This is part of the report that I am planning to submit to the General Education Committee at PSU next week reflecting on our experiences with our potential new Integrated Capstone course(s). The only bit that needs to be completed is the recommendations. Even though that part isn’t done yet, I thought some people might be interested in where we are in regards to this tool of the Cluster Initiative.
INCAP Pilot Report
Report from the General Education Coordinator, Cathie LeBlanc
Early in the cluster initiative, President Birx identified an Integrated Capstone (INCAP) experience as one of its cornerstone tools. The president wrote that the Integrated Capstone would be taken in the junior or senior year and would act as a bookend to the First Year Seminar. We have long had an Integration Connection (INCO) requirement in our General Education program and although that course was originally intended to serve as the capstone of the Gen Ed program, it has not been used in this way. The INCO is indeed taken in the junior or senior year but the focus has been on integrating multiple disciplinary perspective to the exclusion of the capstone aspect of the original proposed course.
During the 2017-18 academic year, a group of six faculty formed the INCO Task Force to investigate the possibility of using the INCO as the INCAP experience for all of our students. Their April 2018 report made the following recommendations:
Replace INCO with INCAP requirement
Create INCAP Fellows Program
Phase in the INCAP courses, beginning with a pilot in Spring 2019
Review the overall General Education Program and propose changes to allow for the addition of this course.
Through the course of its research, the INCO Task Force developed the following set of goals for any changes that would be recommended to the Integration Connection. The course should:
Be the capstone to the General Education program that, along with First Year Seminar, bookends a student’s academic experience;
Bring together students from multiple disciplines to work on an outward-facing project that allows them to demonstrate their abilities to work collaboratively using their own disciplinary backgrounds;
Align with the multidisciplinary, integrative vision of the university that includes the Four Tools of Clusters;
Allow for assessment of the Habits of Mind at the end of a student’s General Education experience; and
Ensure equity across disciplines so that each student has a project-based interdisciplinary experience outside of their major.
INCAP Fellows Program
The INCO Task Force report recommended the following responsibilities for the INCAP Fellows:
Develop and assess problem-driven, upper-level courses that bring together students from multiple majors to work on a wicked problem. The report says: “the General Education Committee, likely in collaboration with the INCAP Fellows, will need to develop the course description and other paperwork necessary to make these changes during the first part of Fall 2018… .”
Offer these courses as part of a pilot program in Spring 2019. The report further explains: “To encourage enrollment in these pilot INCAPs, they should initially also carry the INCO designation.” The Spring 2019 INCAP courses will be offered as INCO courses (since the INCAP designation will not exist in the 2018-19 Academic Catalog.
Develop a proposal, to be voted on by the faculty, for the creation of an INCAP designation within the General Education Program. The report says “the General Education Committee, likely in collaboration with the INCAP Fellows, will need to develop the … paperwork necessary … to bring the INCAP proposal to a faculty vote by the end of that semester.” The semester referred to is Fall 2018.
The call for volunteers to the Fellows Program was sent out in August 2018. Nine faculty (Liz Ahl, Brian Eisenhauer, Suzanne Gaulocher, Abby Goode, Cathie LeBlanc, Sarah Parrish, Filiz Ruhm, Maria Sanders, and Metasebia Woldemariam) responded with interest in participating and all were chosen to be part of the program.
Working through the Fall 2018 semester, the Fellows developed an experimental course called Signature Project (IS4220) to be offered in pilot form in Spring 2019. The Fellows developed the generic syllabus for the course (see below) and then each developed their own section of the course focused on a different area of interest in which the signature project was to be completed.
IS4220: Signature Project
The generic syllabus for the experimental offering of the Signature Project course contains the following information.
In this student-driven capstone course, students will collaborate across disciplines to create signature projects that address a significant problem, issue, or question. Prerequisites: Junior Status (students should be at or near the end of their General Education program) (INCO)
This course carries INCO status in the General Education program: We live in a world where scholarship is increasingly interdisciplinary. The educated person recognizes the challenges and rewards of drawing connections between fields of knowledge and of applying alternative methods of inquiry to solve problems. Students take a three- or four-credit Integration (INCO) course (either within the major or not) which brings content or methods of inquiry from two or more disciplines or perspectives to bear on a problem or question. The integration course is a General Education capstone course, taken in the junior or senior year. As such it should require substantial, although general, background and a high level of proficiency at most or all of the General Education skills.
