Work Begins on New AQIP Action Projects
Create a more environmentally sustainable NMU. Enhance the campus climate for scholarship. Improve and expand online learning. These are the three “action projects” Northern will pursue this year as part of its continuing commitment to the Academic Quality Improvement Program (AQIP). AQIP provides an alternative process for universities to maintain their accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, with an emphasis on continuous quality improvement.
The projects were among 20 proposals submitted for consideration. Cynthia Prosen (Academic Affairs) said feedback was solicited online and through presentations to representative campus groups. Sustainability, which held the bottom position after an initial ranking, surged to the top three after the process was completed.
“Many people said that sustainability fits in nicely with the ‘Northern Naturally’ theme and is the right direction for the university to take,” Prosen said. “Students in particular latched on to 'green' initiatives. It’s not just about recycling or growing food. There’s a lot of teaching and learning potential in the classroom related to sustainability. Universities across the country are becoming more environmentally conscious and some have developed sustainability degree programs.”
The project to enhance scholarship will determine the level of scholarly activity taking place at NMU, identify existing barriers – Prosen said faculty members most often cite a lack of time, not money, as the primary roadblock – and explore measures that will make it easier for faculty to engage in scholarship and involve more students in their work.
Prosen said the online learning project is motivated in part by the changing demographics of prospective students. Her recent analysis of graduate students revealed that they tend to be older, “place-bound” adults with families who can’t make regular trips to campus.
“We have to determine how we can offer an education to them in a way that accommodates their lifestyle,” she added. “We’re also finding that people want programs, not just classes, offered online. But it’s not just a matter of placing content online. We have to look at quality in addition to quantity and make sure the online courses are up to the standards we expect of traditional course offerings.”
Prosen said Northern also will focus efforts on the campus infrastructure to make online learning courses more accessible to students and easier for faculty to offer.
The goal with each of the three action projects is to analyze what Northern is doing and take “baby steps” toward doing it better.
“It’s not about fully changing how we do things in a year’s time – it’s about striving for improvement,” Prosen said. “We’ve tried to be realistic in what we hope to achieve in each of these areas.”
In the annual report she submitted to AQIP last week, Prosen indicated that NMU met its goals for three previous initiatives related to advising, outcomes assessment and the Superior Edge. Having successfully launched these projects, Prosen looks forward to implementing their next steps.