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Recent Trends in General Education Design, Learning Outcomes, and Teaching Approaches

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This report summarizes key findings from a national survey among chief academic officers at AAC&U member institutions and explores how institutions are defining common learning outcomes, trends related to general education design and the use of emerging, evidence-based teach­ing and learning practices. This is the second report in a series featuring findings from the survey conducted by Hart Research Associates for AAC&U. (full reports and slides with findings are available free online at www.aacu.org/about/2015-membersurvey.)

This new report, "Recent Trends in General Education Design, Learning Outcomes, and Teaching Approaches," includes respondents from across the full spectrum of public, private, two-year, and four-year institutions.

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Recent Trends in General Education Design, Learning Outcomes, and Teaching Approaches

  1. 1. AAC&U Members on Recent Trends in General Education Design, Learning Outcomes, and Teaching Approaches Key findings from a survey among 325 Chief Academic Officers or designated representatives at AAC&U member institutions, conducted July 15 to October 13, 2015, by Hart Research Associates for the Association of American Colleges and Universities 1
  2. 2. Profile of the Sample 2 Carnegie Classification Associate’s degree Bachelor’s degree Master’s degree Doctoral degree/ research Other 11% 30% 39% 19% 1% Affiliation Public Private/religious Proprietary 46% 53% 1% The survey was conducted among 325 Chief Academic Officers or designated representatives at AAC&U member institutions from a list of 1,001, with a response rate of 32%.
  3. 3. November/December 2008 July – October 2015 Does your institution have a common set of intended learning goals or learning outcomes that apply to ALL undergraduate students? Most AAC&U member institutions have a common set of learning outcomes for all of their undergraduate students. 3
  4. 4. AAC&U members with common learning outcomes have outcomes that apply to a broad range of skills and knowledge areas; significant consensus exists on outcome areas. 4 Proportions saying their institution has learning outcomes for ALL undergraduate students that address specific skills and knowledge areas* * Among members at institutions that have a common set of learning outcomes for all undergraduate students Writing skills Critical thinking and analytic reasoning skills Quantitative reasoning skills Knowledge of science Knowledge of mathematics Knowledge of humanities Knowledge of global or world cultures Knowledge of social sciences Knowledge of the arts Oral communication skills Intercultural skills and abilities 2015 99% 98% 94% 92% 92% 92% 89% 89% 85% 82% 79% 2008 99% 95% 91% 91% 87% 92% 87% 90% N/A 88% 79% (continued)
  5. 5. 5 * Among members at institutions that have a common set of learning outcomes for all undergraduate students Information literacy skills Research skills and projects Ethical reasoning skills Knowledge of diversity in US Integration of learning across disciplines Application of learning beyond the classroom Civic engagement and competence Knowledge of technology Knowledge of languages other than English Knowledge of American history Knowledge of sustainability 2015 76% 75% 75% 73% 68% 65% 63% 49% 48% 47% 27% 2008 76% 65% 75% 73% 63% 66% 68% 61% 42% 49% 24% AAC&U members with common learning outcomes have outcomes that apply to a broad range of skills and knowledge areas; significant consensus exists on outcome areas. Proportions saying their institution has learning outcomes for ALL undergraduate students that address specific skills and knowledge areas* (continued)
  6. 6. Educational leaders at institutions with common learning outcomes do not report that students have a greater understanding of these goals in 2015 than they did in 2008. 6 November/December 2008 July – October 2015 What is your sense of how many of your students understand your institution’s intended learning outcomes for undergraduate learning?* 45% 55% 42% 58% * Among members at institutions that have a common set of learning outcomes for all undergraduate students
  7. 7. Many institutions are implementing evidence-based practices, and they are most likely to require those that support the successful transition to college. 7 What approach is your campus taking with regard to these types of learning practices? This is offered as an option 31% 30% 41% 23% 53% 79% 59% 87% 90% 92% 94% Total offered 91% 82% 93% 65% 87% 93% 71% 96% 97% 98% 96% First-year experiences that support transition to college First-year academic seminars Global/world culture studies Orientations to liberal education, purpose/value Diversity studies/ experiences Service learning in courses Learning communities Undergraduate research Practicums and supervised fieldwork Internships Study abroad
  8. 8. Required for all students Some campuses are exploring ways to engage students in more problem-based learning. For instance, institutions are providing opportunities to students to do significant learning projects that are integrative and/or applied and that take a semester of study or longer. These projects may be conducted within capstone courses, research projects, or in field-based activities or internships. Which describes your campus’s current approach to significant learning projects like these? Required for some students Offered option for all students Offered option for some students Not a current option Nearly all AAC&U member institutions offer significant applied learning projects for at least some students; fewer than one in four require all students to participate. 8
  9. 9. Most administrators think that at least some of their teaching faculty is effectively using digital learning tools, but they see room to expand their effective use. 9 How many of your current faculty are using digital learning tools effectively in their courses? “All/most of our teaching faculty should be using more digital learning in undergraduate courses.” At your institution, how high a priority is increasing the number of undergraduate online courses? * Described as programs designed around demonstrated mastery rather than completion of courses and credits Most Some Very few Agree 44% Strongly agree 89% High Medium Minor/not 45% Somewhat agree (1% all programs, 10% some programs)
