The Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education (SEPCHE) is a collaborative community of eight independent colleges and universities in the Greater Philadelphia region. Collectively educating more than 22,000 students, the consortium advances teaching and learning through collaborative research, shared coursework and library resources, interdisciplinary conferences and professional development. Together SEPCHE works to improve the quality and efficiency of academic programming, student access, institutional operations and community outreach. The member colleges include: Arcadia University, Holy Family University, Cabrini University, Immaculata University, Chestnut Hill College, Neumann University, Gwynedd Mercy University, and Rosemont College.
Purpose and Goals
Four of the SEPCHE institutions—Chestnut Hill College, Immaculata University, Neumann University, and Rosemont College—are participating in the “Liberal Arts and the Professions” Teagle initiative. The purpose of the project is to integrate the liberal arts within specific business courses. In the SEPCHE colleges, with missions rooted in service, it is important to develop in learners: (1) the habits of critical thinking that foster sensitivity to multi-dimensional perspectives with a bias toward improving equity and (2) to expand in students a foundation for lifelong learning that furthers curiosity, creativity, empathy, and construction of meaning.
To these twin ends, SEPCHE business programs are using the lens of social impact to strengthen multi-disciplinary approaches to real world problem solving. The topic of social impact is a springboard to prompt broader perspectives on service in pursuit of the common good, enabling reflective examination of meaning and purpose.
More specifically, professional and liberal arts faculty are re-designing courses to include interdisciplinary examination of current issues and debates that underlie particular social innovations. Analyzing the value positions of organizations or innovations from various discipline-based perspectives highlights the complex interplay of all stakeholders. The faculty design experiential learning exercises that enable students to experience firsthand the biases that are inherent in business practices. For example, as they are taught concepts and business practices, the goal is to have students consider multiple perspectives automatically as a matter of habit such as: What are the motivations underlying a given business practice? Who may be positively or negatively impacted as a consequence of a given action? How do decisions impact all stakeholders in a given decision?
Students are asked to: (1) consult multiple perspectives in analyzing goals, contexts, key stakeholders and impacts and (2) collaborate across fields including psychology, anthropology, history, philosophy, political science, public policy, math and the natural sciences to problem solve case studies and situations. Students are therefore experiencing learning that challenges them to question multi-dimensional perspectives, such as the motivations, social dynamics, personal and societal biases, and historical and political developments contributing to current conditions. They are analyzing potential environmental and social consequences in their assessment of a given management practice or social innovation.
The overarching goals of this work are for students to demonstrate expanded use of multiple, disciplinary based forms of evidence informing decision making; rigorous multi-disciplinary thinking for a stated position; reflective capacity to synthesize and connect new learning in ways that impact personal sense of meaning, values and formation of professional integrity and conduct; and expanded complex communication and ethical reasoning skills.
Project Activities and Successes
Redesigning courses to meet these goals is no small task, and requires ongoing faculty support at regular intervals within a learning community. Dr. Christian Jernstedt is serving as a consultant to work with SEPCHE faculty on advancing course redesign using a cross-institutional learning community. This work helps to ensure alignment of student learning outcomes, curricular goals, assignments, and assessment measures.
To begin, chief academic officers identified campus teams comprised of liberal arts faculty and business faculty who would participate in the design and implementation of integrated business courses. In addition, chief academic officers identified the dean who would help to not only provide close support for faculty on campus, but also confer regularly with other deans involved with this project.
In each of the first two years of the project, two professional and two liberal arts faculty members from each institution gathered a total of eight times. One meeting at the start of the year supported planning, assessment and benchmarking of student work. Three meetings during the first semester enabled faculty to gather feedback and learn from peers and Dr. Jernstedt as they worked on their course redesign. Three meetings during the second semester helped faculty to troubleshoot aspects of course implementation. By the end of the implementation semester, faculty compared student exemplars and provided qualitative observations of changes in learning. An additional meeting at the end of each year enabled faculty, administrators, presidents, and Dr. Jernstedt to evaluate project progress.
