Promoting Academic Excellence at UNL

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Volume 2, No. 2
March 2009

Dear Colleagues:

Dr._CoutureWith spring in the air and change the message of the New Year, we have several initiatives in season to talk about in this issue of our Academic Affairs Newsletter. Our Achievement-Centered Education program now has enrolled more than 400 courses and is on course for implementation in Fall 2009. We still have details to address as the program comes on board, and I urge you to remain involved. ACE promises to be a signature undergraduate initiative for UNL. Our regents, employers, and alumni have endorsed this university-wide, faculty-developed, outcomes-based curriculum for all with great enthusiasm. We all can be proud of this effort.

This year Academic Affairs also has worked with faculty, staff, administrators, and our faculty senate and Academic Planning committees to launch two other initiatives that will help us recruit and retain a diverse student body and a diverse faculty. We are taking a close look at our English Proficiency requirement to see whether it appropriately addresses the English skills of our incoming students, and proposing changes both to our requirements and our on-campus Intensive English Program. Proposed changes should help us in our recruiting and retention of international and domestic students whose first language is not English. And we are inaugurating an administrative initiative to help insure that UNL is implementing best practices to recruit and retain a diverse faculty. Stories on both initiatives appear in this newsletter, and, again, I urge you to be involved.

I would be remiss in not saying a few words about our budget. We join colleges and universities across the land in facing a tough budget year. At the same time, our strategic planning initiative, now in its fifth year, has done much to help our colleges and units focus their efforts, and prepare for sustaining and advancing our priorities, even in these challenging times. Again, I applaud your efforts to keep our planning initiative moving forward and to keep our academic programs strong and competitive.

Best wishes as you continue your work in teaching, research, and service to the university and the state of Nebraska.

Barbara Couture

Barbara Couture
Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

English proficiency policies under review

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UNL is reviewing its policies on English language proficiency requirements for undergraduate admissions. The policies have not been reviewed or updated for a number of years. UNL has invited two consultants from the Educational Testing Service, which administers the widely used Test of English as a Foreign Language, to lead a workshop March 5.

Eileen Tyson and Terry Axe will present English Proficiency and the TOEFL, from 10-11:30 a.m. March 5 in the Nebraska Union. The session is designed to help faculty review UNL's undergraduate admissions TOEFL cut scores for non-native speakers of English. It will focus on the exam, what it tests, what data it yields, what section and aggregate scores suggest, common institutional practices and cut scores for undergraduates, and data from UNL students who have recently taken the TOEFL. The workshop is free and open to all interested members of the UNL community.

David Wilson, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, said that students who apply to UNL and indicate they are non-native speakers of English must demonstrate English proficiency; two options are the TOEFL or the International English Language Testing System exam. Once students arrive at UNL, they take a second exam offered by UNL that is used to determine an appropriate placement in English 150/151 (composition).

Currently, about 2.7 percent of UNL's undergraduates are international students and there is a push to increase that percentage. Carmen Varejcka-McGee, assistant director of admissions, said the percentage of international undergraduates enrolled at UNL's peer institutions is between five and eight percent.

As part of the review process, UNL officials visited the University of Kansas to discuss that institution's proficiency requirements, see KU's Applied English Center, and chat with representatives of KU's admissions, registration and records and athletics departments. Concurrently, UNL engaged The Advisory Board, a consultancy, to look at common best practices at other institutions.

Using information gleaned from KU and The Advisory Board's findings, UNL officials are mulling several recommendations, Wilson said.

  • In collaboration with the Department of English, UNL is moving advanced-level English proficiency courses to tuition-based, for-credit status. Currently all levels of English proficiency courses are fee-based and non-credit. The department is drawing up course proposals that will go through the standard course approval process, he said.
  • Under the new system, UNL would only use TOEFL or IELTS scores to place students into appropriate English courses. The unique UNL exam would no longer be used for this purpose; students would no longer be doubly tested.
  • UNL would change the manner in which students demonstrate English proficiency. Currently, UNL accepts TOEFL, IELTS, the UNL placement exam, and section scores of the ACT or SAT. Under the proposed changes, UNL would no longer use the ACT or SAT scores. Instead, as evidence of English proficiency, UNL would accept a student's graduation from a high school where the curriculum is taught in English, or two years of acceptable course work at a college or university where English is the primary language.
  • Also on the table would be a proposal to offer conditional admission to student-athletes who meet all admission requirements other than English proficiency just as UNL currently does for other student applicants.

