This is another in a series of interviews with staff, faculty and administrators across campus promoting the goals of EKU’s Quality Enhancement Plan. The current QEP, Read with Purpose, calls for Eastern to develop critical readers through the use of metacognitive strategies. Building on the past QEP, which focused on developing critical and creative thinkers, this effort represents the University’s commitment to institutional improvement, and provides a long-term focus for faculty and staff professional development and student learning.
This installment in the QEP Spotlight series features Steve Barracca, professor, Department of Government.
Q: In what ways have you been involved with the EKU QEP, Read with Purpose?
A: I’ve been involved in many aspects of the QEP. At the university level, I worked with colleagues to develop assessment rubrics for general education courses in the humanities (Element 3B) and social sciences (Element 5B). These rubrics, which integrate the new QEP goals into existing general education rubrics, are used by faculty to evaluate student progress in QEP learning outcomes. I am also involved at the department level as an instructor of two general education courses. This required developing and implementing new course assignments that assess QEP objectives. Related to this, I am the general education assessment coordinator for the course, Introduction to Political Philosophy. This involves writing the assessment report for the course. Finally, in terms of professional development, I attended two Teaching and Learning Center-QEP events, “Textbook Reading Strategies” and “Developing Critical Readers through Metacognitive Strategies.”
Q: In what ways is the QEP relevant to your discipline?
A: Political science is a reading-intensive discipline. This is especially so of my disciplinary subfield, political philosophy, which often requires students to read long and challenging primary source texts. In courses with a lot of reading, and long reading assignments, students are easily overwhelmed if they don’t have a sense of what information they are expected to know, how to prioritize the importance of the information they are reading, and how to organize and evaluate it. The whole premise of the QEP—reading with purpose—challenges faculty to design reading assignments in ways that answers these questions for students. Ultimately, when students understand why they are reading, they are more motivated and successful readers.
Q: In what ways has QEP professional development impacted your teaching?
A: One good idea from a QEP workshop that I’ve implemented is using short reading assignments in the classroom. I break students up into small groups, have them read a brief document, answer questions based on the reading, and then report out their responses to the class. This is one type of active learning assignment that offers a nice alternative to lecturing, and I think students retain the material better.
Q: What impact is the QEP having on student learning in your discipline?
A: When students are asked to read in order to answer specific questions, they are forced to be more discerning and critical readers. I liken it to panning for gold. Like a prospector sifting the sand of a river for nuggets, our assignments require students to sift through larger readings to pull out information that is relevant for their purposes. This is a skill that is needed in almost any profession our students might wind up in.
Q: How does the QEP benefit the campus community?
A: I view the QEP as a focused, campus-wide effort to develop the pedagogical skills of our faculty. It’s important to remember that most faculty outside the College of Education receive very little formal teacher training in their doctoral programs. Speaking of my own experience, I can say that I honed the skills of critical thinking, writing and reading during several years of graduate work. However, I was given little systematic instruction in how to teach those skills to others. The QEP, and other professional development programs at EKU, give faculty an opportunity to grow as teachers.
Q: How will you continue to promote critical reading in your courses, discipline, or across the university?
A: Student learning is the primary reason EKU exists. The principal way I contribute to that goal is to improve what goes on in my own classroom. The QEP is nice reminder to continually look for ways to improve course design and instruction to promote critical reading. I am always reflecting on how to improve as a teacher. The QEP reinforces that.