No Red Flags in General Independent Study Review

Concurrent with its probe of the department of African and Afro-American studies, the University did a general study of policies and practices in independent studies courses across the College of Arts and Sciences.

It found no misconduct in the review that started in September and ended in the spring, but it did make recommendations for tightening oversight of nontraditional course work.

The review, chaired by Bobbi Owen, senior associate dean for undergraduate education, looked at expectations concerning assignments and contact hours with instructors; conditions under which an active, approved traditional course might be taught in a different format; and conditions under which a course might be taught as directed readings before being approved for a permanent course number.

The committee found that some units had processes in place for independent studies and that some had none at all. In fall 2011, 2,355 students were enrolled in 421 classes defined as independent study. This includes not only the “traditional” definition of the offering — a one-on-one course of study shaped jointly by the student and an instructor — but also honors theses, service learning, internships and undergraduate research.

Guidelines already in place limit independent study to six credit hours in a single semester and no more than 12 that can count toward graduation. The courses must have some end-of-course assessment, although this does not have to be a traditional final exam.

The committee recommended the guidelines be expanded in that expectations concerning student assignments and contact hours with the instructor should be recorded in a formal learning contract that includes understandings of effort expected, meetings with the instructor, assignments and due dates, and grading. It also said special topics courses, which enable new or visiting faculty to offer new courses quickly — sometimes called experimental courses or directed reading — should not be considered independent study.

Karen Gil, dean of the college, said in a letter that her office “has found no significant problems” beyond those identified in African and Afro-American studies.

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