Being Intentional With Evidence of Learning in Students’ Co-curricular Experiences: A Case Study
Sandi Osters, Texas A&M University
In the summer of 2005, members of the Division of Student Affairs at Texas A&M University initiated a process to identify a set of shared learning outcomes for students who serve in positions of leadership across the University. These leadership positions occur in student organizations, fraternities and sororities, residence life, or the student union. The process resulted in the formation of a cross-functional Student Leader Learning Outcomes (SLLO) team of advisors and administrators that includes anyone who works with students and has an interest in creating intentional learning experiences that bridge student classroom and co-curricular experiences. It has been apparent that no matter where we serve students, we desire that they develop in similar capacities, regardless of the context or venue in which student leadership occurs. This similarity in developmental goals and desired outcomes has provided synergy and enthusiasm which continues as A&M enters into the fifth year of implementation.
After the initial brainstorming process concluded, a list of 30+ competencies was identified, including project management, communication, critical thinking skills, managing finances, and selecting members for student organizations. Initially, the SLLO team prioritized five from the original list for development of learning outcomes and assessment rubrics. The process has continued, and there are currently 16 fully functional competencies with clearly identified outcomes and tools to assess achievement of these outcomes. It is important to note that theoretical frames of reference are selected for each outcome in order to ground the goals in scholarship. Some of the outcomes are based on a single theory/model while others are a combination of several congruent theories and models.
The SLLO project is organic and evolutionary. Although housed in and facilitated by Student Life Studies stemming from the initial and continuing impetus to assess student learning in the co-curricular realm, the SLLO team continues to be an open group which encourages participation by anyone interested in contributing his or her time, energy, and ideas. Team membership has involved residence life, the student center, student activities, student life, multicultural services, recreational sports, fraternity and sorority life, and student health. In addition, representatives from units outside the Division of Student Affairs participate as well: the alumni association, honors and scholarships, an academic learning community, and the career center.
In the summer of 2008, an online community was established for SLLO team members and those who have attended a SLLO training session. The goal is to allow more timely discussion for advisors using various assessment tools and to streamline communication among team members. It is in this environment that an ever growing assessment toolkit provides a variety of scholarship, student activities, and assessment tools.
Assessment has been a foundation of the project from the beginning. Findings from early focus groups with students and advisors continue to inform the process. A specially designed assessment in 2007 – 2008 compared six student organizations – three that were using the outcomes-based assessment rubrics, and three that were not. The assessment gathered data from both students and their advisors at three different times during the academic year. During 2008 - 2009, advisors journaled about their experiences three times during the year, and focus groups were conducted with three student organization leadership groups and a departmental student worker group. A meta-assessment sub-team provides leadership for assessment of the project.
Other permanent sub-teams include one for orientation and ongoing professional development of advisors and administrators and one for marketing SLLO to students and advisors. Another sub-team has been dedicated to providing overarching project direction concerning integrative learning, reflection, and student self-authorship.
Some student organizations have embedded the process into the life of the organization and annually decide what learning outcome they want to tackle. Some students are “sold” on the intentional learning in their co-curricular experiences. The role the advisor plays is pivotal. Advisors must believe that students should learn in their co-curricular experiences, and must be willing to seek evidence of that learning. It is a commitment that involves continuous professional development for new and veteran advisors. The ultimate goal of this work is to enhance and evaluate the learning that occurs in a student’s leadership and employment opportunities in the Division of Student Affairs using a team centered approach grounded in theory and assessment
Interested colleagues are able to access the currently developed learning outcomes and assessment tools through the SLLO website at http://sllo.tamu.edu/.