Among topics to be explored at the March 5 workshop is how UNL uses the TOEFL exam. Wilson said that currently, UNL uses the aggregate score, but that means the university ignores other data, such as subsection scores,that may indicate student proficiency in specific areas like reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

Wilson said another goal for the workshop would be for all UNL colleges to agree to a common cut score; currently some colleges/programs require a higher score than others.

The plan has been reviewed by the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and the Academic Planning Committee and the final shape of the plan will respond to those conversations.

If adopted, the changes would take effect for the class entering Fall 2010.

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ACE begins developing outcomes assessment processes

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Hallmarks of ACE are its focus on learning outcomes and the promise that UNL would be able to show that its students are meeting those outcomes. To assure the second, UNL is developing assessment tools to help faculty gauge how well programs are meeting those promised objectives.

The job now is to begin to provide details on the university's expectations for assessment and how to fulfill them, said Jessica Jonson, UNL's director of institutional assessment.

Grant-funded team developing ACE outcome 1 assessment rubric

It's the idea of collaborative conversation that Chris Gallagher, professor of English, finds exciting.

It's a happy and planned coincidence that Gallagher, is heading a grant-funded project to develop ways to assess how well courses are meeting ACE outcome 1, writing proficiency. Gallagher's project is funded by grants from the Spencer Foundation and the Teagle Foundation, both of which aim to help improve higher education. Chancellor Harvey Perlman contributed funds granted by the University of Nebraska Foundation and Undergraduate Studies Dean Rita Kean is also contributed funding.

The Spencer and Teagle foundations are interested in the concept of spread of effect, Gallagher said. That means that faculty teach other faculty and change ripples throughout an organization. The project he and his 20-member team are working on will develop an assessment model that could be emulated by others at UNL and potentially other institutions.

Conversation is the where most of the important work happens, Gallagher said. It's where we talk about assessment and learn not to be afraid of it.

Gallagher's group, which is composed of faculty from several disciplines, looked at ACE Outcome 1 and broke it down into components, such as research evidence, audience, forms and conventions, where student work could be evaluated. They then set performance levels across all those criteria (such as highly proficient, good proficiency, some proficiency and no proficiency). After developing the rubric, they then had to come to consensus on how to score the work.

The data are not that important, but the process is important, he said. That's why we are documenting the process so we can create a 'best practices' report.

Gallagher said the process is evolving and changing as the team stumbles into areas of concern.

Gallagher said he's most impressed with the level of investment his team has put into the process. They really want to be involved at an insider level. And because they are influential faculty, the spread of effect will be interesting to watch, he said.

Jessica Jonson, university-wide assessment coordinator, noted that some early naysayers have come on board the assessment process and are now among its most avid supporters.

Interim ACE Director Nancy Mitchell agreed, saying that by showing faculty the value of assessment, faculty are more likely to embrace assessment as a useful and authentic tool.

The Spencer-Teagle grant runs for three years.

Gallagher said he will declare success if the project is able to develop a model that faculty who are not trained experts in assessment find useful and adaptable to their needs.

I would say that if we can completely change our culture so our campus no longer fears assessment because we've integrally connected the feedback loop to improve learning, that would be success, he said. Assessment then becomes a professional development process that allows me or my program to get better.

Jonson and the university-wide Assessment Committee are laying out the structure for colleges, departments and faculty to meet assessment goals. Each group, she notes, has different needs, yet all must mesh seamlessly. For example, the College of Arts and Sciences is a big provider of ACE courses, and the College of Engineering is more of a user, Jonson said. But Engineering does have ACE capstone courses.

So each college has different things to plan for and think about, she said.

The assessment committee has set up a timetable with five-year assessment cycles for each of the 10 ACE outcomes, she said. It is developing reporting guidelines and templates. But how programs are assessed and the analysis of data are still a conversation in process, Jonson said.

