Critical thinking skills remain at the core of both the Brescia University Educational Outcomes and the General Education Requirements. Brescia’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), entitled “Think Like a Bearcat,” connects and strengthens the University’s efforts to improve the critical thinking skills of our students. This executive summary outlines the ongoing, comprehensive planning and evaluation process through which the topic of critical thinking (CT) was chosen, showing broad-based support of institutional constituencies. Furthermore, the next section summarizes the QEP goals and their connection to the University’s Mission and Educational Outcomes, including specific QEP student learning outcomes. And lastly, the plan for implementation and completion of this QEP, the commitment of the resources, and the assessment of achievement conclude this executive summary.
The topic of critical thinking (CT) was developed over the course of a year through a comprehensive planning process focused on continuous improvement of student learning outcomes. This section first introduces the definition of critical thinking Brescia will use for its QEP, followed by the narrative of the process through which this topic was chosen.
Brescia University’s QEP follows the definition of critical thinking as promulgated by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U): “Critical thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion.” (Critical Thinking VALUE Rubric, 2009).
The process which determined the topic of critical thinking began in summer 2016 with training of faculty and staff in regards to SACSCOC QEP requirements. Through the collaboration between faculty, staff and students, the QEP Topic Committee embarked on a year-long journey of exploration of the internal research, external data, assessment of students’ performance and success, evaluation of faculty and students’ perceptions and preferences, and culminating in an Institution-wide survey which included students, staff, faculty, alumni, and the Board of Trustees. This journey began with the Committee’s gathering of evidence: faculty’s perceptions of students’ academic performance and identification of weaknesses through discussions in Schools and Divisions, Faculty Assembly, and Dean’s Council. Several potential topics emerged from those initial discussions, identifying areas of academic weaknesses related to students’ skills in need of improvement: ethics and plagiarism, technology literacy, math and writing, and critical thinking, in addition to broader institutional areas such as advisement, retention or student engagement. The Committee further investigated those areas through assessment tools available institutionally: data regarding assessment of General Education Requirements; data from surveys of faculty and students regarding their math and writing skills; data from NSSE; data from ETS Proficiency Profile for freshmen and seniors regarding critical thinking; and review of syllabi across the University in regards to reading, math, critical thinking, and ethics.
Upon assessment of various internal and external data sources, the Committee established a list of potential QEP topics and developed a survey to determine the perception of need for improvement in those areas. The groups whose perceptions were measured through the survey carried out in April 2017 included: all faculty (part-time and full-time, online and on-ground), all students (on-ground and online), staff, alumni who graduated in the previous five years, and the Board of Trustees members. With high rates of participation in all the groups, the results of the survey showed unequivocally that all groups perceived critical thinking skills as the area most in need of improvement. The results assessment of internal and external data, combined with the results of the survey, gave the QEP Topic Committee valid and reliable evidence to determine critical thinking as the QEP topic.
The comprehensive planning and evaluation process carried out by the QEP Topic Committee shows broad-based support of the institutional constituencies for the topic chosen. First, the Committee was made up of faculty representing all Schools and Divisions, along with staff from various areas and students from Student Government Association. Second, all faculty (part-time and full-time), all students (on-ground and online), staff, alumni who graduated in the previous five years, and the Board of Trustees were asked for input through the institution-wide survey.
Furthermore, this broad involvement will be carried over into the implementation and completion stages of the Brescia’s QEP. The two constituent groups who are most impacted by the implementation of the QEP are faculty and students; the same two constituencies were also the two largest groups in the survey. With Brescia University’s focus on holistic pedagogy, staff will inherently become a part of the implementation process in their roles as student support network, including but not limited to tutoring coordinators and staff tutors, professional advisors, academic coaches, financial aid advisors, student development leaders, and athletic coaches. As the implementation progresses, graduates of Brescia University will become the beneficiaries of the QEP, bringing increasingly stronger critical thinking skills into their professional and personal environments.
This section introduces the goal and specific student learning outcomes related to Brescia’s QEP: Critical Thinking and outlines their support for the University’s Mission and alignment with the Institutional Educational Outcomes. Following the needs regarding students’ academic success, and identified through multiple types of assessments and consultation with all University constituencies, the goal of Brescia’s QEP states: As part of the University’s efforts, the QEP will work to improve students’ critical thinking. Furthermore, the QEP Development Committee (the successor to the QEP Topic Committee) formulated the following student learning outcomes based on the definition of critical thinking adapted from the AAC&U VALUE Rubric:
As indicated above, the QEP goal and student learning outcomes support and align with the Mission of the University and its Educational Outcomes. The Brescia Mission reads: “Brescia University is a Catholic, liberal arts institution founded in the Ursuline tradition of personal and social transformation through education. Directed to academic and moral excellence in a student-centered environment, Brescia offers undergraduate and graduate programs that serve students who seek success through rewarding careers and service to others” (2017-2018 Brescia University Undergraduate and Graduate Catalog). By improving their critical skills, Brescia graduates become better equipped as active citizens of their local, national, and global communities; they develop as more skilled employees and problem-solvers; and they serve others with a more profound understanding of the social issues, their potential solutions and consequences.
