive reviews of their respective cache of course syllabi. Each of these schools underwent an accreditation site visit in the fall of 2004, and the information they gained during the TLA efforts were included in their respective self-studies. Arts and Sciences approached the review in another manner. Per the request of the dean, a Baseline Survey of Transformational Learning Abilities was created by the CTLS, piloted in fall 2003, and then administered to each department's chair to determine their respective TLA status. Baseline surveys were also performed in the schools of education and nursing using a similar tool.

Many of the schools and departments built upon the Core Team's work. Instruments identified or created by the latter were used to assess students in a number of courses. Writing and oral communication assessment tools were utilized the most. Several departments required special equipment to facilitate students' creation of relevant assignments or to assess student learning products. Several of these items included a video-editing machine and program for students to create their University Core Communication Arts (UCCA) videos, statistical packages (Quark Express, STATA-8) to facilitate students' review and analysis of databases in Political Science, and an LCD projector for math and science students to present their oral capstone presentations. Other monies were used to purchase teaching materials, for rewarding students to participate in surveys, faculty stipends, and consultants. Several faculty (one each from Education and Communication Arts, two from Nursing) used funds to travel to Alverno College to participate in their 2 4 day workshops.

Achievement of the 4th goal continues to be a challenge. A considerable amount of time was spent discussing whether or not to locate or create an assessment tool that could be administered to all seniors (or a random sampling similar to the National Survey of Student Engagement), or to allow each school to continue or enhance their senior capstone assessments. A few of the schools (i.e. Education and Nursing) assess their senior students.

The immense nature of this project is tempered by the fact that it is to be accomplished over a period of 5 to 7 years. The Roundtable and other key administrative personnel met in August 2004 to fully review the TLA accomplishments, issues and concerns. Issues and concerns raised included maintaining momentum, being clear about purpose, availability of resources, recognizing and rewarding faculty and departments, and determining an acceptable level of competency. The plan for the next several years is to:

  • Continue to focus on the four literacies. A list of possible future abilities was generated at the August meeting. These will be held for future discussion and exploration. One in particular, multicultural literacy, is being considered as a possible focus for the SACS accreditation document, the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP).
  • Review university and school definitions of the literacies to assess congruency.
  • Complete a course outcomes matrix for all undergraduate school programs.
  • Review methods of recognizing individuals and departments that are making progress in the implementation and assessment of the TLAs.
  • Offer additional faculty development opportunities.
  • Obtain additional funding for faculty to perform research related to the TLAs.
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