By Bill Heinrich, Director of Assessment and Korine Wawrzynski, Assistant Dean of Academic Initiatives
MSU is developing a co-curricular record (CCR) to provide comprehensive evidence of students’ learning and engagement outside of formal coursework and academic programs. While we agree that faculty own the institution’s curriculum, learning takes place in multiple environments during college—and the CCR will create an opportunity to recognize and record student learning that occurs outside an academic course.
Definition of co-curricular activity at MSU
At MSU, co-curricular activity requires student participation outside the scope of an academic course of study in an MSU sponsored activity that contributes to a student’s achievement of undergraduate learning goals and competencies and/or academic learning outcomes. Curricular activity is defined by credit-bearing activities and/or requirements for an academic program, listed on an MSU transcript including degrees, academic honors and awards, and certificates, and most study abroad opportunities.
Importance of documenting learning outside the classroom
Higher education scholars have observed that student involvement in purposeful out-of-class or “co-curricular” activities has positive effects on students’ academic success, retention, and persistence to graduation, while also increasing their sense of belonging, capacity for humanitarianism, and interpersonal and intrapersonal competence.
- Studentsbenefit from integration of campus experiences through self-reflection on growth and development; students’ career development could be enhanced by an MSU student record of activities
- The university benefits from a better assessment of students’ participation in experiential learning venues; a record enhances opportunities for institutional research
- External audiences may benefit from improved student communication, especially to employers and graduate schools
At MSU, the emergence of a comprehensive CCR will create an opportunity to recognize and record student learning, but also to learn from and inform the various efforts of staff and faculty who offer non-credit educative activities already taking place on our campus. In this change, we consider many underlying assumptions–and help others do the same–about what it means to keep records for our students and how resulting data becomes relevant to key stakeholders, especially our students. Our efforts leverage a cultural-organizational approach to student success and data collection efforts.
From February 2016 and June 2017, colleagues across campus discussed, debated and designed key components. Utilizing an end-user framework, efforts to design the CCR yielded important guidance on the shape and quality of the record.
We affirmed that the kinds of non-credit learning we wanted to capture already take place across institutional structures—in student affairs, academic units, and auxiliary services—each providing different kinds of high-impact experiences. The essential challenge then became to create an institution-wide repository to document co-curricular experiences and create a searchable database to support ongoing decisions.
Validating educational opportunities for the CCR
How can we consistently and efficiently validate a large and diverse set of non-credit educational efforts? And how can we support co-curricular activity providers with common resources as they document student learning? Our campus colleagues worked together to develop a validation process that sets minimum requirements for an activity to be eligible for inclusion the CCR. Once a student completes the activity, the record of their activity becomes part of an MSU record. Our validation process requires that activity providers include these elements in their learning activity design:
- Clear learning goals or outcomes
- A reasonable plan for implementation
- Opportunities for students to reflect and receive feedback
- Smart workflow and flexible communication for educator/student interactions
Students sometimes take an individual approach to non-credit activity in internships, undergraduate research and creative activity, and community engaged (service) learning. In these cases, students, rather than activity providers, take the first step to initiate inclusion of their activity on the CCR. The student-initiated step allows for the student to customize the description of their learning activity and their educators to offer validation of their individual learning goals.
Technology and Pilot: Next steps
Following a public bid process, we selected an experienced technology vendor. This month (June 2018) we are launching our first live instance and we will onboard 15 pilot activities this summer. The selected activities represent an array of MSU efforts. Our pilot will continue through the Fall Semester 2018 so we can learn how the system works to best support and encourage campus wide use. The summer will also see prototypes of branding and a name for this project that speaks to students. With appropriate support from the campus, we expect to open the Co-Curricular Record to campus-wide use in 2019!