Starting this fall semester 2004, all incoming freshmen at The University of Texas-Pan American with 30 hours or less will be required to complete a new course called Learning Frameworks, intended to enhance student success in college.
"This course is designed to help students understand how people learn, what motivates them and the skills that are needed to be successful in college and their career choice. The course will focus on the research, theory and application of the psychology of learning, cognition and motivation," said Dr. Ana Maria Rodriguez, associate vice president for Undergraduate Studies and the Title V Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program Director.
In addition to promoting the active engagement of students in their learning, the ultimate goal of the course is to improve the retention and graduation rates at UTPA, Rodriguez said.
Approximately 1,200 students are already enrolled in the course, designated as UNIV 1301, for the fall. The remainder of entering freshmen will enroll during the spring and summer sessions.
The feasibility of this type of course at UTPA was first studied by a joint Academic and Student Affairs Task Force appointed by Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, and Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services.
Actual development of the course started October 2003 after receiving a five-year Title V - Hispanic Serving Institution grant from the Department of Education. In the grant's first year, the task force wrote the course according to the guidelines developed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The course syllabus lists four units - one examining the foundations of learning and motivation and three on strategies - motivational, behavioral and learning and study. Chapter titles include Goal Setting, Understanding Learning and Memory, Characteristics of Successful Learners and Time Management to name a few. The course also will introduce students to campus resources and information as well as the University's goals and the academic programs available and the expectations in each.
University administrators are excited about the potential to improve both retention and graduation rates with this program.
Course instructors will include six new lecturers with expertise in working with this level of student and teaching this type of course. They will be hired through the grant, Rodriguez said, but the Division of Academic Affairs will pay 50 percent of these salaries until the grant monies end. Current UTPA faculty have volunteered or been identified to also teach the course, which will be offered by sections in each of the six colleges at the University.
Also working closely with the UNIV 1301 development committee, particularly in the assessment of the course's impact on students, will be another UTPA faculty-staff team called BEAMS (Building Engagement and Attainment of Minority Students). BEAMS team members traveled to the annual American Association for Higher Education Conference in Stowe, Vt. this summer to learn more about the use of the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and other assessment instruments to measure the new course's success.
On July 1-2, an "Implementation of Learning Framework Workshop" was held on campus to provide a professional development opportunity for the faculty and staff in preparation for teaching the course this fall.
Leading the workshop were three education experts - Dr. De Sellers, president of Cerridwen, Inc. and former professor at Texas State University (then Southwest Texas State); Dr. Carol W. Dochen, director of the Student Learning Assistance Center at Texas State University; and Dr. Russ Hodges, associate professor of Educational Administration at Texas State University. They are co-authors of a book to be published in October by Prentice-Hall, called "Academic Transformation: The Road to College Success."
Sellers, who has 30 years experience teaching this type of course, said the research shows that these courses improve retention and graduation rates. And there are lifelong benefits to the students as well, she said.
"We teach people how to be timely rather than procrastinate. We teach people how to organize their lives based on goals they set which are based on their own core values. We help people become reflective about themselves and their own lives and what they want and to be accountable about their own behaviors," she said.
Sellers was impressed with UTPA's approach to the Learning Frameworks course.
"Other colleges offer these types of courses but they are offered as an elective. I am delighted and impressed that an institution has decided to do this as a graduation requirement," she said.