SIP 12.1 Student-generated Outcomes

Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Student working on a desktop computer.Welcome to fall 2020: pandemic teaching at its finest! As we all adjust to a new normal in higher education, an overarching sentiment of disorder is impacting the back-to-school experience for everyone. How can we, as faculty, help our students regain some semblance of control and agency in their classes this semester?

Take a SIP of this: student-generated outcomes

Research shows that student engagement, broadly speaking, increases rates of satisfaction, retention and graduation. Student control over their own engagement has been severely limited by the COVID-19 crisis, however, and even the simplest choices such as where to sit in a classroom have been altered. Check out some of these ideas for putting students back in the driver’s seat:

  • Before class starts, or on the first day, do a survey or pre-assessment and ask students what they want to get out of the class. How do they define success? What are their personal goals for this semester? Consider providing examples of your own personal goals for the semester to help students who feel stuck with goal-setting in a new environment. This might help you see how their ideas are similar to or different from yours, and you can consequently support them in the way they need.
  • Leave some blanks in your syllabus. Instead of controlling every single minute of the course, let students decide individually or as a group what they would like to include and do. One example of this is the use of assignment menus. In The 3 Essential Functions of Your Syllabus, Part 2 (Chronicle of Higher Ed, March 30, 2015), James M. Lang explains, “Offer a menu of possible assignments and ask the class to pick the ones that will count for a grade. Give students a choice of how to weigh assignments you have selected. Or give them the responsibility for offering you a list of possible final projects and choose one for them to complete. No matter how you do this, explain that their choices must align with the learning objectives of the course and require them to state the connections and rationale for their decisions.” For more on assignment menus, see SIP 3.2 Assignment menus.
  • A corollary to the assignment menu is the grading contract. Check out SIP 5.5 Grading contracts, for insight into how to negotiate parameters around assignment weights and completions for enhanced student agency.
  • Create discussions (either synchronous or asynchronous) that allow students to start from where they are and contribute and take away things that are relevant to their lives. This constructivist approach will allow students to better engage with your course content and to build upon prior knowledge for improved outcomes. For example, instead of asking students to “comment on the reading” in the discussion, encourage them to give examples of how they have seen the content at work in their own lives. A prompt might be: “Please make a text-to-text connection (connect how this reading makes you think of another reading), text-to-self connection (connect how this reading connects to your personal experiences in some way) or a text-to-other connection (connect how this reading connects to others’ experiences in some way [others could be a news story, a song, a friend’s experiences, etc.]).”
  • Guide students by holding them accountable for the choices they make around their learning. Allowing students to have agency does not mean that the professor checks out; on the contrary, students will need support at every step to grow over the course of the semester. Build in scaffolding points to ensure strong progress. For example, if you allow students to design their own final project, help them think it through and identify two or three benchmarks you can easily verify for them (ask students: Did you meet the deadline for interviewing experts in the field? Have you contacted the library to request that special resource? Etc.).

While these tips are especially pertinent now, they will continue to be important when we return to “normal” on-campus instruction. Practice now for well-honed implementation in a sunnier future.

Still thirsty? Take a SIP of this:

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