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The UCCI Learning Experience: Extracts from its Academic Standards Document

Education 05 Feb, 2020 Follow News

Dr. Livingston Smith is a Professor at the University College of the Cayman Islands. He is also Director of the CXC Education Volunteer programme

Academic standards are the benchmark of excellence and quality and the assurance to various stakeholders of the basis of accountability.

The local university, UCCI, correctly believes that student centredness is the linchpin, the connecting principle, the common core around which all activities, plans and ideas cohere. In this respect, one of the things it has done is explicitly state the standards to which it aspires.

These standards cover the gamut of student achievement and learning outcomes, institutional integrity, faculty, institutional planning and effectiveness and policies, procedures and practices as they affect the academic enterprise.

In this article, I share extracts of Part One of this document which relates to the UCCI learning experience.


Student Experience

Every academic department, in tandem with the rest of the University, will aim to ensure that all students have an exceptional and distinctive experience while at the University College.

The student experience encompasses many aspects of academic and intellectual development; social and emotional life; and the growth and refinement of cultural, political, sporting, and artistic interests.

The experience of being a student at the University College, from applicant to alumni should prepare students for life beyond their studies and foster a positive lifelong relationship with us. We will accomplish this through collaboration among the admissions office, the academic enterprise, student life, financial services, the office of alumni relations and the office of the President.


Student Engagement

UCCI faculty will aim to have students engaged intellectually, behaviourally, emotionally, physically, and socially. Department Chairs will incorporate this as part of faculty evaluation.

Student engagement is defined as the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education. This definition stands on the premise that learning improves when students are interested, inspired, inquisitive, and interested. The reverse naturally occurs when they are disengaged.

There are five forms of student engagement:

Intellectual engagement: Heightening interest by choosing topics of interest to students, widening presentation options, and varying presentation styles. The use of high-impact teaching methods is outlined later in this document, and their use will go a far way in enhancing intellectual engagement.

Behavioral engagement: Developing purposeful interactive methods with students, assigning tasks or roles, groups, routines encompass this form of engagement. Research done on brain-based learning has revealed evidence that novelty, variation, and physical activity can stimulate and improve learning. The UCCI faculty member will need to become more creative in facilitating learning that engage students in active learning methods.

Emotional engagement: This requires the use of a wide variety of strategies to promote positive emotions in students that will support the learning process, decrease negative behaviours, and keep students from dropping out. For example, the learning environments may be redesigned to make them more conducive to learning; professors should be more alert and monitor students’ moods and adjust delivery and interaction or use counseling, peer mentoring or other intervention services as deemed necessary. Students would then likely feel more positive, optimistic, and excited about learning. Some examples may be facilitating open discussions on personal passions, future aspirations, and specific learning challenges and needed support.

Physical engagement: Addressing or providing support and information in the areas of finance, nutrition, sleep, and time management are aspects of physical engagement. The Student Life Department at UCCI is especially poised to contribute to this area.

Social engagement: Through social interactions, students may be paired or grouped to work collaboratively on projects, or teachers may create academic contests through which students engage in friendly competition. Teams can be given specific tasks to complete in the shortest amount of time. Academic and co-curricular activities, volunteerism, involvement in civic groups among other activities can promote social engagement.

Cultural engagement: Take deliberate steps to assist students from all cultural backgrounds to feel welcomed, oriented, accepted, safe, and valued. The aim is to reduce the feelings of confusion, alienation, disconnection, or exclusion that some students may experience.

Student engagement is generally accepted as being connected to academic success, retention, learning, and student experience. It must be a guiding force at UCCI.

Student engagement can take different forms. Students can be engaged in learning itself to include collaborative experiences, with research opportunities, peer mentoring, teaching as graduate assistants, study abroad, placements, at work sites, and volunteering.

Opportunities can be provided for students to be engaged with the institution through participation in student representation, evaluation, and feedback activities. Students can also be given voice in programme development.


Workforce Readiness through Experiential Learning

Each academic department at UCCI will ensure that students, regardless of the progamme they are pursuing, gain appropriate workforce involvement and experiences. Where appropriate, competency-based assessments will be used to determine workforce readiness. Department Chairs will ensure that at least two forms of experiential learning are part of the programmes offered by the department.

In the US, The National Association of Colleges and Employers identified the top skills employers are looking for from recent college graduates in 2018. In order: problem-solving skills, ability to work in a team, communication skills, leadership, strong work ethic, analytic/ quantitative skills, verbal communication skills, initiative, detail-oriented, flexibility/adaptability, technical skills, interpersonal skills, computer skills, creativity, friendly/outgoing personality, tactfulness, entrepreneurial skills/ risk-taker and fluency in a foreign language. The top-five are problem-solving skills, ability to work in teams, written communication, leadership, and a strong work ethic. These are similar to the top ten list of essential 21st Century Employability Skills unearthed by the New World of Work: adaptability, analysis/solution mindset, collaboration, communication, digital fluency, entrepreneurial mindset, empathy, resilience, self-awareness and social/diversity awareness. The New World of Work (NWoW) is a 21st-century employability skills curriculum being taught at over 50 community colleges in California. The curriculum provides instruction in 10 key competencies, using work-relevant content.

Whereas the classroom experiences are crucial in developing and honing these skills, ultimately, it is real-life experiences in workplace settings that will truly allow and prepare our students for employment.

Experiential learning is defined as knowledge and skills acquired and developed outside the traditional collegiate setting by means of experiences including, but not limited to, study abroad programmes, internships, undergraduate research, service-learning, scholarly and creative activities for which the student has not received academic credit, as well as professional work experiences and professional development self-study programmes.


Student Advisement

As experts in their fields, faculty members are expected to assist in the advisement of students. Advisement is here referred to in its widest sense inclusive of career, course progression and scheduling, course expectations, academic (relating to performance and solutions), retention and persistence, co-curricular activities and orientation. Student advisement is critical to students' matriculation and success at the University. Academic advisors must be knowledgeable of the curriculum, graduation requirements, and their respective field of study.’

We continue with further extracts in upcoming articles.

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