SFA Review Process

Approved Oct 4, 2019 by the Core Science Committee.

Peer review process for the Science For All program at Georgetown University

This document describes the process of course approval in the core natural science requirement program, commonly known currently as the Science For All program. The Main Campus Executive Committee (MCEF) established this program in collaboration with the Main Campus Core Curriculum Committee (MCCCC) with the final approval by the Provost. The CSC committee operates as a subcommittee of the MCCCC. Note that all departments and programs providing these courses are represented on the CSC.

Background: The Science For All program arose from the ambition of the university to provide education for all undergraduate students on the Main Campus in at least one natural science course. Additional math and/or quantitative science requirements are subject to other programs. Given the administrative burden on the CSC members, the review process is completed once a year in the fall semester for courses offered in the next academic year; the first time in Fall 2019 will be for courses to be offered in AY 2020-2021.

Necessity of course review: The review is mandated by the MCEF/Provost resolution where the selection of the committee membership is also given.

The MCEF/Provost resolution stipulates joint approval of each Science For All course by the respective deans and CSC. We recognize that the hiring and supervising of instructors for Science For All courses stays with the respective deans and chairs. Therefore, CSC will focus on commenting and recommending1. It is anticipated that these comments will play a crucial role to improve the quality of the courses and contribute to the goals and guidelines laid out in the MCEF/Provost resolution that established the Science For All program.

Goals and process of the review process: Our goal is to offer unbiased, objective feedback to instructors, and it will be provided anonymously by the committee. The committee will know the evaluator(s), but the review will be provided from the committee as a whole. Each review will include a brief description of the review process. Feedback will be provided to the instructors, their direct administrative supervisors, and their respective dean. If there is ambiguity about who the administrative supervisor is, then more than one such person will receive a copy (e.g. a program director and a department chair, as appropriate). The instructor shall include the list of administrative supervisor(s) as part of their submission.

General points of the evaluation process:

1. The goal is to provide the instructor(s) with comments as to whether their course satisfies the goals of the SFA program. This will include the degree of scientific content, the complexity and depth of the scientific content, and the balance of societal/ethics/policy with natural science content. The committee’s review can request responses and feedback from the instructor. These can be subject to further comments and evaluations as appropriate by the committee. A maximum of two iterations (one corrected resubmission) is planned to preserve efforts by instructor and committee.

2. The committee strives to provide a broad range of courses. It is recommended that excessive overlap with existing courses be avoided. The list of SFA courses offered in the last two years will be maintained on the SFA website.

3. The committee will pay particular attention to the learning goals established in the MCEF resolution2. However, each course is unique, and the evaluation should not simply offer a checklist of the learning goals. A course that is particularly strong in part of the goals should still be approvable except for the key element of balance listed under #1. Laboratory components, if significant, will be considered a plus.

Communication within CSC and with the Georgetown faculty community: This document and instructions for submission are available on the SFA website. Summaries of approved meeting minutes (without confidential information) will also be posted to the website. Documents will be protected by GU NetID. The committee will access submitted documentation through a shared Google drive, accessible only by the committee and Vice Provost for Education’s office.

The review process:

1.  The CSC distributes the submission rules and deadlines to the community through an open invitation to chairs, program directors, deans, and all TL and FTNTL faculty. The CSC website maintains this information year-round. 

2.   The CSC receives the proposals via a secure website that keeps instructors’ materials confidential.

3.  In its first review meeting, the CSC assigns two reviewers to each proposal. At least one reviewer is a member of the CSC committee, the other reviewer may be any tenure or full time non-tenure line faculty member or another CSC committee member. Both provide written reviews by a deadline determined each year by the committee. Anonymity of the reviewers will be maintained, similar to some federal science review processes.

4.  CSC members cannot review proposals with which they have a conflict of interest (COI).  This includes review of their own course or proposals for additional sections of a course s/he teaches, as well as other sources identified by a CSC member or the instructor of the proposed course.

5.  The written reviews are uploaded for all CSC members to view.

6.  In its second review meeting, the CSC summarizes and approves the review text to the instructor(s). The following recommendations are possible: approved, conditional approval subject to specific requests, request for resubmission with revision, not approved. These summaries will be shared with the instructor(s) and their supervisor(s). The review will not reveal or suggest the reviewer’s names. 

7.   Multi-section courses should submit only one proposal if the content and instructor are the same. 

8.   Courses with more than one instructor should submit only one proposal under the name mutually agreed by the instructors.

9.  In the case of “request for resubmission with revision”, the review will be shared with the instructor only but not with their supervisors. In a final review meeting, the CSC will make recommendations about the proposals submitted in the second iteration. The second review will be distributed to the instructor(s) and supervisors. If no second iteration is received for a particular proposal, the supervisor(s) are notified and the text of the first review and recommendation is shared with them.

The review process will be evaluated yearly and any changes will be voted on by the committee members for approval.

The following additional guidelines have been accepted by the committee at its March 20, 2020 meeting: 

Courses with approved SFA attributes fall in three categories.

Group (1) General introductory courses that are part of a fundamental sequence for natural science majors. Once SFA approved, these courses will remain approved from year to year. If any of these courses undergo major changes, the committee may request a re-submission for SFA approval.

Group (2) Other SFA approved courses do not need re-approval from year to year except for circumstances having to do with major changes in the course. The information requested from Chairs/Prog Directors is under Administrative Aspects below.

Group (3) New courses will need SFA approval.

Administrative aspects:

Group (1) The committee assumes that these courses will go forward with SFA attributes except when the committee learns about major changes. Then the Chair of the committee will discuss the question with the Chair of the respective department/program for possible resubmission for SFA approval.

Group (2) What triggers a re-submission? Given the large number of SFA courses, the Core Science Committee will quiz each year the respective program directors, directors of undergraduate studies or department Chairs about their SFA course offerings and ask them to state the changes in these courses by responding to our questions. Depending on the answers to the three questions below, the committee will decide if a new submission or explanations are required for the continuation of the SFA attribute.

(a) Is there a change of instructor (except for cases when the original submission already indicated that the course is being taught by specific alternating instructors)?

(b) Are there major changes in the focus, in the syllabus of the course or in the approach or in the natural science material covered?

(c) Are there significant changes in the experimental component of the course (e.g. field work, laboratory component, classroom experimental demonstrations)?

[1] The charging document uses the term “approval by CSC”, but given the final authority of the dean in the matter we use “recommend” in this document. It is anticipated that the CSC recommendation will be heeded by the dean.

 [2] Learning Goals from the MCEF resolution:Successful completion of a course satisfying the core natural science requirement should significantly advance students’ progress toward the following learning goals: 

·         To understand the basic principles and some current research challenges of one or more areas of science.

·         To understand science as a set of methods of inquiry that involve forming and testing hypotheses through the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data. 

·         To consume and interpret scientific information with critical understanding of the balance of certainty and uncertainty that research findings inevitably reflect.

Overall these courses will strive to give students a sense of the complexity of natural systems, the volume of evidence that scientists obtain and study, and the breadth and depth of scientific theory and analysis.  And as with all core courses, these courses should help students connect the subject matter of the course to broader contexts such as ethical, social, and both national and international policy and social issues. In addition to the obvious examples of physics, chemistry, and biology, this includes the geosciences and emergent interdisciplinary fields such as neuroscience and environmental sciences, as well as others.