Dissecting the U-Engage assignments

Posted on January 18, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

As I have previously stated a skeleton version of the U-Engage syllabus was presented to all instructors and therefore we did not have to create assignments or create our own learning outcomes. There had been a great deal of time and energy put into the course design and I want to acknowledge this. At the same time I feel the need to share my professional reflections on why certain assignments were included, what worked and what didn’t.

Experiential activities reflect heavily on theories surrounding involvement and engagement. Getting new students to research and recognize the various resources, both academic and social/community, available to them on a college campus is very important. Making involvement a first-year classroom activity helps to compensate for the lack of time available for students to truly research such opportunitites at campus visit days and orientations. The academic component provide structure and direction for students who don’t know about all the services available to help them succeed in the classroom. It fits very well into learning outcomes 2 and 4. The social component helps to promote OSU’s mission to develop the intellectual as well as overall wellness of students.

Fireside chats were a great way to showcase OSU’s commitment to the first-year student experience and therefore make them aware that they mattered to the university. By having people in top leadership positions come and speak, students were witness to the thoughtfulness, openness, care and genuine concern that OSU staff and faculty have for students. This assignment helped solidify learning objectives 1-3. In addition, it promoted the development of listening and writing skills in U-Engage students and provided them with a venue to engage in thoughtful question design and have their comments and concerns addressed by key university officials.

Reading Quizes were included in order to ensure that students were doing the assigned readings and comprehending the information. With this being said, I believe that they asked questions that were too specific and therefore only frustrated students, who could not recall the exact details they had read. The situation was only compounded by the fact that the lectures were designed as a series of presentations, many times by guest speakers,  and therefore it was hard to go over the material to be tested upon in class. In the future, I would recommend making the quiz questions more generalized or planning on spending the first five minutes of lecture going over the highlights for the week so that students have a better understanding of what they will be tested on in recitation.

Quick-Writes gave students a chance to reflect on how the things they were learning about could be applied to their lives. I think that this was a very important piece of the course. It not only helped students to recognize that knowledge is subjective based on their individual ways of utilizing the information they are learning but it also made them realize that their opinions and thoughts matter. While some may have been used to merely being a sponge in high school and absorbing information; college was going to be different; here they were expected to contribute to running dialogue on how to succeed as a first-year student. Which brings me to…

The Mid-term Paper was a very challenging, over ambious task. I believe in holding new students to high standards in order to create a sense of confidence in their academic abilities, however this paper was a bit too much of a challenge. As a first-year graduate student, I had difficulty understanding Chickerings vectors and I’m not surprised that first-year students were often confused by what they entailed and how they could go about addressing their own development within them. I think the portion of the assignment which required the creation of a timeline for the next four years and the setting short and long-term goals would be great to keep. Students who spend time analyzing what they want to gain from their time in college and who plan ways of doing so are much more likely to recognizes the sacrifices they will have to make to meet their goals, mobilizes resources to do so, and succeed. Having students write a paper where their own personal experiences as well as those from the book and lecture must support their ideas was helpful in promoting the change from students as only knowledge seekers, to students as knowledge providers as well.

I would like to try and create a mid-term paper that incorporated the essential elements above within the context of Tinto’s theory regarding academic and social system involvements. I am aware that Tinto’s theory and model are also quite complex, but I think the basics would be easier to understand because of the lack of vectors. Students could speak about their current formal and informal academic performance, faulty interactions, extracurricular activities, and peer interactions. They could also set goals to improve upon all of these factors based on information from the readings and lectures and talk about how their previous personal experiences either confirm or contrast with Tinto’s theory.

The final project was designed to allow students to synthsize all the information they gained over the course of the term. It provided students with the opporutnity to work on both their teamwork and presentation skills, both which would be vital to their success in college and beyond. Once again students were allowed to be seen as knowledge providers which further stresses the values/mission of OSU and those of a research institution in general. Much like the paper, students could chose what information they thought would be most useful but they had to back up their claims. This process sought to confirm that college requires an ability to move past dualistic and multiplistic thought and settle into a stage of analysis and reflection, where students recognize the subjectivity of knowledge, can compare and contrast viewpoints and chose which ones can be well supported by others as well as themselves.

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