Strategic plan implementation on track

Penn State is one year into its current five-year strategic plan, and much progress has been made in implementing the strategies associated with the plan's seven goals. About half of the plan's roughly 40 implementation strategies were addressed in this first year; the remainder are scheduled to be addressed starting in the second or third year of the plan.

Changes in information technology in the libraries are some of the most tangible changes to be experienced by students. According to the IT strategic plan update, the University Libraries has raised funding for phases one to six (out of eight phases) for the Knowledge Commons, which will provide enhanced library and technology services on the first floor of Pattee Library on the University Park campus. In October 2009, the new Maps Library and GIS instruction room opened on the ground floor of Pattee Library. The new Foster Auditorium, equipped with state-of-the-art media equipment, and a Reading Room will open this month. The next phases of the Knowledge Commons will include a multimedia classroom, collaborative workstations, group studies equipped with self-service technologies, video and audio production centers, and improved consultation services. Construction on that part of the project will begin early in 2011 and be completed by the end of that year.

The knowledge commons concept has been in full operation in the Boskov-Lakin Information Commons of the Thun Library at Penn State Berks since 2001, and information commons elements have been designed into new facilities at York, Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre. The University also has launched a renewed effort to stress the consolidation of library, learning and technology support services in renovation projects at several campuses, and plans to carry the knowledge commons concept into future campus library planning at all locations.

Another major accomplishment is the transformation of the Office of Global Programs, a key step in achieving the University's goal of realizing its potential as a global university. This strategy addresses the need to provide centralized coordination of Penn State’s international activities. Specifically, the strategy is to create a central repository of information, consolidate within a central unit to support the global strategy, provide greater focus for Penn State’s international partnerships, and build an information infrastructure capable of supporting and enhancing the University’s global reach.

According to the plan update provided by Michael Adewumi, vice provost for Global Programs, the implementation team had several major accomplishments relating to Penn State’s global web presence, including the link from Penn State’s home page to a Global Penn State page, the launching of the Global Reach GIS Portal, the Education Abroad GeoBlog portal featuring Penn State students around the world, a UOGP blog featuring messages from the vice provost and other international administration leaders and a link from the Penn State Live Hot Topics drop-down menu. The Global Penn State link connects from Penn State’s home page to all global initiatives at the University, including both administrative and academic links, which makes it much easier to see, access and engage in global activity.

"Several other goals related to operations have been fully accomplished, including office and management restructuring, and the establishment of protocols for public relations, information technology, human resources and international risk management," Adewumi said.

Another key achievement in the past year has been work done to improve instructional productivity. "We need to understand that the most important resource we have is our faculty. How we utilize our faculty, and how they contribute to the overall program of instruction is a very, very important issue for us," Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Rod Erickson told faculty in a meeting about the strategic plan this past spring. The need for improvement in this area is written into the strategic plan, and progress has been made on that front, specifically related to faculty workload policy, under-enrolled courses and utilization of classroom space.

Regarding faculty workload, new policy states that "Academic units must develop clearly articulated and easily accessed policies regarding faculty assignments and expectations" and that "the executive vice president and provost, as the chief academic officer of the University, shall review and approve all college and campus workload policies." All workload policies are due in Erickson’s office this fall. The approved policies will be posted on college and campus websites, as well as that of the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment, by January 2011.

According to the progress report related to instructional productivity, unit-specific data on under-enrolled classes have been shared with all deans and chancellors with the request that they, in turn, share these data with department heads, directors of academic affairs, and others involved in scheduling classes. These data will be tracked going forward with the expectation that colleges and campuses will keep under-enrolled classes to a minimum, thereby increasing both faculty productivity and student learning. As Erickson explained to a group of graduate students recently, information-sharing during classroom discussion is a key enhancement to the learning process. If there are only a very few students in the class or seminar, the opportunity for sharing different points of view on a topic is diminished. "Having under-enrolled classes is not only bad economics, it may be poorer education in many contexts," he said.

The scheduling of classes also will see some changes related to the strategic plan. As Erickson told faculty in the spring, "We simply can't schedule all classes between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. It just doesn't work." When faculty condense what had been a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule into larger time blocks on Monday and Wednesday only, it disrupts the utilization of the facilities. "Plus you've taken students out of the opportunity to have that extra half-period that they'd be able to take some other class," Erickson said. Unit-specific data has been distributed to all deans and chancellors and will be tracked going forward, with the expectation that colleges and campuses will distribute classes more evenly across all days and class periods of the day.

Among the other goals addressed in the first year of the plan are:

-- the expansion of learning outcomes assessment and improvement of key student transition experiences to further enhance student success;

-- the expansion of the World Campus and other online educational offerings, using technology to expand access and opportunities; and

-- the enhancement of the College of Medicine's research and clinical capabilities in Central Pennsylvania to enable efficient collaboration among faculty at Hershey and University Park and also to provide medical care to Penn State employees, which is directly related to the goal of controlling health care costs.

"Our implementation task forces are doing good work. The changes they're implementing in both academic and administrative areas will make the University stronger and more efficient," said Erickson. "Some changes will take longer to implement than others, but we intend to keep the University community informed of our progress along the way."

For more information about the University's strategic plan, visit http://www.psu.edu/president/pia/plans/ online. Later this fall, the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment will launch a comprehensive Web site listing each goal and implementation strategy, with easily navigable links to progress updates for each strategy.

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Last Updated August 05, 2010