Reculturing a Co-Curricular Conversation: Thinking on Scope, Validation, & Technology

A group of students work together on white boards.

Encountering and addressing the challenges of a new campus-wide record. This is the second post about the emerging Co-Curricular Record at MSU.

Bill Heinrich, Director of Assessment, Hub; Heather Shea, Assistant Program Director, Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment

Academic progress is regularly complemented by learning outside of courses at most campuses, including ours. At MSU, the emergence of a comprehensive co-curricular record (CCR) is a change in practice that will create an opportunity not only to recognize and record student learning, but as importantly, to learn from and inform the various efforts of staff and faculty who offer non-credit educative activities currently taking place on our campus. By exploring the purpose, definitions, and positioning of the CCR at MSU, we encountered several deeper challenges that exist for our faculty and staff who provide co-curricular activities such as leadership programs, student employment positions, service learning, non-credit internships and undergraduate research.

Instituting a CCR significantly changes our collective practice, effectively requiring new kinds of coordination and consistent record-keeping across organizational units. By implementing an organizational change that will potentially affect hundreds of administrators and thousands of students, we aim to reculture learning outside of the classroom (Fullan, 2009). To reculture, we need to continually question underlying assumptions–and help others do the same–about what it means to keep records, for whom we keep them, and how resulting data becomes relevant to key stakeholders. Our reculturing efforts leverage a cultural-organizational approach to changing to student success and data collection efforts. In that process, the challenges we uncovered are threefold: Scope, Validation, and Technology.

 

Scope

What should we be tracking and from whom? In learning about past practices on our campus, we observed a range of co-curricular offerings and varied tracking efforts. 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. Different from previous efforts on this campus, we begin our journey with the broadest possible perspective.

In broadening the scope we needed to ensure that current or future structural arrangements didn’t prevent inclusion in the new CCR. We’ve been intentional to welcome participants to our design and focus groups to include non-credit educative activity from all kinds of campus-sponsored activities. It’s helpful to note that we were greatly aided in the task of broad inclusion by having the CCR project itself chartered by our campus Provost.

 

Validation

Our inclusive scope led us directly to a second reculturing challenge: 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 inclusion the CCR. Our validation process requires that activity providers include these elements in their learning activity design:

1. Clear goals or outcomes,
2. A reasonable plan for implementation,
3. Opportunities for students to reflect and receive feedback, and,
4. Smart workflow and flexible communication for educator/student interactions.

While validation is an important step, we aspire not to re-create an academic-governance process to validate existing non-credit learning activity. Therefore, non-credit activity design and evaluation remains the responsibility of the professionals currently in place for those tasks. The current validation workflow reflects a two-stage approach to documenting non-credit learning activity across our campus. First, activity providers (faculty & staff) will input their program information into the record keeping system. Second, providers validate student participation upon student completion.

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

Having a common validation process then allows us, in turn, to choose a technology that can support our needs for both reflective pedagogy and data tracking. We faced three kinds of techno-cultural problems in figuring out how to share and learn from co-curricular activity. First, a number of existing tracking systems monitor some, but not all, co-curricular activity–our need is to document comprehensively. Next, none of those existing systems are integrated into a common, searchable location–our need is a campus-wide database. Finally, no current system facilitated a common validation process–we need a solution to accommodate many varied kinds of work. In short, we needed a culturally relevant technology that reflects our pedagogy.

When looking for an answer, we found a lot of home-grown solutions on our campus and among our peer institutions. We also explored a half-dozen commercially available platforms, many of which operated as enhanced CRM’s or ePortfolios. We prototyped our workflow only to find out how one system wouldn’t meet a key validation requirement. In that journey, we later identified an affordable product that could accommodate our scope of activities, validation needs, and data integration goals to address some actual pain points for the campus and many of the co-curricular activity providers.

 

Future tie-ins

The national conversation about Comprehensive Student Records points us toward digital learning artifacts in even more spaces. While our CCR is not a portfolio, ePortfolios and other digital artifacts are a key consideration for helping students make sense of their powerful learning. We’re actively planning for how the CCR pedagogy and technology will later support students’ integration of for-credit and noncredit learning. Such meaningful, authentic, and possibly transformative connections would display how students are reinventing and leveraging MSU as an experiential learning platform. Just as importantly, the institution can observe patterns and practices that result in better decisions to benefit students.

 

We’re not done yet

As we plan a pilot implementation in fall of 2017, we intend to learn a few key lessons. We hope that with a coordinated effort, we can begin to identify the conditions under which programs and students benefit from a CCR. We have also set up a series of inquiries to follow our pilot: How will CCR use data to help us make decisions that shape our values? Can we change our institutional habits for student facing records? Is reculturing a viable path to a successful Co-Curricular Record? If you’re interested in the answers we find, please reach out at heinri19@msu.edu and tell me how you’d like to be involved.

 

 

References

Fullan, M. (2009). Understanding change. In M. Fullan & G. Scott (Eds.), Turnaround leadership for higher education (pp. 31-49). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.

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