In the spring issue of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program’s Time to Write newsletter, Professor Sara McKinnon was featured for her work with the REACH initiative. The article by Mike Haen described how Sara redesigned Communication Arts 260 (“Communication and Human Behavior”) with assistance from Theresa Pesavento from Strategic Learning Technology Consulting (SLTC).
Since the lecture course regularly enrolls 240 students, it fit well with the REACH (Redesigning for Active Learning in High-Enrollment Courses) initiative that aims to improve student learning by increasing students’ engagement in large introductory courses. The Comm Arts 260 redesign included replacing one in-person class day per week with interactive online lessons in Canvas; adding writing workshops and peer reviews; and repurposing the remaining in-person class sessions for group case study discussions. Writing assignments were also updated to improve student engagement and help students develop transferable skills.
“The course is structured around real-life, discipline-based skills. We spent a lot of time thinking through what types of professional work these students might eventually engage in and ways to make this course an opportunity for practical application of those writing and critical thinking skills,” Theresa explains. “Students learn how to give writing feedback, convey research to a non-academic audience, and analyze various modalities of communication. It’s a very hands-on experience, and students are reporting that they’re enjoying the course!”
Theresa also works with the Department of Chemistry as part of the REACH initiative. Currently, General Chemistry I and II (Chemistry 103 and 104) and Advanced General Chemistry (Chemistry 109) are all at different stages of the redesign process. While chemistry and communication arts are very different disciplines, they share a commitment to student success and team collaboration.
“In order to create the best possible learning environment for our undergraduates, these REACH teams have reorganized aspects of their department infrastructure, approaches to working together as teaching colleagues, and mentorship of new instructors,” Theresa shares. “The result is a comprehensive and deeply invested instructional team that supports the students’ learning.”
Since work began on the REACH initiative in 2015, 46 courses have been redesigned and an estimated 15,378 students have enrolled in one or more of those courses. The impact to campus is now even being felt physically with classrooms in the revamped Chemistry Building designed to work well with REACH, as explained in the recent news article “Construction begins on $133 million revamp of Chemistry Building” by Eric Hamilton.
“There’s a lot of momentum around REACH” explains Sarah Miller, service leader supervisor of Faculty Engagement and SLTC. “And we learn more with each each new instructor, each new course and each new department we work with.” Sarah is one of the three REACH tri-leads and works closely with the other two tri-leads who are Ivy Corfis, professor in the College of Letters & Science’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Brian McNurlen, assistant director of Learning Technology & Distance Education for DoIT Academic Technology.
In partnership with schools, colleges, and the Office of the Provost, the REACH initiative is co-sponsored by the Educational Innovation (EI) Initiative and DoIT Academic Technology. Visit the REACH webpage for more information.