Two Pilot Projects to Enhance Student Education Receive Grants from UNC General Administration

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Two pilot projects designed to help University of North Carolina Wilmington students improve their critical thinking and written communication skills, as well as expand opportunities for students to get valuable internship experience, have received grants from UNC General Administration.   

“Competently Ready to Work,” a joint proposal by Watson College of Education technology director Jeff Ertzberger and associate professor Amy Garrett Dikkers, in partnership with associate professor Florence Martin of UNC Charlotte, is a fully online internship-readiness program focused on the six competencies sought by North Carolina employers: motivation, leadership, collaboration, professionalism, digital literacy and ethical decision-making. When the pilot is completed in spring 2016, the online modules will be published and available for use throughout the UNC system.

“We’re aiming to create the curriculum that any program across North Carolina could use to teach those soft skills,” Ertzberger said. The idea is to give students a foundation to build upon throughout their careers.

“A lot of people would say this is common knowledge,” he said, adding that research shows those skills do not always come naturally and need to be taught. “They need a starting place.”

“Critical Thinking, Deliberately,” proposed by Department of English Professor Cara Cilano, director of University Studies, and Colleen A. Reilly, professor of English and applied learning faculty associate, will heighten the visibility of and enhance instruction in critical thinking skills. The grant supports a three-course, campus-wide general education requirement that emphasizes integrative learning, concluding with a capstone course.

The program also ties into the UNC system’s efforts to impart the critical thinking and written communication skills employers want in new hires. Cilano and Reilly ultimately hope to develop an assessment protocol that empowers faculty to more precisely measure students’ achievement of lower- and higher-order critical thinking abilities.

The capstone, or culminating course, will teach students how to examine their previous coursework critically. Put another way, Cilano explained, “In which classes did I really learn how to examine my own assumptions? How did I learn that, and what did I learn?”

As they put their knowledge to use in the job market, students should begin to understand how critical thinking and communication tie into the core mission of a company or organization, and that those skills apply beyond the business world.

“We also see it as crucial to an informed citizenry,” Cilano added.

-- Kyle Brown and Tricia Vance