Component C: The organization assesses the usefulness of its curricula to students who will live and work in a global, diverse, and technological society.

The University's mission, vision, and purposes all speak to the importance of meaningful connections between curricula and society; thus, the University values and supports curricular assessment, the review of external constituents, learning outcomes connected to global awareness, diversity, and technology, and efforts to develop consistent, meaningful experiences that promote social responsibility.
Curricular Assessment
All academic programs in the University engage in regular and substantive program review. Such reviews are mandated by the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education to take place at least every seven years. At VCSU, faculty complete two complementary program review activities. The first, the annual program update, provides documentation of short term goals, annual assessment data, and annual budget/curricular decisions. The second, the formal program review which is completed every six years, provides a comprehensive review of the program, shapes long-term goals and assesses program viability. The results of both activities are reviewed in turn by peer reviewers on campus and a summary of results reported to APAC and Cabinet. The Annual Program Update. Each fall, faculty in each program identify short-term plans for their programs. In the spring they are required to report on the achievement of these plans, provide assessment data for their Learning Outcome measures and portfolio review, and recommendations for the future. Any budget or curricular requests arising from these updates must be documented by material included in the program update. The update must include the following information:

  • Annual student information - number in the major; number of graduates
  • Success of recent graduates
  • Learning Outcomes - annual data
  • Abilities - annual portfolio data
  • Narrative: short term annual goal and progress made/success
  • Updates on actions identified in program's strategic plan
  • Short term goals set for upcoming year

The Annual Program Updates are reviewed each year by campus peer review teams, and recommendations summarized by the VPAA and presented to APAC and the Cabinet. To assist faculty in developing and improving their program APUs, the Assessment Committee has developed a rubric that describes workable and target features for each required item.

Formal Program Review. Formal program review is mandated by State Board Policy 403.1.2, and must include both a comprehensive self-study by the program faculty and diverse assessment activities that may include an external review, student assessment data, surveys of students and alumni, and review or advice from an advisory council.

The formal program review at VCSU must include the following information:

  • Program goals, external standards that the program responds to, and strategic plan
  • Ability maps, Learner Outcomes, and related assessment data from annual updates
  • Student data and student survey/evaluation results; success of graduates
  • Additional assessment activities: each program should provide three separate assessment activities, with data collected annually.
  • A reflection which assesses program quality - strengths/weaknesses/ opportunities/challenges
  • Recommendations; new long-term goals

The formal program review is examined by campus peer reviewers who meet with the VPAA and program leaders to discuss recommendations. An executive summary of the program review and recommendations is shared with APAC and the Cabinet; a further summation of this review is forwarded to the Chancellor, in accordance with SBHE Policy 403.1.2.

Formal program review generally occurs on a six-year cycle, although some programs are reviewed more frequently because of the rapidly changing nature of the field or the demands of accreditation.

Effectiveness of Curricular Review Process. Even though faculty recognize the need for regular review and the value of feedback from external sources, it has been challenging to find the time necessary for meaningful review that supports curricular decisions. To assist faculty in making program review and assessment a continuous process, the Academic Affairs office instituted the Annual Program Update process during the 2010-11 academic year.

The review process described (by peers, APAC, and Cabinet) is also new to campus. One concern of faculty completing the reviews was the perceived lack of purpose (beyond the use of the program itself); by specifying a process for campus review, the University expects to increase program accountability and communication.

Additional Measures of Curricular Effectiveness. Several programs use national tests to provide internal measures of program effectiveness, but the School of Education requires the Praxis II exam of all teacher education students, as one measure of preparedness for professional employment. Scores for each NDUS institution are published annually in the NDUS Accountability Measures Report, and VCSU students regularly perform as well or better than the NDUS composite results (Measure EE3).

Another connection between VCSU curricula and the communities the University serves are the development of particular programs which were deliberately designed in response to well-defined needs in the state. The best documented examples of this type of curricular development in the past decade are the English Language Learners programs, the Library Media programs, the Transition to Teaching program, and the Master's in Education. In each case, the University identified the need, often with the assistance of professionals in the area of need and state officials in the Department of Public Instruction or the Education Standards and Practices Board, and developed effective programs that could be delivered flexibly to professionals requesting the curriculum.