Students will articulate, develop, plan, and implement a signature project that addresses the topic of the particular section of the course. 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 benefit.
Learning Outcomes (Habits of Mind):
Habits of mind are a set of four usual ways of thinking or ways of engaging with the world. These habits of mind equip students to succeed in their lives and work after college. As students take courses within the General Education program, they develop and practice the Habits of Mind in various meaningful contexts. Because this course is the capstone of the General Education program, the Habits of Mind are also the learning outcomes for the course. Students are expected to have reached the summit level of achievement in each of the Habits of Mind by the end of this course. Details of the Habits of Mind can be found here: https://psufys.pressbooks.com/chapter/habits-of-mind/
In this class, students will:
Practice and employ problem-solving strategies
Recognize and integrate multiple perspectives
Regulate their own learning
The experimental offering of the course was approved and the individual Fellows planned their particular sections of the course. The titles and descriptions were:
Designing Online and Face-to-Face Experiences for Incoming PSU Students
How did you decide that PSU was the college for you? How did you learn things like which classes to take and when to take them? Each year prospective, admitted, and enrolled students learn about PSU via web-based and face-to-face interactions designed to provide them with the information they need to make good decisions about their college attendance. In this class, we first will learn about the goals and current implementation strategies for PSU’s interactions with incoming students. We will then examine questions such as “what is design?” and “what is GOOD design?” Finally, we will design new experiences and share our ideas with the administrators in charge of them. This course is particularly well-suited to students interested in marketing, media production and use, communication studies, writing, psychology, education, technology design, user interfaces, and human and organizational behavior.
One Small Step: Marking the 50thAnniversary of the Moon Landing
In July 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong, commander of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission, was the first human being to set foot on the moon. In 2019, PSU students intrigued by this event and all its many implications will immerse themselves in the history, politics, culture, and science involved in making the moon landing a reality. Then they will use what they have learned to create and share/implement (in small groups, with guidance and support) public “signature work,” which might include commemorative materials, events, products, displays, educational materials/resources, projects, etc., across any number of disciplines and for audiences/participants beyond the classroom, in the wider university, and even in the broader community and region.
American Food Issues: From Fast Food Nation to Farmstands
What are the issues, images, and narratives associated with eating in American culture? How might they help us confront the many ecological and social crises related to food in our community? Taking into account contemporary environmental debates about organic farming and locavorism, students will examine the many facets of what writer Michael Pollan calls “our national eating disorder.” Collaborating across a range of disciplines, they will use their diverse skills and knowledge to develop, propose, and implement their own solutions to pressing food issues within their community.
The Museum as Medium: Exhibiting Culture on Campus
How can museums, galleries, and cultural organizations help communities build a sense of identity and inclusion? Through readings and discussions, students will enter contemporary debates about the role of exhibition spaces in our diverse twenty-first-century society. For their signature project, they will draw upon their interdisciplinary knowledge to establish all aspects of Plymouth State University’s new Hunnewell-Kline gallery according to their collective vision. Students are encouraged to respond to the challenges facing galleries today by experimenting with the space’s mission, format, and operations. Open to any major, with special relevance to students interested in business, writing, history, philosophy, anthropology, education, communication and media studies, graphic design, and/or the visual and performing arts.
International Media and Development
The telegraph’s promise of instant communication led Thoreau to proclaim “perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad flapping American ear will be that Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough”. Can we craft meaningful messages for global audiences? This course examines theories and practices of global media/audiences so students can formulate appropriate messages related to UN development goals.
Making Resilient Communities
Enhancing environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, and economically viable communities is a complex and multidisciplinary process that requires formative evaluations, objective prioritization, and attentive planning. Students will reflect on and apply theoretical sustainability concepts they have learned throughout their multidisciplinary coursework, evaluate sustainability practices in local communities, and create a project to enhance sustainability within a targeted local community.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Dao
Explores the ways in which ancient Daoism and Confucianism are helpful for understanding and living in today’s American society. Through a multidisciplinary approach, students will be provided opportunities to make connections between ancient Chinese ideas and contemporary American issues, while proposing real world solutions to issues arising in everyday life from consumerism, emerging technologies, genetic modification, sustainable living, etc.
