The Executive Faculty has approved another set of recommendations made last March by the Committee on Intellectual Life, continuing a process that has been ongoing for 12 months to strengthen academic culture on campus.

The recommendations, which were approved Friday, said that department chairs should provide grade distribution guidelines for each member of their faculty and engage them in discussions about grade inflation. The committee also said that students should spend two hours a week per credit hour outside of classes on course work.

After the Executive Faculty approves the resolutions proposed by the Committee on Intellectual Life, University Provost James O’Donnell reviews them and considers them for possible future implementation.

The original Intellectual Life Report was compiled by the Committee on Intellectual Life in 1996-1997 and measured Georgetown’s academic guidelines, comparing them to those of its peer schools. Ten years later, a subsequent report, Intellectual Life Report 2006-2007: The Undergraduate Experience, also compiled by the committee, followed up on the original to assess whether or not Georgetown had made progress in terms of education, classes, teaching and grade inflation.

Several changes have already been made based on the contents of the original Intellectual Life Report. For example, a new science building is being developed in response to the report’s allegation that the Georgetown curriculum is lagging in the science department. Also, the New Student Orientation program now includes events like New Student Convocation and the Prelude Program, which were created to promote intellectual seriousness.

Since the second report was released, the Executive Faculty has approved more than 40 resolutions regarding academic life, most stemming from the second Intellectual Life Report. On Feb. 22, the Executive Faculty recommended that class sizes and average class grades be included on students’ transcripts.

The resolution states that by recommending the additional information on transcripts, the Executive Faculty hopes to provide a more accurate representation of each student’s performance in the class and to encourage students to take more difficult classes.

The Executive Faculty also called for teachers to be more aware of their grade distribution. The resolution stems from a concern that lower grades for harder classes would be disadvantageous unless further information was provided, it said.

O’Donnell said he has not yet responded to the recommendation.

Robert Cumby, economics professor and chair of the Executive Faculty, said that Georgetown’s technology information systems may need to be updated before class averages can be reported along with grades on transcripts.

“Making the changes is not a big deal but may involve some time and a bit of money,” Cumby said.

Looking to improve the quality of student culture and intellectual life, the Executive Faculty has proposed that Georgetown strengthen the faculty-in-residence program, possibly through adding apartments in the freshman dormitories.

The Executive Faculty has also approved recommendations that call for a review of the curriculum, especially the general education requirements and courses in the sciences. The committee said Georgetown should expand Curriculum Enrichment Grants, cultivate research workshops and develop the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Opportunities program, which students could get involved in a professor’s research. The faculty also recommended that Georgetown should develop a system of prompt faculty performance assessment and frequent feedback to the teachers and students.

Addressing admissions procedures, resolutions have been approved proposing a student-faculty committee to review the campus tour procedure and the materials used to train tour leaders so that they more accurately represent Georgetown’s identity.

Some of the recommendations of the Executive Faculty made in the past year have already been implemented, such as changes in science and math departments. Some science classes now use clickers so that students can answer a multiple-choice question in class, all of their answers will be displayed on a screen and the teacher can then tailor the lesson plan to reflect the needs of the students. The mathematics department experimented with a video think-aloud system that has a student explain a math problem while solving it.

“The underlying goal is to make the classroom more interactive where the teachers are not just doing the teaching, but the students are doing the learning,” O’Donnell said.

Two committees were also established to make other recommendations about academics: the Committee on Student Learning and the Provost Task Force on the Curriculum. The Committee on Student Learning, headed by associate English professor Randy Bass, is a short-term, practical committee that emphasizes the need for assessment of teaching and discussion of grade inflation. The committee recommended having students evaluate professors in the fourth week of the semester so faculty could adjust their teaching styles as necessary before the semester ends. One potential form of assessment could be having students submit their five best works to the department in which they are majoring and have the department evaluate the work independent of any class.

The Provost Task Force on the Curriculum, on the other hand, takes a long-term approach with a more strategic perspective, and it includes 15 students and faculty.

“In the Provost Task Force, we will think this year, talk broadly about these issues next year and act the year after that,” O’Donnell said. “But the most important question about grades is to know whether students are being challenged to perform at a high level so that we know that is happening. When grades are compressed towards the higher end of the scale, it is harder to know that those students are really being challenged.”

View the original Intellectual Life Report:

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