Davidson College is in the process of renewing its accreditation to the Southern Association Colleges of Schools Commissioned on Colleges, better known as SACSCOC. This association is the regional accrediting body for every school in the Southeastern United States. With the SACSCOC accreditation, Davidson students’ diplomas have value outside of the so called “Davidson bubble.” During this procedure of reaccreditation, which occurs every ten years, the college must also present a Quality Enhancement Plan, also known as a QEP.
Based off of the last QEP, significant improvements were made to the Davidson’s writing program, including the writing center and separate WRI category classes. A committee of faculty, staff, and student representation has been formed to create a new QEP for the upcoming process of reaccreditation. Dr. Trent Foley, a professor in the Religion Department, Ela Hefler ‘17, and Joshua Attias ‘17 have been active members of the committee.
This year’s QEP will focus on beginner-level classes leading to majors in what the QEP committee calls the quantitatively-oriented departments, which include biology, chemistry, physics, economics, psychology and mathematics/computer science. Hefler explains the reasoning behind the focus: “One of the guidelines of the QEP is that it has to be data driven…That presence of data is part of why we picked the STEM fields because a lot has been written about inclusive pedagogy in the STEM fields, but also because a disproportionate amount of Davidson students do at least take 1 STEM class at Davidson…We see about 80% of Davidson students taking these classes.”
Additionally, paying attention to the natural sciences, the QEP plans to implement practices of inclusive pedagogy into these “gateway” courses (beginner courses that lead to the given major itself). These pedagogical practices to be incorporated into classes include free writing for five minutes before a test to relieve one’s anxieties or reevaluating group work and whether or not groups members are more effective when they are assigned by professors or chosen by the students.
These pedagogical practices are meant to be inclusive of every student, but have a particular focus on improving the classroom experience for traditionally underrepresented students. One of the goals of the QEP, according to Hefler, is that “it will make [the classroom] more conducive to learning irrespective of your identity or your background.”
Foley explains the reasoning behind the QEP committee’s intentions to focus on underrepresented students: “One reason we are doing this project is because we’ve observed a sometimes significant grade point differential between our majority white and certain groups of students of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos. And that differential doesn’t seem explicable based solely on differences in high school preparation. If you look at an SAT score, for example, you can see for each student what final grade it maps to in a particular course. Our preliminary findings suggest that in many courses—and perhaps most—white students get the higher grade with the same SAT score. Our job is to try to explore why that is so and to see if there’s something we can do in the classroom to close that GPA differential”
The committee plans to start the implementation of the QEP as early as this summer. Committee members plan to hold a workshop in May for the English, Biology, and Economics Departments to educate and exercise inclusive pedagogical practices. The QEP is an ongoing and evolving document; through it, no member of faculty will be forced to use a certain type of pedagogical practice, but rather each will have the discretion to use whatever practices he or she believes will best benefit students.
The ultimate goal, however, remains the same across all departments. Helfer explains, “There is a hope that [the QEP] will continue to bolster all students so we will still be successful in some of our goals if all students are succeeding, even more successful if all students begin to succeed at the same level.”
The members of the committee continue to insist that a conversation about creating a better classroom environment for all students is important. Attias states, “There is need of concern this, and I think eventually [the faculty] will see why we are addressing this, and I hope they will be willing to…learn and change some of their methods.”
In addition to informing the faculty of the QEP, the committee has been in communication with the SGA members and consistently takes their suggestions into consideration. It is important to note that the QEP is not set in stone; there exists plenty of room for student input. As Foley commented, “We are open to—and want— student input on this. In particular, we’ve got to name this QEP and we’d like to give it a catchy, memorable name that captures the type of learning that students will experience, one the replaces our current ‘inclusive pedagogy’ moniker, which is something faculty do.”
The QEP is designed to benefit all students, not just those who are traditionally underrepresented. Helfer (firstname.lastname@example.org), Attius (email@example.com), and Foley (trfoley@ davidson.edu) welcome any and all feedback or questions about this process. Helfer emphasizes the importance of contact between the committee and the student body: “This isn’t the last chance [for input]. This is a step in the communication process that says, ‘keep your eyes open for this.’”