Furthermore, Brescia University Educational Outcome #1 states that “Brescia University graduates will demonstrate the ability to think critically, analyze information, and communicate effectively.” In addition, Brescia University General Education Outcome #2 states that “Students will think critically” (2017-2018 Brescia University Faculty Handbook Appendix Y). In an alignment with those two institutional Educational Outcomes, Brescia’s QEP: Critical Thinking breaks down components of critical thinking and addresses them throughout the entirety of the University’s undergraduate academic curriculum, including 100-, 200-, 300-, and 400-level courses, thereby accomplishing its goal of contributing to Brescia’s institution-wide efforts.
The implementation of the University’s QEP: Critical Thinking builds, in a great measure, on Brescia’s existing initiatives and resources, whilst expanding them in an alignment with the intended QEP goals. With the intention of potential institutionalization of this QEP, should it prove effective and beneficial to the University, the QEP Development Committee approached the question of resources in a fiscally responsible and sustainable fashion. This section outlines the resources committed to the University’s QEP, with the brief sketch of the implementation and completion plans.
Before determining the resources necessary for successful implantation and completion of the QEP, the Development Committee formulated the implementation plan which would allow Brescia to successfully accomplish the QEP goal and achieve its student learning outcomes. In a nutshell, faculty will develop and introduce a critical thinking assignment in specific 100-, 200-, 300-, and 400-level courses across the General Education Requirements and majors, staggering them over time based on the natural academic progression of student cohorts and intentional distribution among academic disciplines. These courses will follow already-in-place assessment plans for General Education Requirements and majors, with critical thinking assignments developed in three to four courses each semester.
Faculty will receive on-going training in pedagogy related to critical thinking, development of critical thinking assignments and grading rubrics, and consistency in grading and assessment. Furthermore, tutors will be trained to support academic success of students related to critical thinking in all of the academic areas.
The focus of the QEP on critical thinking aligns with the preexisting Educational Outcomes of University and its General Education Requirements. Therefore, this QEP builds on the resources Brescia already began investing in improving its educational environment, and thereby, the academic success of its students. In 2015, upon receiving Title III SIP Grant, Brescia expanded its Ursuline Center for Teaching and Learning (UCTL), which houses, among other offices, The Learning Center (student tutoring services) and the Director who is responsible for providing continuous training in best policies and practices in pedagogy to Brescia faculty and expanding the UCTL’s pedagogy resources. The Director of UCTL will serve as the QEP Director, coordinating the faculty training in critical thinking pedagogy and tutor training in support thereof, in addition to building the critical thinking pedagogical resources. Furthermore, The Learning Center tutors will be used to support students in building their critical thinking skills. The faculty in Fine Arts will contribute their expertise to implementing marketing plans, while the faculty in Philosophy will guide the development of critical thinking activities and rubrics. The areas which will need the infusion of significant additional funding, therefore, include mainly Testing, while other areas will build on the human and material resources already being invested.
To ensure successful implementation of the QEP: Critical Thinking, the QEP Implementation Committee will consist of qualified individuals who will effectively oversee and administer the implementation of the QEP, again building on the human resources available at Brescia University. The members of the committee will include experts in assessment, higher education administration, critical thinking, and student-centered pedagogy, representing the diversity of academic Schools and Divisions, as well as staff.
The QEP Critical Thinking will use a combination of internal and external assessments in order to measure its success in improving students’ critical thinking skills and meeting the identified student learning outcomes. The proposed QEP includes both outcomes and process measures, ensuring continuous assessment of the program itself, along with the achievement of its goals, as well as valid and reliable data for its fifth-year QEP impact report.
For the student learning outcomes, the QEP will use the internal measure; namely, scores on the established VALUE rubric for each critical thinking activity. For multiple sections of one course, the faculty will be trained on consistent use of the rubric in grading, while the consistency in grading will be verified by random sample of assignments graded by other faculty teaching sections of the same course and overseen by the QEP Implementation Committee. Time series aggregate scores in 100- and 200-level GER courses, then 300-, and later 400-level capstone courses will be used to assess the improvement of students’ critical thinking skills. The staggered pattern of the internal assessment aligns with the established General Education Requirements assessment schedule and individual majors’ assessments.
For the external measure, the University will administer the ETS HEighten test to freshmen and seniors in Year 1, academic year 2018-2019 to establish the baseline data before the critical thinking activities begin in Year 2, academic year 2019-2020. Furthermore, the baseline data will be verified with another round of ETS HEighten test in the fall 2020. The HEighten test will be administered again to juniors and seniors in Year 5, academic year 2022-2023 to measure the growth of critical thinking skills in the fall 2019 and fall 2020 cohorts.
The data provided from the external and internal measures will be assessed each summer by the QEP Implementation Committee. In addition, evaluations carried out after the faculty and tutor training sessions, and anecdotal evidence provided by the individual faculty involved each semester in implementation of critical thinking activities, will serve to assess the success of the process. Each year, the Implementation Committee will, then, provide suggestions for adaptation of the process and its improvement in the future. Between those varied methods of assessment, the QEP Implementation Committee will ensure timely and continuous achievement of the QEP process, as well as its goals and outcomes.
Association of American Colleges and Universities. (2009). Critical Thinking VALUE Rubric. Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/value/rubrics/critical-thinking