Improving student learning so undergraduates are as prepared as possible for the rapidly changing world was the central theme of the 7th annual Undergraduate Experiences Symposium on Oct. 7.

The symposium, presented by the Office of Undergraduate Experiences, the Center for Faculty Development and the Office of the Provost, brought together 85 faculty and staff from across the schools and programs of the University of Colorado Denver for a full day of brainstorming at the Curtis Hotel. Guest facilitators were Emily Lardner and Gillies Malnarich of the Washington Center for Improving the Quality of Undergraduate Education, a renowned center for national reform projects.

Lardner and Malnarich took an interactive approach to the symposium, charging attendees at each table to discuss research papers in their packets and to brainstorm ways to improve the integration of curriculum development, faculty development and student assessment.

Provost Rod Nairn set the stage by encouraging participants to “give us your best creative thinking” and not be limited by approaches taken in the past. He noted that establishing a “global reputation for excellence in learning” is part of the university’s mission statement.

“Institutions of higher education are expected to get better in this regard and demonstrate that students really leave the university knowing more than when they came in,” Nairn said. “It really has been part of the national agenda.”

The discussions on bettering outcomes took place against the backdrop of a rapidly changing world – in technology, diversity and overall student needs. Gone is the day of the “sage on the stage”-style lecturing, said one of the papers the participants discussed. Educators must nimbly adapt to students who now respond to technology, cooperative learning and skills that will secure employment in their chosen field.

Participants talked about the need for “border crossings,” or encouraging both educators and students to break out of their specialized “silos” and to integrate broader experiences into the undergraduate experience.

One participant noted that an overarching goal should be a triad of outcomes for students: employment, intellectual development and productive citizenship.Such synthesized statements were written on posters around the room for continued brainstorming with the goal of delivering a spectrum of ideas to the university.

Gillies said the university is to be commended for staging an annual symposium on the subject of undergraduate experiences. “This is special,” she said. “It is unique to have a provost invite you to be creative, to be daring and to say it could lead to radical change.”

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