QEP event aimed at helping students become critical thinkers

By Kimber Williams | Emory Report | Feb. 28, 2014

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Emory Photo/Video.

As strategies for implementing Emory's Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) "The Nature of Evidence" continue to take shape, a pilot event is planned to preview how one facet of the plan — "Evidence in Action" programs — could work.

Hosted by the University Senate Diversity Committee's Diversity in the Classroom subcommittee, the pilot event will be March 5 from 6:30-8 p.m., in the Jones Room of the Woodruff Library.

Senate Diversity Committee Co-Chair Christine Ristaino, a senior lecturer in French and Italian who also serves on the QEP committee, and Michelle Ledder, a Candler School of Theology graduate student and diversity committee member, will lead students in dialogue intended to "bring diversity into the discussion about evidence," Ristaino said.

The program will help students consider "what evidence is being valued and what evidence is not," she explained. "We'll ask students the question: 'When evidence isn't valued — for whatever the reason — what does it mean to the populations that produce this evidence?' The final step will involve integrating the knowledge of less-valued evidence into how we think."

Faculty, students, staff and interested community members are invited to observe and offer feedback. Those interested in attending should email Ristaino at cristai@emory.edu.

Empowering critical thinking

Strategies for further empowering Emory students to become critical thinkers and independent scholars have been a focus of campus discussions, as faculty and administrators continue to refine a vision of the QEP.

A mandatory requirement for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS-COC), the QEP is dedicated to improving an aspect of student learning or the environment for student success. It's also a key component that the SACS-COC team will evaluate during their visit to Emory on March 17-19 as part of the reaffirmation of accreditation review.

The SACS-COC team will begin its site visit Monday, March 17 at Oxford College — something new for Emory, said Provost Claire Sterk, that symbolizes "how Oxford College is important to us."

On Tuesday, March 18, "it is our understanding that when the SACS-COC review team is on (Emory's main) campus, they may ask any of us, 'Have you heard about the Emory Quality Enhancement Plan?'" Sterk said at a recent University Senate meeting, adding that QEP visibility will increase in coming weeks with a new booklet — designed by Emory Creative Group and available in early March — and QEP-themed student t-shirts.

"Your answer is then, 'Yes, the Nature of Evidence,'" she added, evoking laughter. "I am excited about the QEP and invite all of you to read about it in the booklet."

QEP key components

With a focus on the first-year undergraduate experience on Emory's main campus, the goal of the QEP is to "empower students as independent scholars capable of supporting arguments with different types of evidence," says Center for Faculty Development and Excellence Director Pamela Scully, who chairs the QEP development committee

At a recent town hall, Scully outlined a multi-faceted program designed to engage students on many levels through lectures, online videos, arts events, campus conversations and small group discussions.

Although implementation strategies are still being finalized — a "work in progress," Scully says, as elements are piloted, assessed and refined — the QEP will address three key components:

  • An introductory online orientation will explore the nature of evidence through short videos.
  • The classroom experience, through a focus on evidence in First Year Seminars, FYS190, a requirement for all first-year students.
  • Co-curricular programs and events, which will engage students with the nature of evidence throughout their first year at Emory and will serve as a foundation for research experiences.

Before first-year students ever arrive on campus, Scully says, they will have an opportunity to learn more about "The Nature of Evidence" online through a set of six short videos — each three to seven minutes long — that will address issues of evidence "in the humanities, social science and sciences, as well as interdisciplinary approaches to evidence," Scully said.

In the classroom, students will discuss evidence in First Year Seminar classes, FYS 190. Summer workshops will allow faculty to discuss the teaching of evidence more broadly and to collaborate on enhancing their teaching of evidence to first-year undergraduates.

Outside the classroom, students will also participate in "Evidence in Action" activities. First-year undergraduates will be required to attend and write about four extracurricular events, which may include Emory arts programs, special lectures, and "Evidence Conversations" — where faculty discuss how evidence is identified and used in their fields — formal visits to a campus lab, investigating artifacts at the Michael C. Carlos Museum, or researching original documents in Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Books Library (MARBL).

Emory selected "The Nature of Evidence" as its QEP following more than a year of campus-wide discussion. If approved by SACS-COC, it will be implemented across campus over the next six years, then integrated into the curriculum.