Brown University Academic Program

Overview of Brown University Academic Program

A.   Undergraduate Program

The brown university academic program has been engaged in a concerted effort over the last four years to strengthen programs and services in three major areas: the curriculum, advising structures, and assessment of teaching and student learning. This section of our report describes improvements in our curricular and advising programs, as well as our increasing efforts to understand how emerging online technologies can enhance the undergraduate experience at Brown. We also briefly summarize the state of campus discussion relating to the new federal credit hour standard. Our 20 work in the area of assessing student learning is taken up in Part III: Assessment, Retention, and Student Success.

Brown University Academic Program

Concentration Reviews

In its 2008 report, the University’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education directed the College to engage in a comprehensive review of all concentration programs. Now an established feature of our evaluation practices, these reviews ensure that all concentration programs meet College standards for breadth, depth, continuity, and synthesis of learning. Special attention is paid to clearly articulate learning outcomes, writing, and senior-year culminating experiences. Information about each concentration’s learning goals, the course of study, and other relevant information are housed in our new concentration search engine, Focal Point (described in more detail below). All of our 78 concentration programs now have articulated learning goals for students in Focal Point, and, to date, 33 of these programs have undergone a full review with the College Curriculum Council (CCC). An additional 14 concentrations will be assessed this academic year. by the end of 2012-13, therefore, we will have reviewed 60% of our concentrations in five years. Assuming our current pace of review continues, the College will have reviewed all concentration programs before our next full reaccreditation self-study is due in 2018.

The review process, which occurs in the year following the external departmental review (see Standard 2: Planning, Evaluation, and Assessment), typically involves a subcommittee of the CCC visiting the department to discuss a concentration’s curriculum and learning outcomes, advising and mentoring systems, and culminating senior-year experiences. The visiting subcommittee produces a report describing what they have learned from faculty and students in the concentration. The department responds to the report, after which department representatives join the full CCC for a discussion about their program’s structure and goals. Such meetings invariably include discussions about writing, senior capstones, and departmental methods for assessing exiting seniors. The CCC then produces a summary letter of that meeting, identifying areas of strength and pinpointing issues that need attention. Departments are expected to report on their progress in addressing areas needing improvement.

Recent reviews of the English and Economics concentrations illustrate how the process can inform departmental decision-making about undergraduate programs. When the English concentration was reviewed in November 2010, the department had already engaged in a thorough study of its program and submitted a set of proposed concentration changes to the CCC. The CCC visiting committee affirmed the value of such changes, which aimed to create a shared experience for concentrators in the form of a three-course common core and a required senior seminar. CCC members also provided information from other concentration reviews that helped the English department enhance expectations for honors and adjust advising structures to assure continuity of advising across the years.

The Economics concentration – one of Brown’s largest – was reviewed in March 2012. The department used the process to address concerns raised in its external review along with the standard questions outlined by the CCC (see Appendix IV). In advance of the review, the department supplied a set of documents related to program goals as well as advising and assessment in the concentration (see Appendix V). The CCC committee concurred with many of the department’s own conclusions about its concentration, such as the need for more econometrics and math-econ courses. The visiting committee also helped the department think about ways to integrate writing into concentration courses, to offer more elective courses with limited enrollments (a recommendation that came out of the external review), and to create a forum for faculty to assess existing seniors’ success in meeting concentration learning goals. The review process resulted in a more rigorous concentration program that now includes a senior capstone opportunity in a smaller course environment.

The CCC review process described above suffices for the vast majority of concentrations, but selected programs have been examined in a more extensive semester-long process, usually because the issues they face are complex and not amenable to easy resolution. Three programs have undergone such reviews in the last two years: International Relations; Development Studies; and Commerce, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship (now Business, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations). All three concentrations are interdisciplinary programs without departmental homes. As such, they face special difficulties in staffing core courses, sequencing track requirements, and ensuring meaningful capstone experiences for all concentrators. The NEASC visiting committee addressed this very issue in its 2009 report when it encouraged the University to strengthen the International Relations concentration in particular.

International Relations is one of our largest concentrations, trailing only Economics and Biological Sciences in the number of concentrators they have graduated in the last ten years.  The IR review, conducted in fall 2010, resulted in a set of curricular and administrative changes that enhance student learning and promote understanding of global issues across the University (see Appendix VI). The reviews of Development Studies and Commerce, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship, like the IR review, produced clear concentration program goals, more logically sequenced courses, and more rigorous concentration experiences overall, including required senior capstone experiences. The incoming director of the Watson Institute (which houses the International Relations and Development Studies concentrations) intends to strengthen the relationships between the Institute and its allied departments, which will make for better student experiences. Another intensive concentration review, this time of Environmental Studies, is currently underway.

