March 25, 2008Whether it’s online, in the lab or at the library, research plays a significant role in the lives of University of Houston students. The process of gathering, analyzing and presenting data positively affects their learning experiences. More importantly, it prepares them for their chosen careers and professions.
To enhance students’ research abilities, UH will implement its Discovery-Based Learning Initiative this fall. Among the goals of the multi-year initiative is the improvement in student retention and graduation rates.
This comprehensive plan is focused on enriching the learning experience of UH undergraduates by providing research-related skills training, engaging students in research opportunities and connecting them to mentors and resources on campus and in the community. The types of problems that students will solve range from course projects to laboratory research and field investigations.
The initiative is the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). As part of its reaffirmation of accreditation by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), UH was required to submit a comprehensive compliance certification document this past fall and develop a QEP centered on enhancing student learning. SACS accredits institutions of higher education throughout the 11 southern states and parts of Latin America. Accreditation indicates that an institution maintains clearly specified educational objectives that are consistent with its mission and appropriate to the degrees it offers, and that it is successful in achieving those objectives. To gain or maintain accreditation, an institution must comply with SACS principles of quality enhancement, policies and procedures. Maintenance of accreditation is also a requisite for access to federal funding such as student financial aid.
A key element of the Discovery-Based Learning Initiative is the development of a research-supportive curriculum that provides students with course-based research experiences. A research-supportive curriculum development grant program will encourage faculty to enhance existing courses and develop new courses. A variety of co-curricular programs such as workshops, tutorials, internships, research dissemination opportunities, the development of graduate mentors and live reality chats with professionals and scholars are also integrated in the QEP. Newly developed databases will facilitate student access to research opportunities and mentors both on and off campus.
This initiative also will draw on the leadership and expertise of faculty and staff, as well as professionals from various industries and community partners to guide students through their research projects.
“Because of this research-oriented QEP initiative, our graduates will be better equipped to provide solutions to societal issues whether it is through science, engineering, humanities or the arts,” said Wynne Chin, Faculty Senate president and member of the QEP Planning Committee. “Our success in this endeavor will rest in large part on the level of involvement and participation of our faculty especially in terms of developing curricula and providing student mentoring. As representatives of the UH faculty, the Faculty Senate looks forward to being part of the implementation process.”
In addition to faculty support, the Discovery-Based Learning Initiative is driven by five key resource collaborators on campus: the Writing and Communication Skills Center, the UH Libraries, the Office of Educational Technology and University Outreach, the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Office of Institutional Research and Institutional Effectiveness. Additional UH implementation partners will include departments and colleges, research institutes and centers, and campus offices. Prospective community partners include K-12 schools, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, government agencies, corporate partners and many local alumni.
Coordinating these resources and overseeing the QEP initiative is the newly created UH Office of Undergraduate Discovery Programs led by director Veronique Tran.
“As an alumna and former UH faculty member, I am proud to be leading this exciting undertaking,” Tran said. “I believe that the Discovery-Based Learning Initiative will not only transform the learning experience of our students, but also provide a unique opportunity for UH to actively engage our alumni and the Houston community in the university’s mission. I am looking forward to collaborating with partners on and off campus to assist in realizing the vision of the QEP.”
The Discovery-Based Learning Initiative is the product of a comprehensive planning process involving faculty, staff and students.
In spring 2007, the QEP Topic Selection Committee recommended that the QEP be focused on undergraduate research and include elements of writing in the disciplines and mentoring. Following this topic selection phase, a QEP Planning Committee reached out to the campus community for input on the plan that would best benefit our students.
“The UH Quality Enhancement Plan is the culmination of two years of planning that involved key stakeholders,” said Elaine Charlson, executive associate vice president for academic and faculty affairs. “The ideas and feedback from many faculty, staff, alumni, and students contributed to the development of a comprehensive plan that serves the needs of our diverse student body.”
“We collected information from the UH community via online surveys, department and college planning efforts, meetings with learning resource centers and student forums,” said Charlson, chair of both the QEP Topic Selection and Planning committees. “We also looked at best practices at other institutions. All of this information was reviewed by QEP subcommittees who recommended the programs that constitute the Discovery-Based Learning Initiative.”
After the QEP was developed, it was approved by the UH SACS leadership team, which includes the president, provost, chief financial officer, executive associate vice president, SACS liaison and Faculty Senate president. The QEP was presented to the UHS Board of Regents on February 21. Subsequently, the plan was submitted to the SACS Reaffirmation Team, who will provide feedback when it visits the campus April 7-9.
Programs and resources will be developed over the summer with implementation of the QEP to begin this fall. The campus community is invited to learn more about the Discovery-Based Learning Initiative and provide feedback by visiting www.uh.edu/discovery.