Global Challenges: Innovation, Sustainable Practices and Futures
This course focuses on UN sustainable development goals as a framework to analyze/develop innovative solutions for the most challenging global problems. After learning about approaches to sustainable development from historical, political, economic, ecological, cultural perspectives, students will then be encouraged to use their own knowledge and think/implement bold and transformative steps/solutions as pathways towards a more inclusive and sustainable development.
Sustainable Innovation in Public Health
Through the platform of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, this course covers the basic principles of public health and social determinants of health. The purpose of this course is to introduce students to the major social factors: poverty, class, race, gender, social networks, community cohesion, capacity and built environment that affect the health of people in the places where they live, work, and play. Students will have opportunities to apply knowledge to real social issues through interdisciplinary collaboration to investigate the field of global health.
The course also included a common assignment that mirrors the common assignment in the First Year Seminar (now Tackling a Wicked Problem (TWP)). In this assignment, each student is asked to write a paper in which they describe the specific activities they undertook in articulating, developing, planning, and implementing the signature project. The paper should also explain how the student practiced each of the Habits of Mind by providing specific examples of such practice. These examples should point to actual work done by the student. For example, when demonstrating purposeful communication, the student may quote a part of a report they wrote and reflect on the context for which they wrote the report as well as how they used particular language suited to the audience of the report in order to achieve their particular purpose. In other words, the student should use the signposts on the benchmarks to explain why they did what they did and how the activities addressed the signposts. The instructors were given this generic description of the assignment (which is similar to the instructions given to FYS and TWP instructors). Each instructor then determined how to explain the assignment to the students in their section. The instructors were also given the option to have their students participate in the Showcase of Student Engagement in the Spring semester.
Pilot Offering of IS4220
Two sections of the experimental course were cancelled due to low enrollment. The issue of visibility of experimental and new courses is an ongoing challenge as we move forward with the cluster initiative and try to be more agile in our course offerings. Fifty three students enrolled (and finished the semester) in the seven sections of the course that were offered. Several sections of the course had students from only one or two majors which is another consequence of the lack of visibility of these courses since many students enrolled because they had a previous relationship with the instructor.
The course evaluations were overwhelmingly positive. For example, 37 out of 38 of the students across the 7 sections who responded to the course evaluations strongly agreed or agreed with the statement “I have found the course relevant to my life.” In addition, 34 of the 38 students across the 7 sections who responded to the course evaluations said “Highly” or “Mostly” to the statement “The course stimulated my interest in the subject” and “Highly Valuable” or “Mostly Valuable” to the question “How would you rate the overall value of the course?” Responses to other Likert scale statements and questions were similarly positive.
Students seemed to understand and value the goals of the signature project. When asked “What was the most valuable aspect of the course?” student answers included:
“Learning about the habits of mind and how they can relate to life outside of the classroom. Also working on a large project that we all had most of the control over and having an impact on the Plymouth State community was valuable.”
“The most valuable aspect of this course was the signature project. The ability to gain agency and create self learning was one of the best things I learned this semester. I feel far more confident in my ability to problem solve because of it.”
“The most valuable aspect of this course was its prioritization of self-advocacy and self-regulated learning in each student. We all shared our disciplines to extend our intellectual development and project development.”
“Being able to work with students from other disciplines and collaborate on a project with them.”
“The interdisciplinary nature of this course allowed us as students to use each other’s unique strengths and the open structure of the course gave us the ability to be creative.”
“How we had the opportunity to decide what we were doing instead of being told. I really liked how we got to write the syllabus.”
“The individualistic approach this course had was outstanding. I liked how the course revolved around what the students were aiming to accomplish.”
“Learning more about how some proposed solution to a people create a ripple of new problems.”
“The class leading the class and making our own decisions.”
“The format combining different disciplines added an (sic) valuable perspective to the learning experience.”
In their essays for the common assignment, students expressed the ways that they valued the opportunity to practice that Habits of Mind, particularly self-regulated learning. They wrote comments like the following:
“This semester I have gotten out of my comfort zone and truly was in charge of my own learning. What I put into the class was what I was going to get out of it. This class pushed me and tested my limits. I am extremely proud of the work my classmates and I did this semester. I have never had the ability to work on something that goes farther than a Moodle page, something that could actually be implemented into real life.”
Image credit: I took this photo last year at Digital Pedagogy Lab and it’s a reminder that the cluster initiative represents our hope for the future of our students.
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 astrophotography, game studies, digital literacies, open pedagogies, and generally how technology impacts our culture.