  10. 10. Attitudes Toward Digital Learning and Online Courses, by Key Subgroups 10 “All/most of our teaching faculty should be using more digital learning in undergrad- uate courses.” At your institution, how high a priority is increasing the number of undergraduate online courses? Strongly agree 29% 53% 52% 51% 36% 42% By Carnegie Classification: Bachelor’s degree Master’s degree Doctoral degree/research By Affiliation: Public Private/non-religious independent institutions Religious Some- what agree 53% 38% 42% 42% 48% 48% High priority 14% 28% 27% 34% 16% 22% By Carnegie Classification: Bachelor’s degree Master’s degree Doctoral degree/research By Affiliation: Public Private/non-religious independent institutions Religious Medium priority 23% 42% 41% 44% 24% 35% Minor/not a priority 63% 30% 32% 22% 60% 43%
  11. 11. In regard to electronic portfolios, which describes your campus?  Required of almost all students  Used for some students and programs  Not used/exploring feasibility of using  Not used/no plans to use November – December 2008 July – October 2015 (64% required/used)(57% required/used) Many AAC&U member institutions use e-portfolios, but few require the for all students. 11
  12. 12. How has general education changed as a priority for your institution in the past five years? The majority of AAC&U member institutions continue to say that general education is more of a priority than it was five years ago. 12 Has become more of a priority Has not changed as a priority Has become less of a priority
  13. 13. Institutions are placing greater emphasis on integration of knowledge, skills, and application than on broad knowledge acquisition in their general education programs. Integration of knowledge, skills, and application Applied learning experiences Cross-cutting skill development Broad knowledge acquisition Proportions saying their institution is placing more emphasis on each practice in their general education program 13
  14. 14. Clear learning outcomes Assess student achievement of learning outcomes Has requirements linked to outcomes Ensures all develop ability to integrate/apply learning to complex questions Proportions saying each describes* their institution’s general education program * 4 + 5 ratings on a five-point scale, 5 = describes the program very well 2008 63% 49% 62% N/A Large majorities describe their gen ed programs as “having clear learning outcomes,” “assessing achievement of learning outcomes,” and “having requirements linked to outcomes.” 14
  15. 15. Proportions saying each describes* their institution’s general education program * 4 + 5 ratings on a five-point scale, 5 = describes the program very well 2008 35% N/A Few institutions describe their general education programs as coherent or having structured pathways. 15 Coherent sequence of courses and/or educational experiences Structured pathways that progressively develop proficiencies in key areas
  16. 16. Includes global courses Includes first-year seminars Includes diversity courses Includes interdisciplinary courses Includes service learning opportunities Includes civic learning or engagement activities Requires experiential learning opportunities Proportions saying each describes* their institution’s general education program * 4 + 5 ratings on a five-point scale, 5 = describes the program very well 2008 60% 58% 56% 51% 38% 38% 36% AAC&U member institutions report similar curricular patterns for their general education programs today as in 2008 and are most likely to include global courses and first-year seminars. 16
  17. 17. The majority of institutions use a distribution model with addition- al integrative features. Fewer use only a distribution model in 2015 than did so in 2008. Which of these features are part of your institution’s general education program? Other features: Common intellectual experience Thematic required courses Upper-level requirements Core curriculum Learning communities November – December 2008 July – October 2015 17
  18. 18. Distribution model Capstone or culminating studies (taken in major programs) Upper-level general education requirements Core curriculum Thematic required courses A common intellectual experience Capstone or culminating studies (taken as part of general education) Learning communities Proportions saying each is included as part of their institution’s general education program Institutions incorporate various general education program design elements. 18
  19. 19. The majority of member institutions think that their general education programs are well integrated with students’ major requirements, but there is still room to improve. 19 November/December 2008 July – October 2015 How well integrated would you say that your general education program is with students’ major requirements? 58% 42% 48% 52%
  20. 20. Only minor shifts have occurred since 2008 in the required number of general education credits at AAC&U member institutions. 20 Nov/Dec 2008 July–Oct 2015 How many total general education credits are required at your institution for this degree? Nov/Dec 2008 July–Oct 2015 Bachelor’s degree* Associate’s degree* * Among members in institutions that grant bachelor’s degrees or higher * Among members in institutions that grant only associate’s degrees Mean: 46.6 Median: 44 Mean: 44.6 Median: 42 Mean: 33.5 Median: 29 Mean: 35.1 Median: 33
  21. 21. Very familiar with the LEAP initiative AAC&U’s Liberal Education and America’s Promise initiative (LEAP initiative) champions the importance of--and assists campuses in providing--a 21st century liberal education through a focus on principles of excellence, Essential Learning Outcomes, high-impact educational practices, and the creation and effective use of authentic assessments. How familiar are you with the LEAP initiative? Nearly all of AAC&U’s member institutions are familiar with the LEAP initiative. Fairly familiar with the LEAP initiative Only somewhat (9%)/not at all (2%) familiar with the LEAP initiative 89% VERY/FAIRLY FAMILIAR 21
  22. 22. Increasing development of and participation in engaged learning practices * Defining or updating common student learning outcomes Improving the assessment of student learning outcomes Reforming general education programs Advancing civic and global learning Advancing equity and student success Does your institution use AAC&U’s LEAP initiative to advance goals in these areas? Among those who are familiar with LEAP, most institutions are already using or are planning to use LEAP to achieve specific goals. * Described as high-impact practices such as learning communities, undergraduate research, applied hands-on projects, internships, etc. 78% 75% 75% 73% 67% 53% 22

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