Those faculty conversations are important pieces of the process, said Nancy Mitchell, interim ACE director. The conversation about the program's success leads faculty to think about their own courses and how they fit into the overall big picture.

What assessment won't be used for is general evaluation of an individual teacher's effectiveness. Data from individual courses in programs will be aggregated and analyzed to see how well the entire program fulfills its promises, said David Wilson, associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. Wilson played a leadership role in the development of ACE.

Logo for Achievement-Centered Education, UNL's General Education Initiative

Mitchell used her own program, advertising, as an example. The program's capstone course, advertising and public relations campaigns, helps faculty to pinpoint patterns of program weakness so other courses can be tweaked to address those concerns.

The real value of the assessment component of ACE is that it shows what can happen when you deliver on outcomes-based promises, Mitchell said. Faculty can talk about things that are important to student learning in ways that they didn't engage in before. And then they can see if they actually are delivering the outcome and work toward improving student learning.

Chris Gallagher, associate professor of English, is heading up a grant-funded cross-disciplinary project that will design an assessment model that could be used by others at UNL, and perhaps at other universities.

Gallagher said it's important to remember that assessment measures look at a broad sample of student work to determine a program's effectiveness and to address areas of concern. Assessment measures also validate areas of success and to determine how well ACE is meeting its outcome promises.

Assessment affirms the good just as much as it roots out the stuff that needs to be better. It's not so much shining a spotlight on the scary stuff, he said.

Said Mitchell: We hope that we can look at the other ACE outcomes and do a similar process like Chris is doing, so it will incrementally grow.

Jonson defines success as being patient enough to allow the process to evolve into a meaningful tool useful at all levels - from the instructor to the college. We need to let the process evolve so we're not forcing something artificial, she said.

For more on ACE assessment efforts, go to:

For details about two workshops that explore assessment, please see our Workshops section below.

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ITLE announces winning proposals
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Winning Proposals
  1. Japanese Visual Culture in Context
  2. Capstone Course for English Majors

Two proposals won funding in Round Five of UNL's Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence. They are a project to fund a summer study abroad visual literacy course in Japan and a project to create a capstone course for English majors. Projects nominated for ITLE 5 were to help students meet the requirements for four of the 10 outcomes under the new Achievement-Centered Education program. UNL's new general education program, ACE, begins with the 2009-10 school year.

Dana Fritz, associate professor of Art, is coordinator of the Japanese Visual Culture in Context project. Co-directing is Frauke Hachtmann, associate professor of Journalism and Mass Communications. Both have long been associated with UNL's Visual Literacy program.

Visual literacy is the ability to read, interpret and evaluate images for meaning and context. Many consider it to be an essential skill for the 21st century.

Fritz and Hachtmann's project would involve up to 30 students in the study abroad course. After an introduction to Japanese visual culture, students would travel to Japan to visit advertising agencies, museums, cultural institutions and other opportunities to learn to understand a culture through visual analysis.

The project will help students meet ACE student learning outcomes 2 (communication competence) and 9 (global awareness/human diversity).

The $13,000 grant, funded by the University of Nebraska Foundation, will support planning during 2009. The course will be offered in summer 2010.

Melissa Homestead, chair of the Department of English assessment committee, is heading the second funded project Creating a New Capstone Course for English Majors. Co-coordinator is Susan Belasco, chair of undergraduate studies for the Department of English.

The project proposes to create the capstone course for the approximately 100 students who earn degrees in English each year. The course would allow students to fulfill ACE outcome 10, which requires creation of a scholarly product integrating ACE and the major field of study.

The $20,000 grant will allow the department to create a new capstone seminar that would allow students in all the department's concentrations to share the same classroom environment under the direction of a single teacher to create scholarly portfolio. The portfolio would require students to reflect on the body of work they have created and also include new scholarly or creative products. A byproduct of the course would be that representative samples of student portfolios could be used by the department for programmatic assessment purposes.

The department proposes to name six faculty to a faculty inquiry group to research and design a draft course proposal. The group would also create a resource book for future instructors. The proposed course would follow all existing course development and approval processes before being first offered in Fall 2011.

For more information about the Initiative for Teaching and Learning Excellence, see our ITLE web page.

