Report on Reports

4. An Exploration of the Nature & Quality... 1989 - Sigma XI

SIGMA XI

An Exploration of the Nature & Quality…1989


The success of the current national efforts to revitalize engineering, mathematics, and science instruction depends on the commitment and collaboration of a number of communities, including industry, schools, colleges, universities, government at all levels, and the public. Mostly, however, it depends on the faculty in our nation’s schools, colleges and universities. The faculty...are the curriculum personified. The faculty, both individually and collectively, have considerable latitude in the curriculum content and in the instructional approaches used. Superior faculty motivate students to broaden and deepen their intellect, and aspire to higher achievements. Mediocre faculty dampen the enthusiasm of good students and stifle development of potential talents in others.

– America’s Academic Future: A Report of the Presidential Young Investigators. National Science Foundation, 1992.One lesson I have learned is that one must constantly educate administrators and non-science faculty about the special resource needs of scientific research. This is an on-going educational process that cannot cease. These needs include physical plant needs, computer and network needs and library needs.

BACKGROUND

Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society convened a national advisory group to identify fundamental topics to chart policies for reshaping undergraduate STEM. Their 1989 report, An Exploration of the Nature and Quality of Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics and Engineering, is a direct and compelling statement:

Undergraduate programs exist in order to provide environments that encourage and enable students to accomplish something. These “somethings” are the missions of the programs. Just exactly what these missions are depends upon the perceptions of academic administrators and departmental faculty members of factors such as 1) the needs and goals of students, and 2) the needs and goals of society.

This focus on getting the mission in place is threaded throughout reports that emerged in the 1990’s. Many also echo the Sigma Xi call for departments to set learning goals that reflect clearly the understanding of the nature of science, of engineering and of mathematics, the nature of knowing in these fields, and the symbiosis of science, engineering and mathematics. This report is explicit on the goals that should be set to ensure a quality undergraduate education, one that provides students access to:

  • instruction that generates enthusiasm and fosters long-term learning
  • a curriculum that is relevant, flexible and within their capabilities
  • a human environment that is intellectually stimulating and emotionally supportive
  • a physical environment that supports the other three dimensions.

    That more and more departments have set goals for student learning, and that institutional leaders call for and support the development, implementation, and assessment of such goals is one valuable legacy of this report.

    RECOMMENDATIONS

    To Congress and the National Science Foundation

  • Facilitate an open and forthright discussion and evaluation of the factors that make the reward system for excellence in undergraduate teaching noncompetitive with the reward systems for excellence in other professional activities.
  • Facilitate entry and sustained professional development of women, underrepresented minorities and physically disabled individuals in the study and practice of STEM.
  • Facilitate exchange of information among those developing innovative undergraduate curricula.