Purpose, Definitions, and Positioning.
By Bill Heinrich, Director of Assessment, Hub & Heather Shea, Assistant Program Director, Residential Initiative on the Study of the Environment
Student academic success is regularly complemented and enhanced by out-of-class learning at most campuses, including ours. Yet, how do we know what students’ experiences outside of the formal classroom at Michigan State University contribute to their learning and development?
Collectively, multiple types of learning activities help students develop real-world skills and competencies and are a significant investment for our campus. But where do we collect information about these activities, and how do we validate and document these efforts?
The future response to these questions at Michigan State University will include a comprehensive Co-Curricular Record (CCR). Complementing the academic transcript, the addition of a CCR will create an opportunity for the institution to record, learn from, and inform the various efforts of staff and faculty who offer non-credit educative activities. The CCR initiative also provides students an official record of their involvement in activities currently available on our campus (e.g. Leadership programs, student employment positions, service learning, non-credit internships, undergraduate research). Finally, the CCR with the transcript allows for a still deeper exploration of ePortfolio and other connective, integrative, and exploratory student work.
To implement a new campus level record, we designed and stewarded conversations that repeatedly touched on three themes: purpose, definitions, and positioning. Over the course of 15 months, we hosted several dozen conversations with over 100 different students, faculty, and staff who experience co-curricular activity in one way or another. The debates and discussions were highly informative for our shared work of discovering the needs for a CCR.
In exploring all of this work, we work here to clarify the purpose of the MSU CCR to best focus our implementation efforts. Our colleagues across campus helped discuss and debate in iterative and formative ways between February 2016 and June 2017. As stewards of this work, we identified key components and developed these purpose statements.
The primary purpose of the Co-Curricular Record is to provide comprehensive evidence of students’ learning and engagement outside of formal coursework and academic programs.
- Students benefit from integration of campus experiences; reflection on growth and development; Students’ career development; Official student record of activities
- The university benefits from assessment of students’ participation in experiential learning venues and enhanced opportunities for institutional research
- External audiences may benefit from improved student communication, especially to to employers and graduate schools
The CCR simply serves to create an additional record of current activity on our campus. It’s also clear to us that understandings of a co-curricular activity differ. While we agree that faculty own the institution’s curriculum, we are reminded that learning takes place in multiple environments during college. We’ve adapted definitions that help contextualize the CCR on our campus.
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. While 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.
Co-Curricular activities likely includes High-Impact Engagement Indicators, listed on an MSU record, and may include Leadership opportunities, (non-credit) Undergraduate Research, internships, or service learning and some student employment. By comparison, extracurricular activities may or may not be MSU sponsored activities, outside of normal classroom time, and are not a designed learning opportunity such as on- or off-campus employment, participating in student orgs, makerspaces, or rec sports. Extracurricular activities may very well be educative. The MSU CCR will offer an individual pathway for those students who, upon reflection, find themselves learning interesting and valuable lessons from their extracurricular participation.
But what is the relationship between learning that is curricular (transcript), and co-curricular (record)? What is the connection among co-curricular and extracurricular activities? How might students connect and display their learning that includes experiences that fall in multiple categories. Where do we track that information? We developed a visualization for MSU to help understand the relationship between various types of learning activities.
We continue to collect data on curricular experiences, a core mission. The CCR adds a campus-wide tracking mechanism to benefit all co-curricular activity providers. The CCR will also add a few ways for some co-curricular activity providers to manage student learning artifacts. While some of our co-curricular programs currently collect data about the students who participate, not all programs do. Those programs that do collect data lack a method for sharing and aggregating information across campus. By defining and collecting co-curricular activity data, we can begin to explore how students talk about integrated learning in their ePortfolios and other displays. With hundreds of non-credit activities to be added to a central database, we intend to gain deep insights about the educative work outside of credit-bearing experiences.
We’ve begun to see how reinventing and reorganizing the purpose, definitions, and positioning of non-credit educative work has great potential to lead to better student outcomes. We must continue to consider the utility of the CCR, the use cases, and individual users while we design this new idea, new process, and new product. As we approach a campus-wide implementation, we’ll face some new challenges in acculturating staff, faculty, and campus leaders to a new kind of recordkeeping and a new source of data. Challenges have unfolded in the areas of Project Scope, Activity Validation, and Educational Technology. We discuss these challenges and our approaches in more depth in part 2 of this series. We also think about ways you might contribute to this effort at MSU. Comments are open, so let us know what you think! We have lots of work to do and we welcome your insights, feedback, and participation.