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05/17/94

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COMMISSION ON UNDERGRADUATE EDUCATION LOOKS AT ADVISING, TECHNOLOGY

STANFORD -- The Commission on Undergraduate Education is recommending that efforts be made to increase faculty involvement in advising students and to enable faculty to make use of technology in teaching, said history Professor James Sheehan, commission chair.

In its meeting Monday, May 16, the commission focused on the issues of advising and technology.

Only about one-third of freshman advisers are faculty members, Sheehan said, with the remaining advising slots filled by university staff, lecturers and graduate students.

The commission hopes to "introduce some incentives and rewards to make advising a more recognized part of a faculty member's obligation," Sheehan said. As it stands, he said, advising is completely voluntary, "like giving to th e United Way. If you give just a little, no one complains, and if you give a lot, you don't get any reward."

As part of improving student advising, the commission will recommend the expansion of the sophomore seminars, which offer opportunities to groups of three to five students to explore an academic discipline with a faculty member . "We believe mentoring often flourishes in a small-group environment," Sheehan said.

The commission also will recommend that greater efforts be made to make it clear to students what advising entails. "We think students may have unrealistic expectations," Sheehan said, such as believing that an adviser will hav e a detailed knowledge of the entire curriculum.

A student may not realize how difficult it is for a well-meaning historian to master all the levels of the chemistry department, for example, Sheehan said. In such cases, he said, often the best thing an adviser can do is send the student to an expert for detailed advice - perhaps to someone in a particular department or to the Undergraduate Advising Center.

On the question of technology, the commission's Subcommittee on Techniques and Technology in Teaching and Learning conducted a survey of faculty and found that only a minority use technology because many faculty members don't h ave the knowledge or the time to learn it. However, Sheehan said, faculty members indicated an openness to the possibilities of technology, and the commission will recommend that the university explore ways to enable faculty to learn w hat technology is available and how to use it.

It is very important, Sheehan said, "that technology be seen as part of an effort to improve teaching, not as an end in itself. Some people fall in love with machines," he said, "but machines are the means to an end - they serv e the fundamental purpose of improving the quality of education."

Sheehan noted that President Gerhard Casper, in his state of the university address May 12, had announced the formation of a standing Commission on Technology in Teaching and Learning.

"The train is moving," Sheehan said, "and we can't wait to get aboard."

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