CONTRACT FOR GRADE FOR 1998-99 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

CONTRACT FOR A and B GRADE Academic Year 1998-1999

Tina Meyers Rainy River Community College

I have met the criteria for the A by helping fellow cohort members in the area of computing and technology. Not only did I develop a handout on Windows 95 and WORD; I helped students in the lab during facilitation and also helped students during the Computing and Technology courses offered through UMD. I will continue to answer questions and help cohort members throughout the summer and next year.

The Process of Course Revision and Development in Orientation (Contract for a B)

Since the college opened its doors in 1967 it has mandated that students attend an orientation session that provides new students with a brief description of campus services, location of classes, and introduction to administration and faculty. Not unlike many universities and community colleges, RRCC continued to look at the orientation to the campus as a service to students to help them become more familiar and less intimidated by the campus and learning environment.

In the early 90's many institutions of higher learning began to see gaps in the process of orientating students and began to research staff and student concerns through surveys. What they found was that many students didn't necessarily need to have help finding geographic locations on campus, they could use a map. The educational process had changed, but the process of orientating students hadn't. Students needed more information about school policy, information about diversity and campus organizations, and also student services available to them should they find themselves in academic trouble.

In 1993 Rainy River developed and offered a one-credit course titled Orientation. Any new student registering was strongly encouraged to take the course. This was the first year that I taught at RRCC and was asked if I would be interested in teaching this new course. Some of the topics covered were campus policy, student services, and personal development. Students were required to attend campus mini-workshops on single parenting, AIDS/HIV, alcohol and drug use, diversity awareness with guest speakers, and also academic skills such as time management, note and test taking, as well as personal finance. When the college was planning this curriculum it took many weeks for the three faculty teaching the class to come to a consensus about the topics. There were many books on the market for orientation, but the instructors questioned whether the text would be too rigid and structured. We finally agreed on a textbook and all students were required to purchase one. Throughout the course the students used textbooks specifically designed for new students, but the students had an aversion to both the textbook and the class.

The faculty, administration, and advisors all felt that even though the students rebelled against the course, it was needed. The continued need was shown in the decline in academic achievement and lack of understanding the students had regarding campus policy. Being a student was becoming more than just academia. We began to notice that topics such as diversity and personal awareness were not comfortable discussion for incoming students, but with this course we could address some important issues, such as mutual respect and sexual harassment as well.

From 1993-1997 RRCC painfully engaged in restructuring the course. I feel fortunate that I was part of this process because it helped me to use the process of curriculum development in my own courses in the computer science department. However, I did find that at times the process was very frustrating. For the four years Orientation was under construction it took many different directions and at times, lost it's focus. What the course lacked from the very beginning was clearly defined outcomes.

Throughout last summer and this year an academic team of 4 instructors and 1 administrator engaged in developing a new charge and focus for the Orientation course at Rainy River Community College. The team started looking at what the core outcomes of the college were and how the Orientation course could help engage students in the process of meeting the eight core outcomes. Orientation also gives RRCC students an understanding of how to work cooperatively and learn how to develop a portfolio that demonstrates their student achievement of the RRCC core outcomes.

The Orientation team was responsible for defining the outcomes of the course, development of a new course outline, and also a syllabus. Once the backbone of the course was agreed upon, the team took the revised course to the curriculum committee and also to Meet and Confer. One of the greatest achievements of the team was the commitment from the college to add Orientation as part of the requirement for receiving the Associate of Arts degree at Rainy River. What this means is that any student that is a candidate for an AA at the college must take the Orientation course. Faculty, administration, and staff have committed to the portfolio development process and feel that the outcomes for the class are important for every student at RRCC to achieve. The outcomes the class addresses and focuses on are personal development within the social and academic community, awareness of diversity, and cooperative learning.

Once the outcomes were decided upon the team came up with assessments. During Fall semester the assessments were tested and of course, some were changed during Spring semester. The team meets every week for one hour to discuss the activities and also to share and reflect about the class and students. This process has been very valuable because it allows the instructors to give objective opinions regarding the course. If an assignment bombs in every class section, the instructor doesn't take it personally and question himself or herself. In the past this was often the case. I know myself that I often felt that if students weren't actively participating or comprehending an assignment it was my fault. I questioned whether I didn't cover the material correctly or didn't engage the students enough. Now every instructor covers the same material on the same day and also uses the same assessment tools and rubrics. If assessments or topics don't work, the team then looks at the assignment and re-works it or it is thrown out. Constant evaluation has made the Orientation class more focused and given direction to students at RRCC.

Students are required to begin to develop a portfolio of the RRCC core outcomes they have mastered. Students can use any type of artifacts to demonstrate their achievement of any goal. We strongly encourage the use of videotapes and visual aids used in the diversity section of the course and also in the cooperative learning component to demonstrate those outcomes in their portfolios. Each instructor works directly with their students on developing their portfolios.

The team is looking at new ways in which the portfolio and cooperative experience can be enhanced on campus through the Orientation course. The outcomes for the course are very intensive and require a tremendous amount of time to cover them. The team felt that we needed not only the Orientation course, but another course that follows the progress of portfolio development for these students into their sophomore year. The title of the first course will be Portfolio - Capstone. All freshman degree-seeking students will be required to take this course and through the portfolio process begin to benchmark their progress for 3 of the 8 RRCC core outcomes. This course will teach the fundamental steps in developing a portfolio while meeting the course outcomes. The change is in the title only and all topics and outcomes will remain the same as the original Orientation course. The second course will be titled Portfolio - Cornerstone. This course will be offered Spring semester to sophomore students planning on graduating in the spring. The course outcomes have not been established and the Orientation team will do visioning over the summer for this course and the content.

The team has also formed a focus group that will continue to meet through next year. Eight students from the Fall semester classes agreed to be frank and candid about their Orientation experience and also help the team constructively improve the course. These eight students will also be part of the new Capstone project next Spring.

RRCC is on the cutting edge of portfolio assessment and two members of the orientation team have presented our project process at conferences throughout the United States. Other campuses are seriously considering the piloting of a new, improved orientation for students and our project is the design they have chosen. Our development and commitment to the portfolio process has shown to be related to a drastic improvement in organization, motivation, and also responsibility in students. The team is committed to diligently working over the next several months to solidify our own goals. Our plan is to retire the old Orientation title, and the misconceptions that lie within that title, and stress the development of a Portfolio in both Cornerstone and Capstone. We have our work cut out for us, but we are exciting to continue our trek!

-- Anonymous, May 10, 1999

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