How can a degree qualifications profile create a better geosciences workforce?

May 20, 2015

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Several important discussions in higher education over the last few years have focused on creating clear, high quality academic pathways to help students become educated participants in our democracy and to meet the needs of the nation’s economy. The need for these pathways is more important than ever because over half of all students attending community colleges and other two-year institutions are classified as nontraditional — first generation citizens, adult workers and low-income students, many from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

As a way to align higher education goals with workforce needs and to create clearer pathways for traditional and nontraditional students, the Lumina Foundation for Education, in partnership with hundreds of other institutions of higher learning across the United States, created the Degree Qualifications Profile. The goal of the DQP is to provide faculty with a framework for creating high quality programs and structured pathways for students seeking an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in a specific discipline so that they can succeed in today’s rapidly evolving economy.

The DQP organizes learning into five core indicators or reference points: specific knowledge, broad and integrative knowledge, intellectual skills, applied and collaborative learning, and civic and global learning. Each of these reference points aims to provide performance indicators as students successfully progress from the associate level towards their bachelor’s or graduate level credentials.

Why would an institution want to implement a DQP? According to the Lumina Foundation for Education, a DQP:

  • Provides structured reference points that allow faculty to articulate and better align institutional and departmental learning outcomes and assessment practices.
  • Offers academic and career advisors a framework to better explain the structure and cohesion between general education, departmental and college-wide learning outcomes.
  • Gives 2-year institutions and community college students a structure and transfer path that aligns associate, bachelor’s, and graduate level credentials.
  • Offers ways to strengthen articulation agreements between institutions of higher learning based on the reference points mentioned earlier.

Evaluation and implementation of the Degree Qualifications Profile

The Geosciences Department at Salt Lake Community College chose to focus on the geography and geospatial technology programs for the DQP because of the current development of the programs. Additionally, these programs have integrated effective use of electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) and other high impact pedagogies, including learning communities, project-based assessments and capstone and undergraduate research throughout the curriculum. The department’s goal for implementing the DQP was to develop a student-focused, learning-centered model for students so that they could be more intentional in their academic pursuits, specifically in geography and related geospatial technologies. The model offers clear goals and outcomes defined by national and industry-driven standards and competencies.

The program’s geography courses follow the newly updated Geography for Life standards outlined by the National Council for Geographic Education and the National Geographic Society. Other information on standards was acquired from The Road Map Project, developed by the NGS, NCGE, the American Association of Geographers and the American Geographical Society.

Courses that focus on geospatial technology are aligned with the Department of Labor’s Geospatial Technology Competency Model, which was updated in 2014.The department used the DQP indicators as a lens through which students could focus their learning in order to meet national and industry standards and competencies.

Through curriculum mapping at the program level, along with evaluating current articulation agreements with other 4-year institutions of higher learning within Utah, faculty in the department realized that only a small core of courses directly articulate with geography programs at these other institutions. Faculty decided that a clearer academic path was needed to help with student completion rates and transferability from SLCC to other 4-year institutions within Utah.

At the same time, restructuring the Geography AS degree provided the department the opportunity to include several geospatial technology courses as part of the core offerings, and to remove courses that did not provide pathways to completion and transferability. By removing courses that did not directly transfer to other geography programs within the Utah Higher Education Systemand adding several geospatial technology courses, students who complete SLCC's new Geography AS degree will also graduate with a Geospatial Technology Certificate of Proficiency. The certificate gives students the courses they need to successfully transfer to a 4-year institution and to acquire a professional credential that will make them highly marketable in the workforce.

The Geosciences Department used the core indicators of the DQP to evaluate what students at the associate degree level would need to know and which skill sets they would need to be able to apply to successfully complete and transfer from SLCC to a 4-year institution within Utah. This could be done at a course and program level by quantifying learning outcomes based on each core indicator. To quantify the core indicators, the department developed a simple DQP matrix and series of data spider webs to visualize the strengths and weaknesses of the geography program.

The result of the DQP audit and degree mapping was a restructuring of the Geography AS degree that provided students a strong academic foundation grounded in core principles of geography and geospatial technology that aligned with national standards and competencies, while providing a better-rounded, high quality framework structured by the DQP process. Embedded within the associate degree is the department’s Geospatial Technology Certificate of Proficiency credential. Along with general education courses required by the college, the core of the Geography AS program now includes:

            GEOG 1000: Physical Geography

            GEOG 1300: Regional Geography

            GEOG 1400: Human Geography

            GEOG 1780: Remote Sensing of Earth

            GEOG 1800: Mapping Our World

            GEOG 1820: Intermediate GIS

            GEOG 2100: Cartographic Principles

            GEOG 2920: Spatial Analysis

            GEOG 2990: Geography Capstone

The figure is a representation of the restructured Geography AS degree as a result of the DQP analysis. The department believes students going through the program should develop broad and specialized knowledge along with key technological and critical thinking skill sets to help them successfully transfer to 4-year institutions. 

Interestingly, the analysis also showed that civic and global learning was the weakest core indicator for the program. This may seem odd for a discipline that prides itself on tackling global issues until you understand how the data for this core indicator was collected and measured. Most of the courses offered in the geography program examine civic and global issues and have ePortfolio signature assignments that encourage students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of these issues.

The only courses that would have the highest scores for civic and global learning would be service learning courses. Before the DQP assessment, the geography program had no service learning courses. As a result of this analysis, the program is restructuring two of the core courses to provide service learning opportunities for students. One service learning course will focus on human geography, while the other will focus on physical geography.

At the same time, over half of the program is geospatial technology-based, utilizing satellite and aerial photography, geographic information systems and global positioning systems. These courses are very specialized and focus more on applied learning and less on civic or global learning. In the future, the department would like to create a service learning course for one of the geospatial technology courses. 

As part of the process, the Geosciences Department reevaluated and modified program level and course level ePortfolio signature assignments. In many ways, a student’s ePortfolio is an academic space wherein they can demonstrate their knowledge and skill sets. Using ePortfolios as a high impact practice gives the program a vehicle for assessment and encourages students to demonstrate what they have learned through the DQP core indicators.

A new capstone course was created as a way for students to learn core theories in geography and geospatial technology, along with organizing artifacts in their ePortfolio before transferring to a 4-year institution. This will allow students the ability to demonstrate their body of knowledge and skill sets to their transfer institutions of choice.

To demonstrate the work produced by the DQP, the department created a website as a way to provide electronic documentation of the Geography program's DQP, and to provide an online resource for other programs nationwide who wish to implement the core indicators of the DQP within their field of study. Over the coming months and years, the website will contain program and course level learning outcomes, ePortfolio signature assignments related to geography and spatial science, as well as other DQP-focused resources related to curriculum and pedagogy. All of the content will be licensed as Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

The National GeoTech Center for Excellence will be hosting a webinar called Integrating a Degree Qualifications Profile within a Geo-related Program on Wednesday, May 20th at 2:00 (ET).


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