SGA to discuss fee to push innovation and blended learning

SGA to discuss fee to push innovation and blended learning

SGA to discuss fee to push innovation and blended learning
February 09
21:28 2014

Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer 

Two years ago, a freshman spent $200 on three textbooks that he never opened.

Now a junior and an Student Government Association senator for the College of Business, Adam Hasley doesn’t feel like this is just his problem. He realized the fact-memorization model of learning was simply outdated, and now he’s introduced a referendum that he thinks will help teachers do more with their class time.

“If you go to a class and all you do is read a power point, and you write down everything on the power point, and you get tested on the power point that you were supposed to write down and memorize, well, what are you actually learning from that?” Hasley said.

Hasley’s referendum would add a $5 charge to tuition per student per semester. That money, an estimated $400,000 per year, would be used by teachers to innovate their classrooms and incorporate online teaching methods. If the referendum passes SGA, it would also have to be voted on by the students before going into effect.

Fact memorization vs. blended learning

Hasley said the goal is to help move classes from learning based on fact memorization to more of a blended model. Students would receive the information they need online and come to class to apply it – a model some universities are already using. For example, engineer students might build projects or business students could examine companies.

“So many times, our tuition dollars have to go to what is known and there’s not really room to explore new things in this environment because money is so tight,” he said. “It’s been very difficult for universities to justify trying these things if they’re spending every dollar meeting the bare minimum requirements.”

To come into effect, the referendum must pass SGA, and then it will be put to a student vote. It will then need approval from university president Neal Smatresk, who will bring it before the Board of Regents for a vote. Finally, it will have to be approved by the governor’s office.

Student body president Zachary Brown said SGA will discuss the bill during their March 5 meeting at 5:15 p.m. in Wooten Hall 122. At the last meeting, Brown said he hoped as many students as possible could be there to hear discussion on the bill.

“It should be a pretty big discussion,” he said.

The money would be controlled by a seven-person committee comprised of two undergraduate students, two graduate students, two faculty members and a staff member. Hasley said he proposed this structure because it’s small and the numbers are such that students will always get what they want if an issue is divided between student and faculty.

Because the referendum hasn’t gone into effect and isn’t certain to do so, Hasley said he hasn’t extensively searched for people to sit on this committee or for teachers who would have specific use for the money.

Is the fee redundant?

UNT does have several programs run through the Center for Learning Enhancement, Assessment and Redesign that attempt to innovate the classroom, CLEAR director Patrick Pluscht said.

Next Generation Course Redesign, funded at about $75,000 per year, specifically select faculty members to redesign undergraduate courses. Since 2004, more than 200 faculty members have helped redesign 377 sections in which more than 20,000 students have enrolled.

The Transformative Instructional Initiative, funded at between $20,000 and $30,000 per year, helps teachers explore new ways of teaching face-to-face and online. The Learning Enhancement Grant, funded at about $60,000 per year, is an annual grant to help develop online and blended courses.

The Transformative Instructional Initiative and Learning Enhancement Grant are both funded by the provost’s office, although all three programs are administered by CLEAR.

Provost and vice president for academic affairs Warren Burggren and Pluscht both said they were glad to see students willing to pay for a better education, but they are skeptical that this fee is the best way to do it.

“I am actually not in favor of another additional, ad hoc fee to the students in this form,” Burggren said. “More important is a general tuition increase, not another small fee on top of many others. This gives UNT much more flexibility to improve all aspects of the student experience, not just classroom innovation.”

Burggren said during the last round of tuition increases, UNT committed to spending $1.5 million per year on physical classroom improvements. Also, UNT already has technology use fee – at $13 per credit hour – sewn into tuition that is spent on getting new and better hardware for classrooms.

However, Hasley’s proposed fee would more than triple the estimated amount of money dedicated strictly to improving the way class material is taught.

Feature photo: University of North Texas Student Government Association Logo. Graphic courtesy of UNT SGA

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