July 1, 1996
College of Education Restructures
Last year the College of Education at UW-River Falls was chosen as one of the 11 best in the nation.
So, what is it doing for an encore?
As of July 1, the college absorbed graduate studies at UW-RF and became the College of Education and Graduate Studies. The changes have not stopped there, however. The Graduate School has become the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, added programs and departments, and is reviewing its longstanding academic offerings to ensure they keep pace with new directions in teacher education.
It's also in the midst of a planning process that will lead to groundbreaking next year of a new $6.5 million building to replace the aging and outmoded Ames Teacher Education Center.
The restructuring is in response to the University's "Reach for the Future" strategic plan that is positioning the institution for the 21st Century. The structural and funding review exercise was undertaken by the administration, faculty, staff and students last fall to reallocate resources as the institution faces the challenge of an explosion in information and revolutionary changes in instructional technology.
Equally significant, according to Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau, is an eroding of the University's traditional funding base, which necessitates greater streamlining of administrative structures and academic services, as well as development of new funding sources.
"Working within the framework of the University governance structure, we've strengthened our undergraduate and graduate programs to better serve all of our students," said Thibodeau. "We are gaining both in our organizational structure and in our program strength. It is a real win-win situation. It has energized our faculty, and the result will be that our students will be better served."
Dean Kathleen Daly said the changes, which were approved by the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, will help the college fulfill its historic mission. That dates back to the founding in 1874 of the State Normal School at River Falls to train teachers for the northwest.
"Restructuring the College of Education to include the Graduate School and two professional studies departments, along with our new building, will allow us to integrate community service with high technology. That will assure that our graduates will be able to teach and work as life-long learners and citizens in a constantly changing, pluralistic society," Daly said.
The changes are designed to strengthen and solidify the College's "constructivist" approach to education, Daly said. That philosophy advocates a dynamic creation of understanding which will educate teachers to require their students to be active participants in their education, rather than passively waiting for those teachers to "fill" students with knowledge.
"Part of this is about developing childrens' higher level thinking skills, through project-based learning supported by technology." It also relies heavily on the College's strong working relationships with surrounding school districts.
Involving practicing teachers in designing the College's curriculum, assisting in teacher education field experiences, and exploring teaching strategies, such as through the use of telecommunications, will ensure young people are well-served, Daly said.
"We are primarily interested in answering the 'so what,' questions: Does this work? Are children learning?" Those are crucial questions to be asking at a time when there are lively public discussion on new methodologies, such as a reliance on technologies, or whole language, or other teaching strategies.
"The bottom line is whether our children are learning."
That philosophy is not surprising. The College has been a national leader for decades in teacher education. It was cited by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education for the quality of its field-based experiences that places student teachers into real classroom environments.
And last year it was chosen by the National Education Association as one of the 11 best programs in the nation. The college was just one of two that was cited for excellence across the breadth of in its entire program based in part on its use of new technologies and its exceptionally strong collaborative relationships with regional school districts.
Daly said that national prominence will be enhanced by some of the additional changes, including the transfer from the College of Arts & Sciences, the Social Work program and communicative disorders. Both will be placed into the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, with an upgrading of communicative disorders diagnostic suites in the new building.
The changes will also impact on the College's traditional departments of elementary education, professional studies and secondary education, counseling and school psychology, and health and human performance.
Adding the two newest departments will enable the College to explore the creation of a regional Outreach Center for client services with the completion of the new Ames Teacher Education Center, according to Daly.
The dean noted that schools and communities are increasingly required to provide intervention services to young people and families. There is a natural relationship between professional education programs such as counseling and school psychology, and professional programs like social work, and communicative disorders as a unit, Daly said.
"Schools are increasingly doing social work," she noted. "We must treat families holistically. The chances are that when you are dealing with a troubled child, you are probably dealing with a troubled family."
For UW-RF students, the outreach program will provide clinical and field experience that directly mirrors the realities that educators are confronted with daily, the dean noted.
"Our approach will be unique," she added.
The College's restructuring also will allow its faculty to review academic offerings, particularly at the graduate level, where education majors account for over 80 percent of the enrollment.
Daly noted that a review now underway of graduate courses will provide professional education to help educators progress as life-long learners from beginners to master teachers.
As part of the process, the College will look at increasing the efficiency of how classroom resources are deployed. Daly noted, for example, that numerous graduate level courses include sections on theories of test measurement statistics. An interdisciplinary approach will enable students to learn the content of testing in one combined section, and it will allow faculty to devote more class time to other topics.
The consolidation of disciplines also will be applied at the graduate level for students in shared internships or practicums who will work in multidisciplinary teams in dealing with families holistically.
In another innovative move, the College will be responding to national trends of viewing education as a "seamless" process, a position that is also being advocated by a Wisconsin Superintendent of Public Instruction task force. This approach would mean erasing the "artificial lines" drawn between elementary, middle and junior high and high schools as designated grade levels.
Taking an approach that relies on interdisciplinary, integrated teacher training will lead to those teachers having a broader perspective as they view the educational progress of children holistically rather than by their graded levels, Daly noted. An important outcome of such teacher training, the dean said, will be more collaboration between K-12 teachers.
"That has real implications for how we educate future teachers."