Transitioning Back to the Faculty

Looking Back

My final year as Director of General Education (GenEd) has been a busy one and I have fallen behind on my blog posts. After five years as director, I feel a sense of satisfaction — that I’ve made some worthwhile improvements: introducing Course Coordinators to bring consistency to large, multi-section GenEd courses; freshening the inventory by launching “Limited Edition” GenEd courses; and, encouraging a data-driven approach to decision making, including the introduction of dashboards to make the data more accessible.

Flaws remain in Temple’s GenEd program, unsurprising when you consider it launched in 2008 — 15 years ago. Just to give one example, the waiver system put in place when GenEd was created exempts science majors from GenEd Science & Technology classes, and art and music majors from the GenEd Art, but not political science majors from GenEd US Society, or sociology and anthropology majors from GenEd Human Behavior, although transfer student can use introductory classes in those fields to satisfy their GenEd requirements.

Fixing this and other remaining flaws requires a reappraisal of the entire program. I have called for an external review of Temple’s GenEd program. The self-study is nearly complete; the reviewers will visit Temple in February. The job of working with the faculty and administration to weigh and implement the reviewer’s recommendations will fall to my successor.

Looking Ahead

I return to teaching in Fall 2023, but first — sabbatical! This spring I will devote my time and energy to coming up to speed on the applications of machine learning to geophysics, my research specialty. Machine learning was not “a thing” when I was a graduate student, but the geoscience literature exploded during the five years I was in the administration. I am looking forward to having the time to read papers, complete tutorials, and experiment with applying these tools to my own data sets.

Machine learning techniques can be applied to university data as well. I recommend the book, Big Data on Campus to get a sense of the possibilities, as well as the potential ethical pitfalls. That these methods can be applied both to my scientific research and to finding patterns in university data doubles their appeal to me, because whether working as an administrator or faculty member, I remain deeply committed to the improvement of students’ general education experience at Temple University.

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