(Approved Graduate Council 3/3/04)
The graduate increment is the work required of graduate students to distinguish their learning experience from that of the undergraduates in a course where both participate. Graduate education is significantly different in scope and depth from undergraduate education and is not to be looked upon as merely a 'quantity' of education exceeding that received in an undergraduate program. While a perfect solution would be to keep graduate and undergraduate courses separate, this is often not possible due to limited resources. Therefore, we endeavor to make mixed graduate-undergraduate courses function as well as possible. The choice of a well-crafted, appropriate graduate increment forms the foundation for a successful outcome.
The hallmarks of a successful graduate increment are:
(a) it is specific in what it expects from the student. The work required of graduate students should be clearly detailed in the syllabus or other course supporting materials;
(b) it requires a higher level of sophistication / synthesis from the graduate student; and
(c) it supports the specific outcomes and competencies we are trying to develop in the graduate program. Ideally the graduate increment will help to prepare the student for work as an independent researcher, a teacher, or a creative professional.
The following examples are graduate increments sampled from the course approval forms received in Fall 2003. Each increment is provided with commentary. The comments provided below are guidelines only; individual courses and their graduate increments will still be evaluated as a whole and in context. These examples are a starting point in what we hope is a systematic effort to improve the use of the graduate increment.
"A research paper on a topic related to the class that covers material
not otherwise addressed."
Requiring graduate students to go beyond the regular course material on their own is laudable; however, there is no guidance as to the amount of work required or that this represents a significant extra effort on the part of the graduate students.
"A presentation to the class based on research done that relates to the class, but is not otherwise covered."
The commentary here is similar to that of the first example. The length of the presentation and the preparation work should be significant to justify the graduate increment. The presentation should not be used as an alternative to teaching by the faculty member.
"Regularly leading a group of undergraduates in discussion."
This is a poor increment as it implies to at least to some extent that the graduate student is being used to teach the class rather than the faculty member. This is, of course, quite appropriate for a TA but not a graduate student taking the class for credit. It is not clear if the quality or the quantity of the discussion leadership is being assessed.
"A creative project that is more complex than that expected from undergraduates."
This would be an excellent example of a graduate increment if only the term 'more complex' could be defined. An example of a more complex project given in the course syllabus would be very helpful.
"Graduate students will be expected to complete a longer research paper and an annotated bibliography."
There are problems with the term 'longer'- how much longer? Is 'longer' necessarily better? Does 'longer' mean 'more of the same' in comparison to the undergraduate expectations?
"ECG Assessment: Graduate students will be required to spend at least 10 hours working in a cardiac rehab center or with a cardiologist to evaluate ECG's. They will also be required to write a paper on a focused area of ECG interpretation."
This example clearly defines the expectations for the graduate increment. Specific performance objectives are given.
"Extra reading and writing assignments"; "Two extra 7 page papers"; "An extra marketing plan"
These examples runs counter to our belief that graduate education is fundamentally different to undergraduate education and is not merely 'more of the same.'
"A 10 - 12 page term paper addressing a current management issue, focusing on land use planning on public land, is required. The paper will be of publishable quality, including an introduction, literature review, presentation of the issue, discussion of the significance for management, conclusion, and references to literature cited."
Outstanding! Clear performance objectives; a requirement for synthesis / sophistication and clear presentation.
"Develop a research design for the study of the ecology of a mammal species using the methods discussed in class."
An excellent example wherein the basic knowledge gained in the class has to be used by the graduate student in a specific application.
"Grading will be done on a separate, more rigorous scale. An extra assignment is required, i.e. a 20 minute oral presentation, case, etc that is geared to meet the student's interest."
The objections here may be debated at length and there is, perhaps, no correct answer. The problem lies in using a separate 'more rigorous' grading scale. The function used to generate a letter grade from a score should be the same for all students in the class. If more rigorous performance is required from the graduate students then 'more rigorous' assignments should be given.
"Graduate students will complete two additional assignments: a teaching demonstration related to one of the strands of reading that has been used with students in the field placement during the semester and a research paper (8 - 10 pages) that addresses some topic related to the teaching of reading that will be presented to the class."
An excellent graduate increment that is specific in detail and tests on competencies uniquely expected of graduate students.
"Graduate students will complete a critical review of a book about the...?"
An excellent graduate increment provided that the undergraduate students are not expected to do something similar.
"Assigned work and examinations for graduate students, though overlapping, are more extensive and will probe the ****** theory more deeply than those for undergraduate students."
Excellent. It is better to get a graduate student to perform at a higher level by setting a more difficult task than to expect superior performance on a more mundane task. The evaluation methods should be tailored to the performance being evaluated.
"Graduate students will be required to write more extensive papers and to teach at least one class session."
Ignoring the use of the ill-defined 'more extensive papers', using a non-TA graduate student to teach a course (unless the course specifically involves teacher training) is a poor use of a graduate student. Having graduate students give presentations to the class is quite acceptable although as the percentage of the total class contact time given by graduate students increases the approach becomes less reasonable. The latter point remains a judgment call for the particular faculty member teaching the course to make in the context of providing a sound graduate increment.
The University of Montana
Missoula, MT 59812