Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has a very interesting history. The university traces its roots to 1838 when the Medical College of Virginia was created. The Monroe Park campus can trace its roots to 1917 when the Richmond School of Social Economy was formed to help train social workers and public health nurses. In 1919, the name was changed to the Richmond School of Social Work and Public Health. In 1939, the name was changed again to the Richmond Professional Institute (RPI). Later, in 1968, Governor Mills Godwin signed a law merging RPI with the Medical College of Virginia establishing Virginia Commonwealth University. So, as an institution, VCU has a very long history. However, as a university, it is very young.
click here for a brief history of VCU
click here for a history of the MCV campus
Another important factor that distinguishes VCU is that, in addition to being very young as a university, VCU has grown rather dramatically over the last forty years. Much of this change and growth has occurred in the last fifteen years and is directly the result of a very successful strategic planning process that is outlined below.
One of the primary objectives of the strategic plan that was unveiled 1992 was to establish the University as a leader among the nation’s major research universities. In accordance with this strategic theme, VCU has become a Carnegie I doctoral granting research institution more than doubling the amount of grant funding it receives annually to over 200 million dollars. In addition, it has positioned itself as a leading metropolitan university —one which seeks to actively engage and support its host community.
(click here to see both Phase I and Phase II of the 1992 Strategic Plan).
In 2005, VCU created the VCU 2020 planning commission that worked on creating a strategic plan for the next fifteen years at VCU. The result, VCU 2020: A Vision of Excellence, creates a vital document that reaches to all parts of the University. A central focus of VCU 2020, and one that lies at the heart of the Faculty Learning Community Program, is outlined in Theme II: to Achieve National Recognition as a Learning-Centered Research University that Embraces a World-Class Student Experience.
Recognizing the need to focus on the learner’s experience, the Strategic Plan urges a shift in focus from “teaching” to “learning” in all classroom experiences. Rather than conceiving of research and scholarship as activities that take away from students’ opportunities to learn, the University recognizes that the learning process of our students is central to everything we do as a university. Teaching, research, service, and clinical care are all “learning” activities.
As is also detailed in the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), this shift to a learning-centered university compels faculty to revisit and revise their teaching methods with at least two specific objectives in mind:
- to accommodate the increasing number of students in the classroom and
- to ensure that each student participates as an active learner in the classroom
This shift to a learning-centered research university has profound implications for large enrollment classes which are increasingly common on both of VCU’s campuses. VCU’s rapid growth in student enrollments has dramatically changed the delivery of instruction within the institution.VCU’s enrollment has grown from 21,681 in the fall of 1996 to 29,349 in the fall of 2005. Now, general education, and sometimes even upper-division classes, are taught in large classrooms that can contribute to the student feeling anonymous and disengaged from the teaching and learning experience. The need to prepare faculty to engage students actively and regularly exists as never before.
As a learning-centered research university, VCU will bring the resources of a major national research institution to bear on the learning opportunities of it students, especially in large classes. VCU will recognize that creating significant learning experiences is the primary mission of the University and as such, VCU will strive to make all activities of the University directly support the creation of learning. As a result, VCU will prepare students to thrive in a complex, interdependent, diverse, and constantly changing world, and to be prepared to continue learning throughout their lives.
One element of the newly revised SACS accreditation criteria is the creation of a "Quality Enhancement Plan" (Core Requirement 12). The Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) is a course of action for institutional improvement that addresses one or more issues that contribute to institutional quality, with special attention to student learning. The QEP is a significant component of the reaffirmation of accreditation process and should be designed to demonstrate a capacity to address significant issues and aspirations.
During the summer and early fall of 2002, the SACS Leadership Team selected “Student Engagement with Learning” as the theme for VCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan for the following reasons:
- Student engagement has proven to be the single most important factor leading to quality student learning.
- Student engagement is a chronic challenge at most urban universities
- VCU’s National Survey of Student Engagement data will provide quantitative baseline data against which to judge the impact of the QEP
- According to SACS criteria, “engagement” is directly related to the improvement of student learning
- A focus on student engagement encompasses other student learning themes
- student engagement with the learning process
- student engagement with the object of study
- student engagement with the subject matter
- student engagement with the social, cultural, and civic dimensions of the community
Since its inception, the CTE has always operated from the belief that VCU has an outstanding faculty body with a rich and vast knowledge base. We also believe that faculty members are best equipped to identify and resolve most issues associated with teaching and learning—not administrators, parents, or students. Unfortunately, VCU faculty are not always aware of what their colleagues are doing. We feel that this is symptomatic of a larger issue—a weak sense of academic community. Given these circumstance, we believe that one of the best ways to help enable faculty to resolve their academic issues while at the same time, building a sense of community, is through Faculty Learning Communities (FLC’s).
In general, FLCs consist of 8 – 16 faculty members who come together to address issues associated with either a topical area such as Teaching Large Classes or Teaching with technology, or they can be centered around issues that pertain to a specific cohort. FLCs participants meet biweekly for a year or more. Participants typically work on both individual teaching projects as well as on group projects (such as this online resource guide, papers and presentations, or professional development workshops and seminars. For more information on FLCs, please go to http://www.units.muohio.edu/flc/index.shtml
The CTE initiated the Faculty Learning Communities Program in the spring of 2005. The first FLCs at VCU were created to address issues associated with teaching large enrollment courses. The CTE sent out an announcement in February of 2005 to recruit interested faculty. We received such a large number of applications that we set up two FLCs on Teaching Large Classes. In addition to individual teaching projects, participants from both groups agreed to collaborate on the development of this Online Resource Guide for Teaching Large Classes at VCU.
The creation of the Faculty Learning Communities on Teaching Large Classes, like the creation of this on-line resource guide, are both important steps in exploring VCU’s opportunity to become a national leader in teaching large classes. The development of faculty learning communities that enhance the faculty’s ability to effectively engage each student, the maintenance of opportunities for undergraduate and graduate student interaction and research initiatives, and the active mentoring of teachers of large classes will help continue that process. For more information on the FLC program at VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence, please click here.
This Online Resource Guide for Teaching Large Classes at VCU is the result of a collaborative effort between seventeen faculty from a wide range of disciplines. The resource guide is meant to be a convenient source of information and resources for anyone who is teaching a large class at VCU. One of the first questions that most people ask is, “What constitutes a large class?” To this we answered, “A class is a large class when it is bigger that you anticipated, or bigger than you are used to teaching.” The FLC participants collectively decided on the topics to be covered and the order in which they would be covered. This preface was written to give the reader a good idea of the institutional context in which VCU faculty teach. The bottom line is, VCU is aspiring to become a Learner-Centered Research University. Therefore, this online resource guide is designed to help faculty prepare to teach a large class with learner-centered strategies in mind.
For more information on Leaning-Centered Teaching, please see the following links:
VCU Fact Book
Richmond City FAQs