Embracing LEAP in Kentucky

Kentucky’s postsecondary efforts are guided by a five-year strategic agenda, Stronger by Degrees. This guiding document, organized around the themes of opportunity, success, and impact, highlights eleven high-level objectives. One of those objectives is to promote academic excellence through improvements in teaching and learning. Another is to improve the diversity and inclusiveness of Kentucky’s campuses through the statewide diversity planning process and related initiatives. The work of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has provided guidance and foundational support for both objectives.

Kentucky’s Public Postsecondary Education Policy for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion creates statewide definitions, developed from AAC&U’s Making Excellence Inclusive initiative, and highlights the role of high-impact practices in closing achievement gaps. The Council on Postsecondary Education continues to affirm diversity, equity, and inclusion as core values in its statewide strategic planning process. As such, the diversity, equity, and inclusion policy is completely aligned with the statewide strategic agenda, even sharing some common metrics.

The state’s objective for academic excellence centers on LEAP principles, including authentic assessment of student learning and preparation for twenty-first-century challenges by strengthening essential learning outcomes (ELOs). It also promotes pedagogical training and professional development opportunities for faculty and recognizes the critical role that faculty play in student success.

Given the importance of academic quality in the statewide agenda, the Faculty Collaboratives initiative has jump-started the thinking around faculty’s role in student success. In communicating with faculty across the state, Kentucky’s faculty fellows concluded that the best way to reach out and engage faculty is to start with everyday tasks that are important to them. Therefore, one possibility is to focus attention on in-depth discussions about signature assignments. Statewide faculty professional development going forward could focus on linking those signature assignment discussions and high-impact practices to increase student success.

Faculty conversation and collaboration initiated at these professional development events could continue on a faculty innovation hub and at local, regional, and statewide workshops. One idea proposed by the faculty fellows is the KEI program (Kentucky’s Educational Innovators, pronounced “key”). KEI faculty would be pedagogy experts and could serve as valuable resources for colleagues who wish to become more involved in national initiatives. In time, more of the state’s faculty members could become actively involved in teaching and learning communities throughout the state and in various national initiatives.

The LEAP framework helps connect the dots at the state level. The state’s general education transfer policy is based on LEAP ELOs. Some public institutions are participating in AAC&U’s Multi-State Collaborative to Advance Student Learning Outcomes, which uses authentic assessment to evaluate the ELOs of written communication, quantitative literacy, and critical thinking using AAC&U VALUE rubrics. In short, Kentucky has embraced LEAP and its focus on student engagement and deep learning.

While the various initiatives are tied together at the state level, the key to success will be “connecting the dots” for faculty. Faculty, who are often not involved in state-level policy discussions, may view these initiatives as disparate and disconnected. Or they may not see a direct connection to what they do in their classrooms. An innovation hub would not only connect faculty with initiatives and related resources but would also connect faculty with one another. An online professional learning community could be quite helpful in advancing the state’s student success efforts.

Kentucky is committed to student success, and faculty play an essential role. Kentucky’s Council for Postsecondary Education will continue to work with institutions to focus on what’s important to faculty—teaching and learning—and emphasize the role of faculty in student success.

Molly Dunkum, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Western Kentucky University; and Tracy Knowles, Professor of Chemistry and Environmental Science Technology, Bluegrass Community and Technical College

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