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Texas A&M University-Texarkana Faculty Focus on Real-world Learning Opportunities

Published: August 3, 2017

faculty discussion

Dr. Del Doughty, Dr. Gaynell Green, Selena Jefferies, Dr. Sara Lawrence, Dr. Md Kalam discuss high-impact practices and signature work at a recent AAC&U institute in Chicago. Not pictured are Dr. David Allard and Dr. Corrine Hinton.

Seven faculty members from Texas A&M University-Texarkana recently attended the American Association of Colleges and Universities 2017 Institute for Integrative Learning and Signature Work at Loyola University in Chicago to develop an action plan to enhance real-world learning opportunities for students at the university.

The professors are members of the High Impact Practices (HIPS) Faculty and Experiential Learning (EL) Cadre at A&M-Texarkana who are focused on expanding experiential learning opportunities as the next step in the university’s Connect 360 experiential learning initiative.

“Over the last few years, A&M-Texarkana has been developing, promoting and implementing Connect 360 on behalf of students,” said Dr. Sara Lawrence, director of the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan and assistant professor of educational psychology. “Connect 360 allows students to graduate with knowledge and experiences based on real-world discipline-specific problems documented by Signature Work that provides evidence of student knowledge and skills for entrepreneurial endeavor, graduate schools or potential employers.”

As a result of the 2017 Institute on Integrative Learning and Signature Work, HIPs and EL faculty at A&M-Texarkana have developed an action plan with two implementation models for Signature Work, Dr. Lawrence said.

“The goal of the action plan is to select and pilot one of two Signature Work models using e-portfolios. The model selected will be chosen by university faculty with feedback from university stakeholders, including university staff and students.”

Dr. Corrine Hinton, assistant professor of English, has attended two AAC&U institutes as part of the Connect 360 initiative.

“Last summer, we gained so much from the AAC&U High-Impact Practices Institute, integrating several of these practices as the foundational elements of Connect 360,” Dr. Hinton said. “At this summer's institute, we've learned about the value and flexibility of Signature Work as the culmination of our students' time here at A&M-Texarkana. Together, these practices, strategies and principles will help us improve implementation of our Quality Enhancement Plan and, ultimately, better prepare our undergraduates for further academic study or their professions by engaging them with authentic issues in their fields and in our world.”

Dr. David Allard, professor of biology, agreed.

“This workshop fits in nicely with our QEP on experiential learning. It is a good follow up to the event we attended last year on high impact practices. The ideas we gained will help us move the QEP forward.”

Following the institute, Dr. Lawrence traveled to Austin for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges Summer Institute on Quality Enhancement and Accreditation.

“While each institute had a different purpose, integrative learning and signature work or accreditation, both institutes have asserted similar themes. Essentially, both emphasize that quality institutes of higher education today must instruct the students of today in a socially just way,” Dr. Lawrence said.

“Essentially, AAC&U and SACSCOC are advocating for access and equity for all students enrolled in our university. Both AAC&U and SACSCOC identify today’s students as ‘post-traditional’ students referring to both recent high school graduates and adults who have returned for their education. AAC&U and SACSCOC state post-traditional students come to college for an education that will secure a better future, but come with multiple stressors that can interfere in their ability to graduate with their degree. They state post-traditional students are more likely to choose a college or university because of its location and practicality because they are responsible for their own living expenses and, often, are responsible for taking care of others. In addition, AAC&U and SACSCOC state more students today come to college academically unprepared and/or with medical diagnoses that can interfere with success. It is not by accident that there is a mental health crisis on college campuses throughout the nation. Both institutes claim the way a college or university responds to these societal conditions is an issue of social justice. They assert colleges and universities that ignore post-traditional students are ignoring 80 percent of their current and potential enrollment,” Dr. Lawrence said.

“Because college and university campuses are working to meet the needs of post-traditional students from a traditional university model, AAC&U and SACSCOC maintain that the academic side of the university must work closely with the student success side to provide enrolled students equal access to education. In fact, both institutes stressed that it’s not in a university’s best interest to maintain silos of operation between these two entities. With post-traditional students, both offices of academics and student success must now rely on each other for the effectiveness of each office.

“In addition, academic departments must ensure faculty is prepared to instruct post-traditional students thereby providing an equitable education for all students. Thankfully, our faculty-led Connect 360 initiative provides a framework to meet AAC&U and SACSCOC initiatives. Faculty who use high-impact and experiential learning practices are inherently meeting the needs of post-traditional students for degree completion and post-graduation success. I encourage faculty who have participated in HIPs and EL training to share and support their colleagues. I encourage all faculty to continue to learn more about post-traditional students and pedagogy that allows all our students to be more successful.”

faculty at AAC&U institute in Chicago

HIPS and EL Cadre faculty Selena Jefferies, Dr. David Allard, Dr. Corrine Hinton, Dr. Sara Lawrence and Dr. Gaynell Green take a break from a session at the 2017 Institute on Integrative Learning and Signature Work in Chicago. Not pictured are Dr. Del Doughty and Dr. Md Kalam.

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