The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday January 25th

5-year UNC-system plan strives for academic quality

UNC-system classrooms are in the midst of modernizing and becoming more accessible, in an effort to cut costs and accomodate the changing demographics of North Carolinians.

System leaders aim to improve the classroom — inside and out — by expanding online learning, looking into standardized competency assessments and easing student transfer from community colleges and between system campuses.

UNC-system Strategic Plan Series

This is the fourth part of a series examining each of the five goals in the UNC-system’s five-year strategic plan.

Goal one: Degree attainment

Goal two: Academic quality

Goal three: Service to the state

Goal four: Maximizing efficiencies

Goal five: Future fundraising

Improving educational quality is the second of five goals set out in the system’s five-year strategic plan.

Maggie O’Hara, director of e-learning for the UNC-system General Administration, said online learning helps with sharing courses between system schools. She said it also helps to attract traditional and non-traditional students, which includes military personnel and veterans as well as adults with some college education but no degree.

“We are targeting those with 90 or more hours,” O’Hara said. “Given online programs, we are hoping these adults will take advantage.”

The UNC system already has an online language exchange program, which offers 13 language courses to students across the system — and such a program could be expanded to other subjects, O’Hara said.

But Jan Boxill, chairwoman of faculty at UNC-CH, said not all faculty would support more online learning.

“Many believe in-class discussion is important to get a quality education,” she said. “You don’t get those in an online course.”

O’Hara said one of the challenges will be dealing with different academic calendars between universities.

The strategic plan also aims to guarantee a set of core competencies for general education across the system.

The UNC-CH Faculty Council approved a resolution endorsing the assessment of critical thinking and written communication competencies as part of the plan.

“We want all students, no matter the major … to be able to think critically and communicate in writing,” Boxill said.

But she also said that faculty should maintain control of designing the core competencies and the assessment tests.

“Our concern is how do we go about and what is the assessment process,” she said. “We want to make sure that that remains in our control and that each university be allowed to retain their control as well.”

In April, the system began a pilot program for these tests at five schools, including Appalachian State University.

Pete Wachs, a member of ASU’s Academic Assessment Council, said the main challenge will be defining a sustainable future for the assessments.

Another challenge will be creating a uniform set of competencies, said Paulette Marty, a member of the system faculty committee that is helping implement the strategic plan.

“It’s a big system — there is a lot of diversity in the disciplines and the methods that the different disciplines use in different contexts,” Marty said. “The challenge is really to assess in a way that will translate to the broader project of assessing the system as a whole.”

She added that system faculty will need resources to properly assess students.

“It’s going to be real important to have faculty development, so faculty can be aware of ways of assessing and have ways of developing classrooms with needs and assignments,” she said.

The UNC system also hopes to ensure a seamless transition between schools in the system and with two-year community colleges.

Boxill said the diversity of campuses could make the transfer of courses difficult.

Despite faculty concerns with some aspects of the overall strategic plan, she said UNC-CH faculty are committed to looking at properly implementing these goals.

“I think we’re beginning to see a way to move forward as opposed to be simply critical of them.”

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