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See also: The Proposed (DRAFT) Masteries Framework
Here are PDF files of the masteries overview and framework.
Too often, the idea of a college education is a thing unto itself, with no reference to the abilities developed in each course and the goals behind degrees. Every university talks about a quality education, but few articulate the abilities that distinguish a well-educated person. The masteries approach will help SFASU project a distinctive identity by giving specific form to the university's promise to educate students.
The masteries approach tells students and their potential employers the skills SFASU conveys to its students, in the process assuring parents that sending their child to SFASU will contribute to their professional success and personal growth. While the many advantages of a university education may seem obvious to those who work on campus, the full breadth of skills contained in higher education are less clear to students and parents. This is especially true for the first generation students considering SFASU.
Within the University, the masteries approach can help instructors and administrators see the role their efforts play in the broader education of a student. It reminds faculty and staff of the institution's hopes for each student and guides evaluation by defining the level of skills students should have by the time they graduate. The term "masteries" has been chosen to encourage students and faculty to remain committed to high academic standards.
The masteries approach can also address the growing movement in Texas and other states toward assessment and accountability in higher education. By more clearly spelling out the university's goals for its graduates, a masteries approach creates a means of assessment that is broad enough to allow accountability while preserving both the broad mission of university and the unique contribution of each discipline. Drawing together classes into a cohesive educational package will help with retention by encouraging students to get their entire education at SFA rather than viewing us as providing individual classes.
In incorporating the masteries approach SFASU joins a few innovative institutions that have brought the focus of higher education back to the set of abilities that students need to succeed. This approach will help us more effectively distinguish ourselves from other institutions while providing faculty and staff with a new way of viewing the quality education that has been a hallmark of our graduates.
The strategic plan calls upon SFASU to enhance our distinctive identity by focusing our attention on the masteries with which graduates will leave college. SFA '08 commits us to giving our graduates masteries in the areas of: communication, creative problem solving, career preparation, and civic engagement. Combined with a broad-based general education, we believe this set of talents embraces all the elements of a quality education and is a package that students, employers, and the general public will value.
In many cases, departments already have requirements in place to develop masteries in their students. Such departments will simply need to explicitly state how what they are already doing fits the structure ultimately agreed upon by the university. In some cases, the new structure may encourage departments to re-evaluate the skills they emphasize. The possibility of digital portfolios may enable some departments to find new ways of meeting program goals.
How might the masteries approach be implemented?
The Distinctive Identity Implementation committee is charged with helping the campus implement the masteries approach. In order to increase participation in the implementation process, separate masteries committees will be formed for each mastery area. Mastery committee membership will include representation from each college, a student, and a librarian or staff member. The first two masteries committees (communication and career preparation) were created in the fall of 2004. The remaining masteries committees will be formed as implementation proceeds.
These mastery committees have been charged with coordinating development of the over-arching university definitions for each of the masteries broad enough to accommodate the many majors found on campus. The masteries committees will develop definitions based on examples from other universities and input from the SFA community, and present them to the deans and chairs of each college. Based on this feedback and discussion the definition will be revised and then be presented to the provost and president for approval.
The masteries approach could include several steps, requiring students to demonstrate basic, intermediate, and advanced skills: "foundations," "applications and growth," and "mastery." Foundations could be largely accomplished through core courses or other requirements common to all students. Growth and mastery levels can be left to departments, with some opting for traditional written coursework while others use artistic performances, presentations, internships, or other assignments appropriate to their field. While the specific courses and components would vary by major, the general structure of the approach should be consistent across the university.
In many cases, departments already have requirements in place to develop masteries in their students. Such departments will simply need to explicitly state how what they are already doing fits the framework. In some cases, the framework may encourage departments to re-evaluate the skills they emphasize. The possibility of digital portfolios may enable some departments to find new ways of meeting program goals.
Departments that are able to specify their specific goals sooner (e.g. possibly prior to fall 2005 or spring 2006 semester), will be able to act as pilot departments for one or both of the first two masteries. These departments will be recognized and showcased in university publications.
What the masteries approach is NOT
The masteries approach is not an attempt to change what individual instructors do in the classroom. It is an attempt to make sure that classes fit together into a coherent package that insures that a student's education is complete.
The masteries approach is not an attempt to redefine an education at SFA. It is an attempt to make sure that all of the goals traditionally valued by SFA are met.
The masteries approach does not raise standards for those entering SFASU. It does make sure that all students develop the full range of skills that they will need to succeed in the community and the workplace.
Why consider Digital Portfolios?
Digital portfolios have come into use at many universities as a means of showcasing and assessing their students' work. Digital portfolios would allow class products ranging from traditional written assignments to video of artistic performances to viewed and assessed by instructors. These products could also become part of a students' on-line resume that would allow potential employers to get a better view of student skills.
Most importantly, digital portfolios will serve as a tangible record of student development. Most of the time, students do not go back and review completed and graded assignments from past courses. In fact, once returned, assignments are often trashed or lost. If a student receives a "B" on a freshman writing assignment, and a "B" on a junior-level writing assignment, he might assume that he's made no progress in his writing skills. This can be frustrating for students, and lead to lowered appreciation for the education they are receiving. As faculty we know our standards are generally increased with level, and thus, although the grade is the same, development must have occurred. By using digital portfolios to regularly document products, students (and faculty, parents, etc.) will be able to tangibly appreciate the development of skills related to each mastery.
The costs of this service could be distributed to students. Similarly, with the simple web-based interface available from various vendors, students could bear responsibility for up-loading these assignments. The College of Education is currently implementing one type of digital portfolio application. We have formed a subcommittee that will investigate application options and gather feedback from the College of Education about their experiences.
Masteries Approach Highlights
- The Masteries approach highlights what SFASU has done well with some students and insures that all students receive the benefits of a total university experience.
- By connecting students to more tangible goals we can better motivate them. Students will tend to remain in a program that showcases evidence of their achievement and documents their growth.
- By allowing students to showcase their best work in a digital portfolio we can encourage and document a wider range of creative accomplishments than can be recorded in a transcript.
- The Masteries approach would make SFA a unique educational opportunity in East Texas while creating an identity closely tied to our academic mission. This is in contrast to typical images in brochures and on web sites that focus on the beauty of the campus or other generic images.
- The Masteries approach makes SFASU distinct by giving form to the general promise of a "quality education." The masteries approach makes SFA distinct by defining and assessing an education in a way that is clear to students, parents, and the community.
- Higher education should be more than disconnected courses.
- Digital portfolios make SFASU distinct by creating a system that is flexible enough to satisfy the complex demands of higher education while creating an assessment tool that is useful for faculty, students, parents, future employers, and the state. Tracking student success can go beyond report cards and address progress toward the broader goals of a university degree.
- By integrating career preparation and civic engagement with academic achievement we distinguish ourselves from technical and trade schools.
Last updated: March 3, 2005
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