Connections with External Constituents

The University maintains a variety of connections with individuals and groups outside the University, including some who have a direct impact on the curriculum: advisory boards, alumni, employers, internship supervisors, and education professionals seeking professional development.

Advisory Boards. Two VCSU programs currently enjoy the support of active advisory boards. The Teacher Education program has maintained an advisory board of area K-12 professionals and methods faculty for several decades. This group helps the School of Education and Graduate Studies stay in contact with needs and trends in the public school system, and assists in reviewing proposed changes to the program. One recent example is the decision to extend the student teaching experience from 10 weeks to 12, in order to provide more time for students to have some extended independent teaching opportunities in the classroom.

The Business Division organized an advisory board three years ago. This board meets annually to review curriculum and discuss employer needs. Membership includes representatives from large and small businesses in the region (including Fargo). The addition of the small business management concentration, and the shift in the required core courses to include project management are two recent changes resulting from the suggestions of the advisory board.

The VCSU 2015 strategic plan recognizes the value of these boards, both for the good advice offered and for the connections they allow faculty to make with the professional community. The plan, therefore, indicates that each division will have at least one functioning advisory board by 2015. The VPAA will be visiting with Division Chairs this fall to determine which other program areas might find an advisory board most helpful.

Alumni and Employer Surveys. The NDUS surveys alumni and employer satisfaction, and reports these responses in the NDUS Accountability Measures Report (Measures EE5 and EE6). Overall, alumni responses closely parallel NDUS and national comparisons. The VCSU mean for all reported survey questions on the Employer-Reported satisfaction survey is above the NDUS mean (national comparisons are not available).

Extended Learning and Professional Development. One of the most important areas for faculty to connect with practicing professionals is in the short courses and workshops offered for professional development. Faculty have the opportunity to explore current trends and interact fully with inservice teachers. The result informs the regular program coursework offered and effects curricular change as yesterday's new ideas become today's reality.

"Extended Learning @ VCSU" was established in 2006 to provide structure and process for these non-program graduate credits used by North Dakota teachers for professional development. All courses have the course number 700 and are listed on transcripts as "Continuing Education." In 2010-11, Extended Learning offered 59 non-program courses to 495 teachers in the content areas of Education, Library Media, Technology, and Business and Vocational Education.

One good example of the effect professional development interactions have on the curriculum may be seen in the development of the STEM Education programs at VCSU. Several years before the Great Plains STEM Education Center was developed, or a STEM Education curriculum was organized, faculty from the Technology Education department were working with interested K-12 faculty on implementing curricula from the Museum of Science Boston. The result of that work with inservice teachers and VCSU's partnership with the Museum of Science Boston is today's STEM Education curriculum.

Student Research and Internships. Students may use internships to make meaningful connections between their academic studies and the work world. A number of academic programs require or encourage an internship, and students in Fisheries and Wildlife, Communication, Business, and Human Services regularly seek opportunities to extend their learning in this way. In turn, students returning to campus from these work-world experiences offer faculty useful feedback on program needs, and internship supervisors gain first-hand knowledge of the program strengths and weaknesses. The recent development of the Business Process Information Management major resulted in part from student internship experiences, as it became clear that Business student interns needed additional IT and Communication skills, while CIS interns faced gaps in business and communication areas. The new composite major uses coursework from all three areas to better prepare students for the workplace.

Graduate students conduct field research as part of their degree requirement, allowing them to make direct application or tests of the theories they have been discussing in class. Similarly, students in biology have opportunities to work with professors engaged in diverse research projects, including water quality testing, macroinvertebrate collection and tracking, or exploration of coal by-product use as a fertilizer. Students are encouraged to take on responsible research roles and present findings at regional and national conferences (see Core Component 4b, above, for more detail). In the past two years, six VCSU students have been selected to receive Graduate Student Research Assistantship awards through the North Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (ND EPSCoR) program, demonstrating the strength of VCSU's undergraduate science research environment.

