Six Big Ideas final reports released

After a semester of discussion and research, each of the "Six Big Ideas" task forces have released their respective final reports.

The task forces were commissioned by President Christopher Dahl in May as part of an effort to explore potential strategic initiatives that could alleviate the effects of budget cuts in an innovative way.

Dahl said the final reports are "very strong and have been carefully meditated over time." The Strategic Planning Group - a standing committee of the college that is chaired by Provost Carol Long and includes representatives from the faculty, administration, staff and student body - is slated to review the reports. Dahl said the group will consider "what the implications are of the various actions" suggested by each respective task force.

Full reports from each of the task forces are available to members of the Geneseo community at A brief summary of each report follows.

Big Idea #1: Bringing Theory to Practice

Charge: To create "transformational learning" experiences so that all Geneseo students will graduate having had at least one high-impact learning experience such as an internship, capstone project or service learning assignment.

The force considered adding a graduation requirement that would make such an experience mandatory, but concerns were raised that doing so would mitigate its impact for students.

Instead, the force proposes that all departments and interdisciplinary programs offer at least one transformational learning experience that will be required for students in those majors. Several departments already require some sort of culminating project or study abroad experience.

The task force is also conducting two pilot projects: A new honors course titled "Something in the Air" which examines the issues of food projection globally and locally, and "Real Life Geneseo," which brought 40 students to a diversity workshop during winter break. The students will take diversity-related courses this semester designed to stimulate discussion and will participate in a service learning experience at the end of the semester.

Big Idea #2: Expanding Instructional Delivery

Charge: Examine the potential for increased online instruction based out of Geneseo.

Though the college began experimenting with online courses in summers 2008 and 2009, many faculty members complained that technical support was insufficient. The force recommends hiring a full-time technician to coordinate and assist professors and students participating in online instruction if it is expanded in the future.

Additionally, the task force grappled with the question of how to compensate faculty for teaching during the summer. An issue of concern was that by increasing summer salaries to encourage more faculty to teach in the summer months, adjunct faculty would be paid more over the summer than during the year, which could affect the entire salary schedule. The force considered both enrollment- and ranked-based pay and concluded that linking summer salaries to course enrollment is the fairest method. They said they are hopeful that the need for adjuncts will decrease should Geneseo switch to a four-course model.

Overall, the report concluded that summer courses both online and abroad do have the potential to bring in revenue and can be expanded if faculty involvement increases.

Big Idea #3: Rethinking the Course Load

Charge: Research the opportunities and challenges associated with moving from five to four classes per semester.

Some surveyed faculty indicated that they would assign more meaningful work, particularly in reading, if they knew students would be able to devote more time to each course than they do when taking five or six classes as many do presently. Others felt, however, that many faculty members would fail to raise expectations and so students would actually learn less by taking fewer courses.

Another major concern has been the effects of a 4-4 curriculum on faculty workload; though Dahl and task force chair Richard Finkelstein have stated that workload will likely decrease after the changes, some members of the faculty have worried that revamped courses would require more preparation time and potentially require faculty to teach outside of their area of expertise. The task force's research of other colleges that have moved to such a system, however, indicates that workload tends to decrease.

A visit to The College of New Jersey, which has moved to a 4-4 curriculum at the undergraduate level, revealed that its faculty encouraged the transition, primarily to reduce their own workload and improve the student learning experience. It took three years for TCNJ to fully implement the changes, and the college's expenses actually increased due to the change. Many TCNJ faculty members indicated that workload increased after the switch despite course load decreases. The Provost's Office has estimated that Geneseo will save approximately $250,000 if a switch is made.

Although the task force refrained from making an explicit recommendation as to whether or not to move ahead with the transition, it concluded that a transition could be achieved successfully under the right circumstances: if it is tied to increases in the depth and quality of instruction, if the administration works closely and transparently with faculty and if the faculty and departments have control over the redesign of the curriculum.

Big Idea #4: Creating Five-Year Professional Programs

Charge: Look into the implications of adding more five-year master's programs, particularly for School of Education programs.

A survey of adolescent education majors found that 31 percent of respondents would "probably" or "definitely" not have chosen Geneseo if majors were required to stay for five years.