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Immersion, cross-college teaching strategic initiatives taking shape

by Aug. 27, 2015, 9:34 AM

(Vanderbilt University)

As another academic year kicks off, so does the next phase of work on two key components of the undergraduate residential education pillar of the Academic Strategic Plan: Cross-College Teaching and Immersion Vanderbilt.

Vice provosts John Geer and Cynthia Cyrus, who co-chair the faculty committees on Cross-College Teaching and Immersion Vanderbilt, have recently released two new reports summarizing the activities completed last academic year. Both reports are posted on the Academic Strategic Plan website, and feedback is openly solicited from the Vanderbilt community on the work to date. The committees will use all input during 2015-16 as they continue on the “action phase” of the Academic Strategic Plan.

“Our teaching and undergraduate experience must be structured to give students the skills and knowledge to synthesize diverse perspectives and information,” Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan Wente said. “I’m grateful to our committee members for defining the current state of both cross-college teaching and immersive experiences in support of these goals and for identifying the steps we must take to move forward in both areas over the next year.”

As part of its work, the Cross-College Teaching Committee asked its members to talk to colleagues about their interest in these types of courses. The level of faculty interest was exceptionally high. The committee also found that many such classes already exist and identified best practices as well as existing barriers to expanding such teaching. Cross-college teaching is defined as faculty teaching outside of their home department or school and faculty co-teaching with colleagues from different colleges.

During 2015-16, the committee will formally articulate the university’s goals for cross-college teaching and will examine how best to administer and fund such courses. Committee members will seek new avenues to gain faculty and staff input throughout the year to inform their work.

The committee on Immersion Vanderbilt analyzed the benefits to Vanderbilt students of expanded research, scholarship and creative expression opportunities that are faculty mentored, while working to define what does and does not qualify as an “immersion” experience. They found and inventoried a range of immersion experiences and programs currently thriving on campus that provide a solid foundation on which to build this initiative. The transition from “opportunity” to “requirement” for immersion will not be rushed to ensure all involved have the necessary support.

“As we continue to build and promote immersion experiences, more students will take advantage of the opportunity to participate. As those students share their experiences with peers, our undergraduates will come to realize that immersion is central to their learning at Vanderbilt, and they will expect such experiences to be readily available,” Wente said. “Our goal is that before Immersion Vanderbilt formally becomes a ‘requirement,’ it will already be top-of-mind and of upmost interest to most, if not all, students.”

Faculty at the February strategic plan retreat identified the fall of 2017 as a target date for full implementation of Immersion Vanderbilt. An expansion of opportunities, therefore, will continue between now and then, with simultaneous rise in expectations for immersion experiences throughout the academic community.

The faculty committee will produce a report later this year on the definition and parameters of approved immersion experiences and also will develop a catalogue of opportunities and resources for students. All documents will be made available for faculty, staff and student input.

View the Immersion Vanderbilt report >

View the Cross-College Teaching report >

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