Learning Outcomes

Several of the University Abilities connect directly to the "global, diverse, and technological society" aspects of Core Component 4c: Global Awareness, Effective Citizenship, and Technology. VCSU's varied efforts to increase diversity in the homogenous, rural region where the University is located are detailed in Chapter 4, Core Component 1b (diversity) and Chapter 6, Core Component 3c (international experiences). The constant access to technology on a laptop campus, where one experiences not only the benefits but also the challenges of its constant presence (expectations of instant communication, for example, and problems with distraction) prepare students for a lifetime of ever-changing technology and help them understand technology as a tool, not merely a toy.

The University Abilities present the types of skills necessary for life-long learning. Core Component 4b, above, describes the connections between the University Abilities and both the Lumina and LEAP. The efforts made by the Business and Information Technology Division to map their course projects to workforce skills is described in Chapter 5, Core Component 2c.

The focus of the University Abilities, both in the General Education program and in the majors, is to prepare students "for life," (VCSU Mission), with practical tools and knowledge they can rely on regardless of the work they find when they graduate.

The Curricula of Social Responsibility

The Curricula of Social Responsibility
While students may engage in a wide variety of curricular and co-curricular activities that offer opportunities for discussion of and engagement in social issues, two examples provide evidence of the type of ongoing activities available at VCSU.

What in the World is Going On? is a lecture series that developed from a book club started by several retired professors. Using guest speakers, videos, and panel discussions, the lecture series has tackled a number of social issues - from obesity to Wal-Mart to gay rights to local water quality; the list below provides a sampling of topics (see complete list in Resource Room):

  • In the Board Room: How Corporations Shape Our World
  • In the News Room: How the Media Shapes our Reality
  • An Inconvenient Truth - movie presentation
  • Small Fortunes: Microcredit and the Future of Poverty
  • What's for Dinner? Super Size Me
  • Will My Vote Really Count: The Electoral College
  • Lives and Loves That Dared Not Speak Their Names: Well-being and Gay and Lesbian People
  • Devils Lake Water to the Sheyenne River?

A group of faculty, retirees, and community members organizes each year's lecture series. Attendance at these lectures varies; depending on the topic, some courses may offer credit for attendance, and some topics simply generate more interest than others. The end result, however, is an effort across campus to think seriously about social issues and life beyond the classroom.

Learning to Live Projects. The required first-year experience/orientation course for all freshmen has regularly included a community service requirement. At one point, each section identified its own project; more recently, the entire group of freshmen has completed a service project on the day before classes begin, providing an opportunity to begin to make connections with the community. Projects have included painting fire hydrants (2 years) and emptying sandbags (left over from the 2009 flood). In Fall 2011, the course will include two, very different projects. First, the group as a whole will participate in harvesting several acres of vegetables one morning in late September, produce that will be shipped to a regional food bank. Second, each section is organized around a central interest or concern, and each section must produce a project at the end of the term that "makes a difference" to themselves, the campus, or community. Faculty intend, in this way, to help students see themselves as productive members of the university community.

Evaluation of Core Component 4c

The connections between VCSU program curricula and society are vital to promotion of the University's mission, vision, and purposes. Curricular assessment, interactions with external constituents, and efforts to develop meaningful experiences that promote social responsibility all demonstrate the University's commitment to the successful preparation of students for life.

Strengths: VCSU has an established curricular review process. Students in Education programs achieve scores above NDUS composite results on the Praxis II tests. Advisory boards in Teacher Education and Business meet regularly and have a meaningful impact on curricular review.

New Initiatives: New components of the curricular review process - the APUs and the reports to campus groups - are being implemented to improve the process so it is more meaningful and provides useful information to campus decision-makers. Another new effort underway is the development of advisory boards for several majors.

Challenges: Establishing and maintaining meaningful curricular assessment requires ongoing support from administration; the faculty and staff must be able to see that accountability and evidence of planning are both required and valued.