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UCORE: University Common Requirements Division of Academic Engagement and Student Achievement

Teaching a UCORE Course

Though UCORE courses are embedded in program curriculum, they carry a unique responsibility to WSU’s learning goals and outcomes.

With sustained emphasis on critical and creative thinking, information literacy, and written communication, UCORE prepares students to address diverse, complex issues and to act as responsible, informed citizens. Students won’t be an expert in any single UCORE course or area, but they will graduate from WSU with the tools needed to seek out necessary information; interpret, apply, and share it; and make reasoned and ethical judgments on a wide array of issues we face today and in the future. In short, students will develop the capacity for adaptability and lifelong learning in a complex, diverse, and rapidly changing world. This is our mission as educators.

Inherent personal enrichment and fulfillment aside, employers who seek to drive innovation and change also highly value these qualities in their employees and leaders. They continue to demand that we graduate students who are clear communicators, collaborative problem solvers, and ethical and informed decision-makers. Help fulfill WSU’s land-grant mission of sending curious, engaged, and motivated graduates into our communities by imparting to students the intrinsic value of a well-rounded university education.

UCORE’s value is not often immediately obvious to students. Faculty are critical in moving students away from thinking about UCORE (or really any graduation requirement) as simply a box to check and instead toward thinking of UCORE as an experience to embrace for the purposes of exploration, intellectual growth, and the acquisition and development of broadly-applicable skills. As the American Association of Colleges & Universities reports, employers frequently cite adaptability, innovation, and broad engagement with the world as more important than one’s chosen major. Consider the following strategies when communicating with students:

Communicate the post-graduation return on investment. Technological priorities and modes of operation constantly change. Employers want adaptable thinkers, not narrow ones. Encourage students to begin thinking about marketing themselves with WSU’s undergraduate learning outcomes in mind.

Design assignments that prioritize or incorporate student interest and discovery. Discuss with students their interests and goals. What are they curious about? What social, philosophical, scientific, or technological issues do they care about? Help them navigate your course and its various components with those at the center.

Empower students to take ownership over their learning. UCORE offers a scaffolded set of skills and areas of knowledge. It is in large part up to students to chart courses that help them reach their intellectual goals. But they have to know that that is possible. Help them develop a sense of their interests to carry into other UCORE courses.

UCORE & WSU Learning Goals

Each UCORE course forms part of a coherent plan for broad education and skill development common to all WSU undergraduates. It is therefore essential that faculty teaching UCORE courses clearly communicate the course’s purpose vis-a-vis UCORE and WSU’s learning goals to students in syllabi, assignment prompts, and formative feedback to students.

Students can expect that every UCORE course they take will at a minimum help them cultivate and develop the following skills: critical and creative thinking, information literacy, and communication. Depending on the designation, UCORE courses will also help students gain competency in understanding diversity, scientific literacy, quantitative reasoning, and/or integrative and applied learning.

The decision to teach a UCORE course represents a commitment to WSU’s Undergraduate Learning Goals. The seven goals span both UCORE and the majors.

Courses approved for the UCORE curriculum must incorporate the learning goals and required elements for each UCORE course designation. An essential element of any UCORE course is a set of well-defined course learning outcomes which align with WSU’s learning goals. Course learning outcomes state in specific and measurable terms what a student will know or be able to do as the result of having successfully completed a course. Clear articulation of course learning outcomes communicates expected standards of performance to students and serves as a foundation for evaluating the effectiveness of the teaching and learning process.

  • These outcomes will help determine the activities, assignments and assessments in the course. It is important to note that students require multiple opportunities to making progress toward meeting learning outcomes and should receive timely, specific, and understandable instructor feedback to make adjustments and improvements.
  • There are no hard and fast rules on the number of learning outcomes a course addresses. However, more than 8 outcomes can be unwieldy to focus on, develop and assess within a course, and fewer than 4 could indicate that the stated outcomes are too broad, limiting their usefulness.
  • The course learning outcomes stated in your syllabus must be consistent with the UCORE learning goals and course rationale.

For faculty teaching an approved UCORE course

Required content for each UCORE designator is listed in the UCORE Curriculum. Individual faculty may adapt the syllabus approved by the UCORE Committee and the Faculty Senate, as long as they keep the required elements of the UCORE course. Approved syllabi are normally available in the department office or from a colleague who previously taught the approved course. Departments are expected to develop clear plans of dissemination of approved syllabi, including updates as a result of renewal.

For faculty planning and proposing a new UCORE course

To guide development of the syllabus and key assignments, consult each UCORE course’s required elements within the UCORE Curriculum. Faculty should also consult the sections on Assignment Design, Assessing Student Learning (see below), and Proposing a UCORE Course.

Why Focus on Assignment Design?

As Dr. Pat Hutchings of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) has written, “Assignments are powerful teaching tools, and their design is one of the most consequential intellectual tasks that faculty undertake in their work as educators.”

  • Assignments send powerful signals to students about how to learn
  • Assignments bring high-level learning outcomes to life
  • At their best, assignments both foster learning and document/assess it.