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University looking at ways to recruit, retain diverse faculty

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UNL is adopting a policy called "Best Practices to Recruit and Retain Diverse Faculty." This policy is congruent with the university's core values and with long-held policies approved by the NU Board of Regents.

A national consultant, THE ADVISORY BOARD, at the direction of UNL's Senior Administrative Team, analyzed successful strategies employed by a number of universities, and submitted a report in May. Several groups have vetted the report, and the Senior Administrative Team also reviewed it. The report will be used by the academic leadership of the university to develop action plans and implement strategies to further diversify the faculty.

The Academic Affairs office worked with the deans, the Senior Administrative Team, the Faculty Senate executive committee and Academic Planning Committee to develop a plan for implementing effective strategies. The plan emphasizes four phases of the search, recruitment, and faculty development processes. They are:


  • cultivate relationships with other universities, and identify and adopt feeder departments that produce significant numbers of minority Ph.D.s;
  • identify and attend national association conferences with large numbers of minority members to establish networks;
  • host diverse scholars on campus.


  • develop intentional strategic plans for pro-active recruitment for all searches, i.e. personally contact and encourage diverse talented applicants to apply for positions;
  • pledge a university-wide commitment to achieving a large and diverse pool of talent for every position;
  • closely monitor and review each search and, if necessary, intervene in the process at an appropriate point if the pool is not sufficiently diverse, based on data available from, e.g. The Survey of Earned Doctorates, IPEDS, or other recognized databases. Intervention should be an option at all administrative levels of the process.


  • continue to resource the recruiting effort through diversity dollars;
  • cultivate awareness of the importance of resolving dual career issues;
  • contact finalists before on-campus interviews to discuss resources available on campus and in the community.


  • ensure appropriate mentoring for success;
  • assess performance and progress in retaining faculty.

An Administrative Planning Group will be a resource for this initiative and be responsible for helping deans develop, disseminate, and assess strategies, action plans, and benchmarks for success. The members of the Administrative Planning Group include: Barbara Couture, senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs; John Owens, vice chancellor of IANR; Evelyn Jacobson, associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs; Susan Fritz, associate vice chancellor for IANR; and Linda Crump, assistant to the chancellor and director of Equity, Access and Diversity.

A Faculty Advisory Committee will be appointed by the Chancellor and will provide feedback and advice to the Administrative Planning Group on action plans as they are developed. Members of the committee will be tenured faculty with a demonstrated commitment to diversity. To ensure the feedback is representative of UNL faculty, the Committee will be charged to inform and consult constituent faculty groups through a Blackboard web site; through occasional open forums of ongoing activity on this initiative; and through an annual report on the outcomes of the initiative, which will be posted on the Blackboard site.

Constituent groups include: The Chancellor's Commission on the Status of Women; The Chancellor's Commission on the Status of People of Color; The Chancellor's Commission on the Status of GLBT; and the Faculty Senate.

A timetable for action on this initiative is under development.

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Workshops planned on English proficiency, assessment strategies March 5, 9

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The Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs announces three Teaching and Learning workshops scheduled for March.

  1. The first, titled English Proficiency and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), will be from 10-11:30 a.m. March 5 in the Nebraska Union. The presenters are Eileen Tyson and Terry Axe, of the Educational Testing Service.

    The session is designed to help faculty review UNL's undergraduate admissions TOEFL cut scores for non-native speakers of English. It will focus on the exam, what it tests, what data it yields, what section and aggregate scores suggest, and common institutional practices and cut scores for undergraduates.

  2. The Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Achievement-Centered Education program and the Office of Undergraduate Studies are co-sponsoring two workshops March 9.

    Kathleen Yancey, professor of English at Florida State University, will present Assessing General Education, from 10-11:30 a.m. in the Nebraska Union. This session will focus on the various purposes of general education assessment and strategies for making it sustainable and worthwhile for students, faculty, departments, colleges, and the university.

  3. Later, she will present Using E-portfolios for Assessment from 2-3:15 p.m. in 109 Andersen Hall. This session will focus on opportunities, challenges, and practices in the use of electronic portfolios for assessment.

    Both sessions will allow time for discussion. Back to Assessment article.

For more information, contact Dave Wilson, associate vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, at 472-3751,

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