Sam Matson flashed a picture of two rocks on the wall-size screen in front of about 100 students taking his Introduction to Physical Geology class. Which rock, he asked, is volcanic?
The students picked up their clickers. Results were on the screen within moments, and 76 percent chose the correct rock.
That tiny teaching moment reflects a sea change in how Boise State University is educating students, beginning this school year.
After more than three years of study and discussion, Boise State launched its Foundational Studies Program this semester. The program focuses on moving beyond pouring facts and theories into students’ heads with a structure that makes critical thinking, innovation, teamwork, effective writing, and communication essential outcomes of classes.
That means, for example, that students taking a geology class should come away with a deeper understanding of what science is and how it works. “Understanding the process of science is just part of being a responsible citizen,” Matson said.
The program reaches across all disciplines in the undergraduate curriculum. Implementing it cost $600,000. The university funded the program largely by finding savings elsewhere and reallocating money, said Sharon McGuire, vice provost of undergraduate studies.
Jamie MacMillan, executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, says Boise State’s move is an example of “transformative” education. The foundation awarded the program $50,000.
Boise State embarked on the change after faculty began looking for ways to provide better instruction, McGuire said.
The university looked at programs elsewhere as it crafted the new approach. McGuire said the university found none that had done what Boise State is doing, a “go big or go home” effort at institution-wide change across an entire curriculum at once.
The new curriculum was influenced by the concerns of business leaders who worry that students aren’t ready for the workplace, in part because they lack essential understanding of teamwork and communication, McGuire said.
Boise State faculty and administrators listened to university President Bob Kustra, who talked about the need to revamp education for the 21st-century student who requires a faster approach than previous generations needed to keep engaged.
And they tried to define what an educated person should be.
“It’s not just about learning a field or discipline,” said Lisa Brady, associate professor of history. “It’s about how all the information we are exposed to every day is connected.”
Foundational Studies is reshaping how classes are taught.