Principles of Effective Assignment Design

Designing effective assignments is an integral part of teaching, an intellectually challenging activity requiring attention to detail, innovation, and recognition of the process of student learning. It is intentional. It considers the pedagogical value of both an assignment and how it is evaluated. The design of effective assignments also considers how the process of completing the assignment motivates students to do their best work while promoting depth in student learning. Effective assignments can help instructors solve problems they encounter in their teaching, such as students’ over-reliance on non-scholarly websites in research. Effective assignments focus learning on desired outcomes, rather than grades.

  1. Alignment with Learning Outcomes. Alignment is the process of identifying where in a course, syllabus, or larger learning experience student receives instruction in and opportunities to practice a particular learning outcome and receive useful feedback. Aligning an assignment with a particular learning outcome also involves distinguishing how that assignment fosters and captures student learning. This is an intentional process that asks:

    • How do content and skills introduced in this course enable a student to complete this assignment successfully?
    • How does the assignment reinforce the expected learning outcome – i.e., “Assess credibility and applicability of information sources?” (Information Literacy learning outcome)
    • Does the assignment provide opportunities for students to integrate and build upon prior knowledge and skills?
    • How will student learning be evaluated – not simply graded in its entirety, but how will an instructor determine student progress toward meeting a specific learning outcome?
    • Do students understand how the assignment both promotes learning and be assessed – i.e., a rubric?
    • For courses also associated with a major, does the assignment provide the opportunity to assess program learning outcomes in additional to specific UCORE learning outcomes?
  2. Transparency in Assignment Design. A well-designed and transparent assignment can promote student learning by clarifying the purpose of the assignment for students, by decoding the tasks required to complete the assignment successfully, and by specifying criteria for evaluation.

    Recent research in higher education, sponsored by the AAC&U’s Inclusive Excellence Initiative, among others, has demonstrated that transparent assignments improve the learning experiences of all student groups. Transparency in assignment design has also been shown to demystify the learning process, improve retention and graduation rates (especially among underrepresented groups), as well as create conditions for greater student success. In particular, transparent teaching and learning methods benefit those students who are unfamiliar with college success strategies by clearly explaining learning and teaching processes. (See resources in the right sidebar.)

  3. Practice with Feedback. “Practice with feedback” is a central element of teaching a UCORE course. Providing multiple opportunities for students to practice desired skills in a course, coupled with frequent feedback to students, are widely recognized as best practices in instruction. These learning activities and techniques of assessment and feedback need not all be time-consuming.

    Recent research in higher education, sponsored by the AAC&U’s Inclusive Excellence Initiative, among others, has demonstrated that transparent assignments improve the learning experiences of all student groups. Transparency in assignment design has also been shown to demystify the learning process, improve retention and graduation rates (especially among underrepresented groups), as well as create conditions for greater student success. In particular, transparent teaching and learning methods benefit those students who are unfamiliar with college success strategies by clearly explaining learning and teaching processes. (See resources in the right sidebar.)

    • Short, discrete tasks—known as “Classroom Assessment Techniques,” or CATs—are ideal for providing these opportunities while managing faculty workload. Learning activities such as “One Sentence Summaries,” “‘Muddiest Point’ Discussion Board Posts,” and “Think-Pair-Share” are among many learning activities that can provide both opportunities for student practice and for instructor and peer feedback. They also provide real-time brief assessments of student learning and allow for immediate adjustment to improve instructional effectiveness.
    • In many instances, faculty can provide students with useful feedback through well-structured peer feedback activities, presentation and discussion of strong student examples, student self-assessment processes, or other activities that provide timely feedback.

Faculty-driven Assessment

UCORE faculty conduct ongoing course-level assessment of student learning. The results contribute to program-level and institution–wide assessment, and help faculty, departments, and university leadership determine to what extent undergraduates are achieving the WSU Learning Goals. Faculty use of results to improve courses and instruction is documented in reports available on the UCORE Assessment Website.

Course-level Assessment

Faculty are the key to the success of courses and play a vital role in the continuous improvement of UCORE assessment. Individual faculty are responsible for incorporating good practices in assessing student learning in their UCORE-designated courses and for using assessment results to guide course refinements. Good practices in assessment take into account that students need multiple opportunities to demonstrate progress toward meeting learning outcomes and receive timely, specific, and understandable faculty feedback to guide learning and deepen skills and knowledge.

Other examples of good assessment practice include:

  • clearly stated learning outcomes that are shared with students
  • clear alignment between expected learning outcomes and what is taught and assessed
  • quality and transparency in assignment design

Capstone [CAPS] instructors have specific additional assessment requirements, as described in the Integrative Capstone [CAPS] course requirements.

UCORE Assessment

UCORE Assessment is guided by the National Institute of Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA) Transparency Framework. This framework helps make evidence of student accomplishment readily accessible and potentially useful and meaningful to faculty, administration, students, and others. UCORE’s website for assessment highlights key components for transparency and uses of assessment as the new general education curriculum evolves over time.

Assignments provide the cornerstone of authentic assessment of student learning, and so assessing student achievement of the UCORE learning goals focuses primarily on student work.

UCORE has developed a framework for systematic assessment of all seven undergraduate learning goals, using assessment of student work by faculty. This approach connects teaching, learning and assessment. Assessment of student learning and reporting of assessment results to program faculty and UCORE committee members is an essential activity for all faculty teaching UCORE courses. In addition, regularly participating in meaningful assessment of UCORE courses can deepen faculty understanding of common goals while focusing on supporting student learning.