History of the Project

The Early Process

In September of 2004, St. Petersburg College (SPC) formed a Quality Enhancement Committee (QEC). The QEC was created to address the requirement from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to develop a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) to, “enhance the overall institutional quality and effectiveness by focusing on an issue or issues the institution considers important to improving student learning.”

At the recommendation from a capstone project of an SPC leadership studies cohort (established as a result of succession planning), the President’s Cabinet approved the creation of a geographically and professionally diverse committee in 2004 that was representative of the entire College. The QEC has representation from all campus sites and various disciplines and administrative areas.

Broad-Based Involvement

The selection of the topic for SPC’s QEP was a long and deliberate process so that as many constituents as possible could have input. Collaborative Labs were conducted with adminstrators, faculty, students, and community leaders during 2005 and 2006.

The QEC worked with the large amount of community feedback and began to narrow the topic of the QEP. There was much discussion and debate among QEC members on how to interpret the information from the Collaborative Labs and it was finally determined that a College-wide faculty collaborative engagement was needed to help narrow the focus.

Upon reviewing the initial results of the January 5, 2006 College-wide Collaborative Lab, the QEC felt the bottom-line question addressed in the lab (i.e., selecting research-based learning theories to apply in the classroom) still did not provide a sharp enough focus on student learning outcomes. However, they saw that the raw data from the lab was rich in ideas from faculty on strategies to improve student learning. 

A subcommittee of the QEC did a content analysis of the raw data and determined that activities to promote critical thinking were most frequently recommended to improve student learning. After the subcommittee presented the results of their analysis, the QEC proposed a revised focus statement to faculty and to senior leadership: improving student learning in critical thinking via active and collaborative learning techniques. This was later broadened to include other strategies in addition to active and collaborative learning techniques, and was worded finally: to enhance student learning by improving students' ability to think critically. The Faculty Senate approved the topic in March 2006, after it had received initial approval from senior leadership. An initial draft of the QEP was vetted through faculty and staff via a WIKI.

Three Key Initiatives

SPC conducted an in-depth review of strategies for instruction and institutional improvement to determine effective ways of improving students' critical thinking skills. As a result of this research, the College identified three key initiatives that faculty believe have a favorable impact on students' learning by infusing critical thinking throughout the institution: Student Success, Professional Development, and Critical Thinking Resources. The comprehensive set of initiatives was developed around a common language to make current practices more effective and develop new instructional rubrics and strategies.

A Snapshot in Time - the Year 2008

Student Success Initiative

The Student Success Initiative has four components, and is managed by two subcommittees: 1) the Student Success subcommitte oversees the development of rubrics and classroom activities, and the evaluation of ePortfolio options; and 2) the Student Activities subcommittee oversees the development of campus and college-wide student activities that promote critical thinking skills.

Rubrics

The QEP Director, Assessment Coordinator, and the six Faculty Champions met several times to discuss, develop, and validate SPC's Assessment Rubric for Critical Thinking (ARC). Over the summer, Faculty Champions created an assignment that would be suitable for scoring with the ARC to support a second validation session in Fall 2008. SPC also participated in a pilot program funded by an National Science Foundation grant to develop a Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT) for higher education. Faculty Champions administered close to 100 tests and fifteen faculty members and QEP staff participated in a day-long scoring workshop that had a secondary benefit of identifying current student weaknesses and offered opportunities for discussing strategies to strengthen students' critical thinking skills.

ePortfolio

As suggested by the SACS Visiting Team, SPC further explored the options for using an ePortfolio system to collect artifacts college-wide to score using the ARC. Due to budget cuts and prudent rollout of new software versions, SPC decided to use two systems currently in place, with the option of implementing a new version of ANGEL with rubric and ePortfolio upgrades using the normal upgrade schedule. The first system is LiveText, currently in use by the College of Education, Nursing, and Business Technology. The second system is a drop box in the current ANGEL system to collect artifacts for manual scoring. During the summer CAT scoring session (see above), the benefits of collaborative scoring sessions became very evident, and the QEP team recommended continuing the practice with the SPC rubric.

