I can’t believe how quickly half of the Spring semester has flown by! There is a lot going on in the world of General Education at Plymouth State University and I’m going to try to take advantage of Spring Break to write some blog posts about our activities. But before I write about Gen Ed activities generally, I want to write about the INCAP class I’m teaching and the experiences we’re having.
The INCAP course is called Signature Project, using the word “signature” in the way that AAC&U uses it in “signature work.” Students take the course as juniors or seniors when they have completed the majority of their General Education program. Each section of the course will focus on a different issue and students will engage in the development of a project that addresses the issue. A signature project:
Is transdisciplinary: The project integrates knowledge from multiple disciplines and sources to create something new that could not be created without all of them.
Is completed collaboratively: The project is large and complex enough that it requires input and work from more than one person to be successful.
Is student-driven: While faculty, staff, and community partners provide guidance and coaching, student agency and independence move the project forward.
Requires metacognitive reflection: Students reflect on what and how they learn and how their learned knowledge, skills, and dispositions might be transferable to other contexts.
Reaches beyond the walls of the classroom: The work of the project touches the world outside the classroom in some way.
Has an external audience for project results: The results of the project are presented to someone who is outside of the class.
Is completed ethically and respectfully: Work on the project engages internal/external audiences and/or partners with mutual bienefit.
My particular section is called Designing Online and Face-to-Face Experiences for New PSU Students. There are six students in the class–1 senior and 5 juniors. Five of the students are Communication and Media Studies majors who have all had me for classes before and the sixth student is an English major who has never had me before but who has been involved in open pedagogy projects and presentations so we knew each other a bit before the class started. One of the challenges of offering these kinds experimental courses is finding ways to let students and advisors know that the courses are available. They don’t show up in DegreeWorks, our main tool that students use to pick their classes. We haven’t solved this problem and so most (all?) of the sections in the pilot have students primarily from one or two majors related to the instructor’s primary area of teaching.
We started the class with the students recalling their own application process for becoming members of the PSU community. We also met with members of the admissions team at Plymouth State University in each of the first 3 class periods. Through those early conversations, students learned about the journey maps that PSU staff had created as visual representations of the paths that prospective students take to become enrolled and matriculated PSU students.
The journey map is a standard tool of experience design. “A journey map is a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal.” In the case of our class, the journey maps shared with us were visualizations of the process that prospective students go through to achieve their goal of becoming enrolled students. These journey maps were internal documents that the staff used to understand these processes. But my students were amazed by this tool. As prospective students themselves, they had been confused by the process and even now, as enrolled students, they hadn’t realized that the process was so complex. In a mini-brainstorming session, a student suggested that the journey map might be a useful tool for prospective students to use. They began to think about how they might create an interactive journey map to be shared with prospective students that visually displays a more-or-less linear path to get from being a prospective student to being an enrolled student. One of my students had experience with Twine, a tool for creating interactive stories. The cool thing about Twine is that it outputs standard HTML pages that can be easily incorporated into web sites. This means that no one needs to know that the HTML pages were originally built with Twine. There is no need for users to install some sort of app to use the pages created by the tool. In the past several weeks, my INCAP students have learned how to use Twine and have created a very basic prototype for one small piece of the journey map. They have presented this prototype to both the admissions team and the Marketing Communications and Creative Services team (because they are embarking on a major revision of the PSU web site). Both audiences have been extremely enthusiastic about my students’ ideas and so we are moving forward with building out the prototype. The final prototype will represent the journey map for a generic student who wants to move from prospective student to enrolled student.
Getting to this point in the class has been an up and down journey. My vision was that I would provide some basic readings and assignments and then students would magically become self-regulated learners. But (unsurprisingly) that didn’t happen. Students were genuinely excited about the idea that they would completely determine the direction of the class. But most students don’t know how to do that. They need our help. Here are some observations.
I have been using a tool that the First Year Seminar Fellows learned about in a summer 2017 workshop: the 7-7 form. The idea of the form is that students will plan the next 7 days of their work and reflect on the past 7 days of their work. The INCAP students created these 7-7 forms beginning in week 2. My feedback to most students each week was some version of “you need to assign yourself some work.” In other words, most of their reflection and planning had to do with the work that either I had assigned to them or the work that we had discussed in class and the group assigned to itself. After a few weeks of this, I began to realize that students don’t really know how to assign themselves work. We had discussed some options–for example, write a blog post about the class. But we hadn’t really talked about how to make such an assignment their own.
So we had an explicit conversation about the kinds of work they could engage in individually in order to contribute to the overall project of the course:
Read articles—about design, about user experiences, about journey maps
Interview people—about design, about specific activities on our journey map, about what other colleges do to bring new students on board, about experiences with applying to college
Learn new technology—for creating our prototype, for creating your own web site, for surveying people
Write blog posts—about any of the above activities, about how those activities contribute to your own personal learning goals, about what your own personal learning goals are
In addition, we talked about individual interests related to the group project. One student is interested in how DACA students learn about college and their opportunities to apply. Another student is interested in the journey that LBGTQ students and their allies take to becoming enrolled students. Several students are interested in the unique paths that student athletes take to becoming enrolled. We also talked about how they might engage these unique interests in the larger project.
The thing that I’ve learned (again) as an instructor is that students need support to become self-regulated learners. They can understand what that means intellectually but they are sometimes challenged to put that understanding into actual action within the context of a class like the INCAP. I don’t know why this particular lesson is taking so many iterations for me to learn. We are still working on this in my class but I’m optimistic that we are closer to implementing appropriate strategies now than we were at the start of the semester. What more could I ask?
I am currently Professor of Digital Media at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. I am also the current Coordinator of General Education at the University. I am interested in game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.