Online Technology

In the time since NEASC last visited Brown, the University has implemented a number of online initiatives that complement our approach to liberal learning. Our efforts in this area began with a new system that allows faculty to upload their course syllabi during shopping period. On average, 60% of the faculty does this each semester. But this result is clearly not sufficient, according to a recent survey of students in which online syllabi ranked as the most valuable online resource currently available at Brown. Students also indicated that Brown’s new course management tool, Canvas, is superior to the Blackboard product still used by some faculty. In fact, students suggest that the best way to make syllabi available during the shopping period is through Canvas course sites. We plan to work with faculty to significantly increase the availability of syllabi through Canvas. Blackboard will be sunsetted at Brown in summer 2013, after which Canvas will be the sole course management system supported by our IT staff.

Brown is also experimenting with various online technologies to foster student engagement in large lecture courses as well as other areas such as foreign language and math. Although Brown’s faculty has expanded by 20% under the PAE, we still have more than 120 courses that enroll well over one hundred students. These are often gateway courses into the concentrations that scholars take to get out of the way. Such courses can be frustrating for faculty to teach, and we know that many students are not engaged by the large lecture format. Over the years, faculties in various departments have tried a range of online experiments to improve student learning and performance in courses both large and small. And in the languages, Brown has used technology successfully for quite some time. The real challenge is developing an infrastructure to support Brown’s faculty in developing, testing, and evaluating the many online learning products currently on the market.

B.   Graduate Program

Brown has made substantial investments in graduate education over the past five years, as discussed above in Special Emphasis Area 4: Strengthening the Graduate Program. Additionally, information about the assessment of graduate education outcomes and near-term goals can be found below under Part III: Assessment, Retention, and Student Success. This part of the Standards narrative focuses on three developments: practices for evaluating graduate programs, support services for graduate students, and the growth in master’s programs, including the launch of new executive master’s programs.

Master’s and Executive Master’s Programs

Master’s programs have been on the rise at Brown for some time and in 2011 incoming master’s students outnumbered the new Ph.D. students for the first time. We expect this trend to continue as departments are encouraged to consider the educational and financial benefits of offering new or revitalized master’s programs. The growth of master’s programs is an important part of the plan for building up the scale and scope of the School of Engineering.

Brown is also in the process of launching a new category of master’s degree. In May 2012, the Corporation approved an Executive Master of Healthcare Leadership, which will be stewarded by the Office of Continuing Education in partnership with the Provost’s office and the Public Health Program. Over the next several years, we expect to develop a number of other executive master’s programs. Our vision for Brown is to create a separate and distinct category of such degrees that do not compete with existing on-campus Brown master’s degree programs. The chief distinguishing feature of the executive master’s programs is that they will be aimed at working adults (with different educational goals) from those who are attracted to the current master’s degree offerings. The format of instruction also will differ. Adult learners will come to campus periodically for intensive sessions with their cohort and, in between those times, study via online modules that are delivered by highly qualified instructors. Campus classroom resources will be used only during hours they are not otherwise in demand (evenings, weekends, intercessions).

In some cases, regular Brown faculty may have interests in program development or instruction, but those connections are not considered necessary for creating viable programs. What is considered necessary is a Brown academic leader who can guarantee the quality and integrity of the curriculum and provide oversight of the instructional staff. All courses and instructors are being approved through Brown faculty committees and procedures, either the existing ones on campus or new ones tailored to the new mission and approved by the Brown faculty. In the case of Healthcare Leadership, senior faculties in Public Health are serving as program advisors and we have established a distinguished external advisory panel.

The cohort-based program model we have selected for these new executive master’s programs anticipates sequential course offerings of several months duration so that after four continuous semesters (16 months), students will have completed the eight courses required for a Brown master’s degree. It is expected that the cohort will meet as a group on campus at the start 31 and finish of the program, and in addition, at some or all of the transitions from one-course period to the next. In this way, every course will include at least one period of intensive face-to-face instruction. The proportion of online to face-to-face instruction is expected to average about 70:30 across the curriculum. The online portion of instruction will be supported by Canvas, the same Learning Management System that is deployed for regular on-campus courses. However, course module instructional design and support will be much more extensive due to the greater amount of material to be covered online compared to on-campus courses. The investments needed to launch and sustain the initiative are coming from reserves accumulated in the Office of Continuing Education.

Applications for the Executive Master’s in Healthcare Leadership began to be accepted in September 2012. We plan to fill the first cohort of students during spring 2013 and enroll them during summer 2013. Through communication with NEASC during the fall of 2011, we reached the understanding that given the blended delivery format, with none of the course credits to be earned entirely online, these Executive Master’s degrees do not represent a substantive change requiring separate reporting. Nonetheless, these programs are a departure for Brown and will be monitored and reviewed with care. In fact, the faculty vote approving the Healthcare Leadership program was contingent on a full review of the program after three years.

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