Minutes of the Meeting of the Undergraduate Council
September 28, 2010 as Accepted at Meeting of 10/12/2010

Present: Cynthia Dietz, Donna Di Donato, Arlene Feldman, Sarah Fuller, Rick Gatteau, Jeff Ge, Theresa (‘Tea’) Geckle, Kane Gillespie, Norman Goodman, Cheryl Hamilton, Roy Lacey, Anne Moyer, Scott Sutherland, E. K. Tan

1. The Minutes of the meeting of August 31, 2010 were approved as emended.

2.  The Minutes of the meeting of September 14, 2010 were approved as emended.

3.  New members of the Council were introduced. These are Theresa (‘Tea’) Geckle, a student representative, and E. K. Tan, a faculty member from Comparative Literature/ Cultural Studies.

4. There was general discussion about geoliteracy in the undergraduate curriculum, an issue raised by Cynthia Dietz, who has observed in the course of her work that an extraordinary number of students lack basic geographical knowledge. Responses to an email about this situation circulated to the faculty indicated that several faculty members within the CAS and the Library are interested in teaching a geoliteracy course. 

The quickest way to implement such courses would be to offer one or more first-year 102 seminars on geoliteracy. The topics of these seminars, which are regularly offered in the Spring, are freely chosen by the instructors. 

The Council will forward to the General Education Subcommittee a request that they include geoliteracy within general education requirements. It could be considered a ‘skill,’ on which all entering students would be tested.  Those who are insufficiently literate in geography would be required to take and pass a 100-level geoliteracy course.

Geoliteracy could also be included in interdisciplinary courses such as geopolitics, or in an Honors College 400-level interdisciplinary seminar.

Donna DiDonato offers to encourage 102 seminars on geoliteracy, and Kane Gillespie will investigate the feasibility of a three-credit interdisciplinary course on this topic.

There was general agreement within the Council that today’s students need to be informed about basic aspects of the planet’s geography and should possess fundamental skills in map reading and interpretation.

5.  Roy Lacey initiated a discussion about large class size. He had earlier circulated an article on the subject,“The Empirical Case against Large Class Size”by Joseph Cuseo, that summarized research on the adverse effects of large class size in terms of student learning and engagement (especially for first-year students) and that suggested some ways to deal with the problem of large-enrollment classes. Roy urged the Council to take a stand on the issue of large class size and to think about possibilities of dealing with the situation. Growth of class enrollments seems out of control at Stony Brook, with little thought for the consequences, or for how to manage teaching within large classes, or for ways of reducing ‘mega’ class sizes to just ‘large’ ones.  

Norman Goodman acknowledged that increase in class sizes has been an ongoing problem, but expressed skepticism that much could be done to alleviate the problem given the current fiscal climate and severe cutbacks in resources.

A spirited general discussion ensued, with all Council members deploring the drift toward larger and larger class enrollments and recognizing the benefits to student learning of smaller classes in which the students can be more directly engaged and in which they can receive more individual academic attention. The Council could take on the role of encouraging realistic action to reduce the number of classes with huge enrollments and of promoting improved instructional methods in large classes. 

Recommendations that seemed to garner general agreement were:
To ensure that all first-year students (U1) have at least 6 credits of study in classes of around 30 students or less.
To try to maintain a mixture of small- and large-enrollment classes in all programs through U2, U3 and U4 years.
To provide very large lecture courses with sufficient qualified staffing so that students will have relatively small recitation or lab sections of no more than 30.
To explore division of courses that now have exceptionally large enrollments into two or three separate offerings, so that each will have a more reasonable (although still large) enrollment.
To ensure that instructors teaching classes with large enrollments are trained in effective strategies for teaching such courses, so that the quality of instruction in them can be improved.
To engage Stony Brook’s Teaching, Learning + Technology unit in addressing the problem of large class sizes and in further developing and promulgating means of improving instruction in such classes.
To raise the awareness of the University Administration to the problem of increasing class sizes and to enlist their active support in reducing the number of mega-classes through provision of adequate instructional resources.

The report  “First Year Matters” generated a few years ago apparently addressed matters of class size, among other things. No one present knew what had happened to that report. We should track it down and find out if it has material and recommendations that could be useful for addressing the problem of burgeoning class sizes.

Donna Di Donato pointed out that small programs such as EOP/AIM, WISE, and the Honors College have had good outcomes in terms of student learning, and that small class sizes are critical to their success in this regard.

Respectfully submitted,
Sarah Fuller, Notetaker

Document Below from 9/28 meeting:

Article on Class Size by Joe Cuseo of Marymount College