Every five years, the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education publishes a White Paper -- which examines the status of undergraduate education at Penn and offers a variety of proposals and suggestions based on lengthy research and careful analysis. Last week, we presented to the University community the 2001 White Paper, the product of five years of hard work by passionate students. The White Paper is not a tool with which SCUE hopes to micromanage the University. It makes no school-, department-, nor program-specific recommendations. Rather, it discusses undergraduate education at Penn in the most universal of senses. It advocates the creation of an outstanding Penn experience for all, characterized by excellence, inquisitiveness and intellectual rigor, by both philosophically and pragmatically examining the tools and resources Penn offers to its students and making sound and reasonable recommendations regarding their usage. SCUE, as it has done throughout its three decades at Penn, does not simply bemoan problems or cite concerns; it offers practical recommendations for improvement. SCUE is especially excited about two works-in-progress described in the 2001 White Paper. First, we are in the process of developing the Major Advising Program, through which interested freshmen and sophomores will be paired with upperclassmen majoring in departments they are interested in exploring and majoring in themselves. The program will allow them to attend upper-level courses, meet professors and receive advice from the people in the best position to help guide them -- their undergraduate peers. We've also begun to work with the organizers of the Penn Course Review to place the results of course evaluation forms online. As a result, students will have free and convenient access to peer evaluations of professors when choosing their courses. Additionally, by making course evaluations more accessible and more prominent, we hope to foster an atmosphere in which teaching is valued, respected and taken seriously. As outlined in the White Paper, we believe that all undergraduates must have access to the cutting edge research performed across campus. Penn students should, in concert with the faculty and other students, help advance the frontiers of knowledge. The creation of such a community of scholars requires the destruction of the artificial lines dividing undergraduates from everyone else here. In addition to other proposals, SCUE strongly supports the continued development of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, which can do much to create such an atmosphere. In order to encourage intellectual exchange and to increase the scholarly connections made between members of the Penn community, we are helping CURF construct an online database listing all Penn faculty and scholars according to research interest. Among other important functions, it should strongly assist undergraduates interested in performing research with professors. Penn is an outstanding research university, and SCUE fully recognizes the importance of faculty and graduate student research here. But we also believe that excellent teaching is every bit as important as exceptional research. SCUE supports mandatory, extensive pedagogy training for all incoming teaching assistants, not only to improve instruction at Penn, but to lead the way in ensuring that every graduate student goes on to become an exceptional instructor as well as researcher. While international graduate students are valuable members of the Penn community, strategic use must be made of them as teachers in order to safeguard against the problems that language barriers create. For faculty members, SCUE has made several recommendations concerning the administration of both lecture and seminar courses, from making good use of seating arrangements to leading discussions more effectively. We must also work more rigorously to integrate technology into the educational experience at Penn. The interdisciplinary potential found here is unmatched by any university, and can be furthered by programs offered in intellectual property laws, medical informatics and e-commerce. Additionally, SCUE advocates class listservs, class Web sites and online discussion boards as invaluable ways of continuing learning outside the classroom. Every department should have a functional Web site and should ensure that every course syllabus is posted online. SCUE supports efforts to train and assist faculty members in the appropriate use of these resources. We also strongly urge the administration to spur the creation of a 24-hour computing facility for students in the College of Arts and Sciences, to create more ethernet connections in classroom buildings and to erase any barriers which exist across undergraduate schools regarding allocation of technological resources. This only begins to describe the ideas contained in our White Paper. We encourage all members of the Penn community, especially students, to read our thoughts and to contact us with comments and suggestions. We are deeply concerned with working with all members of the Penn community to improve undergraduate education at Penn.Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.