Eight things: reasoning, synthesizing

Photo of a mortar board and tassel on a stack of booksEditor’s note: This is the fourth of a four-part series on student learning outcomes, the focus of NIU’s general education requirements, in advance of the Jan. 29 General Education and Integrative Learning Symposium on campus.

by Michael Kolb

In the final installment in our discussion of Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), we address the skills necessary to problem solve and innovate.

Use and combine appropriate quantitative and qualitative reasoning skills to address questions and solve problems.

This outcome focuses on the ability to explain information presented in mathematical forms; the ability to perform calculations and present their results clearly; the ability to appropriately express a problem mathematically; and the ability to evaluate the reasonableness of a hypothesis, result or assertion based upon either quantitative or qualitative analysis.

Lauren Anglin, a freshman in actuarial science and finance and a Research Rookie, offers an excellent example of merging quantitative and qualitative analysis.

She is interested in the complex issue of how having children influences the productivity and values of corporate chief executive officers. Her research, mentored by Adam Yore, involves employing a combination of quantitative and qualitative data collection on more than 5,330 CEOs, as well as culling current literature on children’s studies.

Synthesize knowledge and skills relevant to one’s major or particular field of study and apply them creatively to develop innovative outcomes.

Photo of the U.S. Supreme Court building
The U.S. Supreme Court building.

This outcome measures learning across courses and experiences both within and beyond the classroom. The focus here is on making connections to field of study, adapting and applying skills, creating new knowledge and drawing informed conclusions.

The College of Law and the Department of Political Science have collaborated on an accelerated law degree in which a student majoring in political science can take law courses in their fourth year which will count both toward their undergraduate degree, as well as act as their first year in law school.

Through this degree, the student accelerates their education by one year, graduating in six years with both an undergraduate political science degree and a juris doctor.

“For a certain percentage of our undergraduates who are considering a law degree, it’s an exciting option,” said Matthew Streb, chair of political science. “This is a way for high performing students to earn two degrees, save money and start making a living sooner.”

The NIU program is for freshmen and transfer students who declare a “politics emphasis” within the Department of Political Science an opportunity to complete the accelerated law degree program, effectively synthesizing their knowledge of two particular fields as they complete one degree and initiate another.

In order to help our students become life-long learners, it is essential to teach them the skills in learning along with the theories and practice they’ll need for their careers. SLOs are intended to help gauge how well their general education has prepared them to be lifelong learners.

Once again, they are:

  • Integrate knowledge of global interconnections and interdependencies;
  • Exhibit intercultural competencies with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives;
  • Analyze issues that interconnect human life and the natural world;
  • Demonstrate critical, creative, and independent thought;
  • Communicate clearly and effectively;
  • Collaborate with others to achieve specific goals;
  • Use and combine appropriate quantitative and qualitative reasoning skills to address questions and solve problems; and
  • Synthesize knowledge and skills relevant to one’s major or particular fields of study and apply them creatively to develop innovative outcomes.

For further discussion on the future on NIU’s undergraduate curriculum, please join us for a symposium from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday,  Jan. 29, in the Capital Room in the Holmes Student Center. The keynote address will be delivered by Thomas Steen, director of the University of North Dakota’s Office of Essential Studies, an award-winning program in general education.

Michael Kolb is general education coordinator and professor of anthropology at NIU.

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