Catherine Kunce

Program for Writing and Rhetoric

Course context:

An upper-division writing course, Now and Then, the West involves a commitment to ten hours of visiting the elderly in a nursing home and documenting via reflection reports on students’ experience.

Target of improvement/evidence:

This spring semester, I taught an upper-division service/learning writing course for the second time. The first time I taught the class, I noted (via FCQs) that students were not fully appreciating the connection between their “learning” and their “service” in our service/learning course. Moreover, I detected a disjunction between what I felt to be the value of the course and what students felt to be its value.

What did you do?

I redesigned my syllabus to include into it the key words that carried the weight of central goals of the class. Of course, the redesigned syllabus was handed out at the beginning of the semester. I also conducted pre- and post- course surveys and made tag clouds of the results. On the first and last days of class, I had students fill out the survey. The questions:

What do you think is essential knowledge for a service/learning course?
What do you think is worthwhile knowledge for a service/learning course?

What difference did it make?

Wow! Although I have not yet received back my FCQs for a final verification of what I think happened, the tag clouds reflected the paradigmatic shift I had hoped for—in fact, the result was more than I hoped for. Evidence: Pre-survey results revealed that coming into the course, students thought “essential” service/learning to be academically imposed notions of learning. Words like “research” and “knowledge” filled the page. By the post-survey, students were actually showing attitudinal blossoming, by including words like “fun” and “passion.” My PWR cohorts corroborated the shift from more restrictive ways of thinking to higher order thinking as evidenced in the tag crowds.  For their classes, what students originally thought was only "worthwhile" became "essential" knowledge.

Faculty from Geology helped me figure out ways to make the work of compiling the tag crowds more efficient.  Rather than collating the results by typing out each student's keywords, I can have students post them to CU Learn and cut and paste results to upload keywords to a tag cloud site.

The tag crowds visualized paradigmatic shifts in students' thinking about service/learning.  What students thought at the beginning of the semester was only "worthwhile," became "essential" by the end of the semester.  More importantly, some "clouds" disappeared, and "open-mindedness" was born--the word taking up the largest space on the tag-cloud survey result page.  I was truly amazed.

I used the pre-survey results to let me know what core-concepts were missing from students’ minds.

What did you learn?

Redesigning a syllabus to match student expectations with course key concepts takes a long time. But doing the pre- and post- surveys with tag clouds is relatively quick and fun and useful.

Sharing with colleagues? Resources:

My cohorts and I will ask our Program director for ways/time to share this wonderful FTEP Assessment experience with our colleagues.

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