Classroom Activities

The role of the subcommittee in this component is to monitor the formative evaluation of critical thinking activities developed by Faculty Champions and the Academic Round Tables (ARTs).

Student Activities

The Student Activities subcommittee took advantage of the national election to develop an college-wide activity titled, "The Great Debate of 2008," held on October 9th, 2008. The Ethics Faculty Champion, with considerable expertise in debates through years of coaching SPC's Ethics Bowl team, volunteered to recruit and train additional faculty coaches. The plan, developed by a subcommittee of faculty and student activities coordinators and chaired by the Tarpon Springs Provost, set up a debate on five topics using ten students selected in campus debates, coached by faculty and student political clubs, and implemented through four interactive classrooms streamed on the college Website to be available to all students. Electronic voting devices collected opinion data from students in the interactive classrooms before and after the event.

Professional Development Initiative

The Professional Development Initiative has three components.

Critical Thinking Institutes

SPC had two Critical Thinking Institutes (CTIs) in the Spring, one full day with external curriculum development expert Dee Fink, author of Creating Significant Learning Experiences, and one full day with critical thinking expert Gerald Nosich, author of Learning to Think Things Through. Dr. Nosich gave two workshops, one on General Critical Thinking Theory, open to all faculty and staff, and another on Teaching for Critical Thinking. Over 100 faculty attended each CTI and over 175 faculty and staff attended the general session. In the summer, SPC held a CTI "retreat" with in-house assessment and technology experts, which was filled to the 80-seat capacity. In addition, the fifteen full-time and adjunct faculty members and QEP staff involved in the CAT scoring session (see Student Success Initiative, above) determined overwhelmingly that the experience was an outstanding professional development activity and the QEP team recommended to QEP senior leadership that it be considered a professional development activity in line with CTIs. SPC developed ten "courselets," short, online modules providing instruction and examples for a variety of instructional strategies shown in research to develop students' critical thinking skills. The Fall Critical Thinking Institute occurred in November.

Train-the-trainer Faculty Champions

SPC appointed eight Faculty Champions, two from the QEC that were deeply involved in the QEP development process, and six from the pilot academic programs, Ethics, College of Education (Elementary and Secondary co-champions), Early Childhood Education, and Student Life Skills (two co-champions). New Faculty Champions were sent to a variety of professional development conferences with critical thinking emphasis: CAT Train-the-Trainer workshop at Tennessee Tech, Summer Critical Thinking Institute at Tufts, SACS Summer Institute in Orlando, and the Lilly Regional Conference at Michigan State. Faculty Champions participated in the ARC development, CTIs, the CAT scoring session, and the winter retreat. Six faculty champions led their discipline-specific Academic Round Tables, and all presented workshops for the summer or fall CTI.

Academic Round Tables

Four pilot programs, Ethics, College of Education, Early Childhood Education, and Student Life Skills, started Academic Round Tables to develop discipline-specific critical thinking activities, assessments, and reusable learning objects. The QEP Director developed a number of templates and checklists to provide consistency in the submissions.

Critical Thinking Resources Initiative

The Critical Thinking Resources Initiative has four components.

Critical Thinking Resource Centers

Critical Thinking Resource Centers for faculty and students were constructed at each of the four main SPC campus libraries that include a wide array of books and videos on critical thinking. The SPC Library developed a Web page of Critical Thinking Resources, including Websites, online journals, and eBooks.

Reusable Learning Objects

Blogging software was investigated as an option for a Reusable Learning Object (RLO) repository. Existing RLOs were screened to identify those promoting critical thinking skills.

Gateway Website

The Gateway Website was launched in the fall, including faculty resources for each initiative.

Instructional Portfolios

Discipline-specific Instructional Portfolios, in which critical thinking materials developed through action research by the Academic Round Tables, will be posted beginning in early 2009.