In Year One, 8 courses were redesigned, involving 19 faculty members across Chestnut Hill College, Immaculata, Neumann, and Rosemont College. In Year Two, 7 courses were redesigned, involving 14 faculty members across those same institutions. Many of the courses are core business major requirements. Collectively, these courses have affected over 1200 students over two years.
For each redesigned course, faculty have provided 15 separate data pieces that document their process including: syllabus revisions; qualitative and quantitative student learning assessment data; interim and final reports; and reflections on the planning and implementation of their revised courses.
At Chestnut Hill College, for example, in re-designing Introduction to Business, faculty integrated a service learning project into the course, enabling students to work with staff at a community-based organization to help them develop a marketing plan. In reflecting upon how the course changed, sociologist Ryan Murphy noted,
Having our students volunteer with the One Less Foundation in Germantown, they were able to see the social impact that their work--as business students--could have in the larger community, and how they could/should ethically respond to all business decisions. Having students read and reflect on the sociological literature in light of business decisions was very important…it exposed how much more complex decisions would get if you bring in other, diverse perspectives. Talking to real people, and not just dealing with theoretical issues made [advancing complex communication skills] a reality. Students had to evaluate their choices/recommendations before, during, and after meeting with the community partner and those whom the One Less Foundation serves.
Further examples of how the courses have been redesigned can be found below:
Chestnut Hill College:
BUS104: Introduction to Business – Original and Revised
MGMT204: Organization and Mgmt of Human Resources – Original and Revised
ECO202: Principles of Macroeconomics – Original and Revised
BUS235: Business Computer Applications – Original and Revised
BUS250: Business Communications – Original and Revised
BUS309: Legal Aspects of Business – Original and Revised
BUS321: International Business and Trade – Original and Revised
BUS180: Introduction to International Business - Original and Revised
BUS350: Marketing – Original and Revised
BUS395: Advertising – Original and Revised
One student from Immaculata University said:
Many projects this past semester have shaped me into the professional I wish to become by making me think outside of the box and take into account other viewpoints.
Collaboration and Challenges
Collaboration, while at times challenging, can reap enormous benefits. The following value-added features of working across institutions have been reported: faculty’s shared sense of purpose; shared enthusiasm; ethic of generosity and active learning habits; involvement of adjunct faculty contributing to shared learning; and maximizing resources and support. Further, collaboration allows for some consistency while also respecting and retaining faculty autonomy.
One faculty member from Rosemont College:
The activities of this project are…helping us work on our courses in a reflective and structured way so that this will be consistently practiced across the College. For example, if two or three business courses are going to be redesigned, the positive is that they will be redesigned in a consistent way according to the design of this SEPCHE-led program.
Challenges do exist to this rigorous redesign process: complex coordination both within and across campuses, varying levels of communication among disciplines and across the lines of authority; leadership turnover; and data collection documenting the revision and implementation process.
One revision made to increase communication was to have monthly meetings of the deans in business and liberal arts/sciences. These discussions have advanced not only this project but other areas for possible collaboration in the future.
Another challenge for the business department remains the workload for the few key faculty members who have been engaged in the course redesign. Hindsight suggests some benefit in broader initial onboarding of the department to generate immediate enthusiasm and buy-in to the process.
Dissemination and Sustainability
Faculty are using a variety of platforms for sharing their course redesign content, such as blog space, websites/meetings, and shared course and co-curricular events in which students and faculty can share discipline-based perspectives on the same topic.
In the first year of the redesign and implementation, SEPCHE held a consortium-wide, faculty-led professional development program reaching over 80 faculty members, deans and chief academic officers that enabled participants to engage directly in the process of redesign using their own syllabus. In the second year, this professional development program reached over 68 faculty members.
This project has tremendous built-in sustainability, assuming the courses will continue to be offered in their redesigned format. As one faculty member stated, “We are very optimistic about the ways in which business as a discipline is interacting with other academic centers, as we are developing a generation of faculty at the College who are now engaging in interdisciplinary thinking with regard to business and the liberal arts.”
This SEPCHE work demonstrates a significant model whereby small colleges in geographic proximity can leverage course redesign to improve programmatic quality and outcomes to scale.