Friday, August 19, 2005

Inward Looking Service Learning 6

Summer Camp

Historically many learning technology units, often in conjunction with Center for Teaching Excellence units, would offer faculty development programs in the summer to get faculty comfortable moving down the path to use learning technology in their teaching. Virginia Tech is one of the first places that had a vigorous program of this sort. There they coupled the faculty development activity with the replacement of the faculty member’s computer. You can think of the replacement computer as the bribe for the faculty to get them to participate in the faculty development activity. Alternatively you can think of the faculty development activity as institutional burden imposed on instructors when they received their new computers.

At my campus we did stipends to be spent on student help or on software/hardware in lieu of computer replacement. Ultimately we had to get rid of the program because of budget cuts and because the need for increased support also consumed resources so there was some redeployment of resources toward general support. My understanding is that this has been the trend nationally.

If a campus did embrace a program of inward looking service learning, it would be a natural to offer this type of development to the students during the summer between their freshmen and sophomore years. I would make this a requirement for all students though I wouldn’t give course credit for it, nor would I charge tuition. (So it is worth asking if it is affordable to do.) I would offer it in two different modes: either face to face in a one week block, which means the students would have to be in residence on campus during that time, or online, in a three or four week block, so the students could live at home and hold down a job as long as they had adequate access to a computer and the network.

The goals of this intensive training would be these:

a) Get students some expertise on the mentoring part. How to facilitate a session, how to listen to the other students to help direct their discussion, how to get them to understand their role as an intermediary between the professor and the students taking the class.

b) Get students some background on Web design and the use of other software that would be employed in making learning objects.

c) Get students to understand the help structure on campus, so they know where to go to get support when they need it. (The issue of how students in the mentor/teacher role can access help is an interesting one because the current help resources that we have on campus to support instruction clearly wouldn’t scale as is if all these mentor/teachers were potential consumers of the help resource.)

d) Give the students an appreciation of what the faculty member and their peer mentor/teachers will be expecting from them both in terms of effort and in terms of performance.

e) Learn the basics about copyright, the campus policy toward copyright ownership and creative commons licensing.

f) Get students some basics on making content universally accessible and on understanding how different learning styles will process content differently.

g) Perhaps get acquainted with the instructor they will work for and the other mentor/teachers in team of students assigned to that instructor.

In other words, a good part of this summer camp work would be things that most of us have already done in their summer faculty development activities, with the remaining activities devoted to getting the attendees to understand their roles as facilitators in the small groups.

The big difference, apart from the different audience, is the scale. When we were doing this sort of thing we did a couple of workshops with a total of perhaps a 100 faculty combined. Based on our current enrollments, we’d have to push through about 7000 students through these same workshops. So a big question is whether we could keep quality up and intensity of commitment with these very large numbers.

In other words, with these summer workshops we’d be a situation similar to how the big for profit universities (like Phoenix) work. It is intriguing to ask whether if the approach were successful it might create spillovers in instructors for courses that do bear credit and are offered during the academic year.

I know that right now our campus is moving down that path of offering a one credit hour University 101 course for every freshmen student. Certainly courses such as that would likely benefit from that type of approach. Perhaps other courses in the curriculum would likewise benefit.

It is also conceivable that such non-degree training will have market value for the students in terms of summer employment they might qualify for and even in terms of the initial job they seek after graduation. Further, if upper level students taught in this program or served as teacher/mentors in this program, that too might serve as an important credential. Therefore the university has an important role in certifying that the students have completed the work assigned during the workshop and have attained the requisite mastery of the content.

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