Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Health Update on Me

The diagnosis has come in on what was causing the pain in my leg that I complained about since the Thanksgiving Holiday. It's arthritis, in both hips and my lower back, coupled with some bone spurs. None of this is too severe at present, but the bone spurs can apparently irritate a nerve. Mostly it is under control with some mild pain medication, though I've had a bad day or two since the semester ended. (I'm not counting the Missouri game in that.) If I was cross with you during the last few weeks of the term, I apologize for that. That is likely the explanation (though it could still have been your word usage). ;-)

I hope you are having a fun and relaxing break. That's what is't been for me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Drum Roll, Please

I'm now done with the grading. (Yippee!) Here's what I did.

On your reflections - I made comments on your Portfolio posts for the world to see and then in Compass I made comments for just you along with the points for your posts. Those are in the discussion area.

On the sub projects for the class project, I made comments for the world to see where your posted work appears. There are no analogous comments in Compass. The sub projects were so different they really couldn't be compared. So, in the end I opted just to give you a participation credit for that. Everyone got full credit. I likewise did that for class participation. Perhaps a little sneaky of me to do it that way, but I trust nobody will object to that outcome.

Grades have been entered in Banner. I have no clue how long it takes for you to see them. If you don't see them by Monday, let me know and I'll post them in the Compass grade book. I hope, however, that won't be necessary.

Have a great break. Once you've put some distance between our class and what you will then be doing, if you have a chance for one last reflection about our course I'd be curious on that score - whether your perspective has changed and any consequences of our course on other things you are doing.

Take good care.

Professor Arvan

Friday, December 18, 2009

Saying Goodbye

Not me, at least not yet. There are still some submissions to grade. It's Judith Warner who is leaving for a different assignment at the NY Times. There is a lot to learn from her writing.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Our Class Project on Peer Mentoring

The class broke into subgroups and each of those took on a component project. The component don't, as of yet, add up to a coherent whole. They potentially could serve as a foundation for such a whole.

I had thought I might edit these to make the documents more valuable to an audience outside our class. But I thought better of it, this is the students work intact, with the caveat that to get them inside a Blogger post I've changed the formatting. No edits of content were made, however. Instead, over the next day or two I will put in commentary in comments. Others, in the class and outside it too, are welcome to add their thoughts via comments.

Subgroup on Mentoring in ANTH 143

David Burns, Tyler Cain, Jake Hendee, Joe Matuch

December 14, 2009

CHP 395: Designing for Effective Change

Proposal for a Peer-Mentoring Program

The Problem

Student disengagement is a serious problem facing post-secondary education (and education of any level, in fact.) Defined as a student’s lack of full involvement or attention in a course, disengagement poses a threat to the continuing quality of education.

A common symptom of student disengagement is the admission to doing “only what’s necessary to pass” courses or degree requirements. No interest in his or her studies is apparent. A disengaged student will not get involved in anything that demands “extra work” beyond that which is absolutely required.

Student disengagement is a danger to the future of post-secondary education. Besides its negative effects on a student’s grade point average and chances for success, disengagement causes damage to the educational institution. Graduating students who were routinely disengaged throughout their college career will have considerably less knowledge and fewer skills than if they had been completely engaged. These students enter the next phase of life (be it the job force, graduate school, etc.) with a relatively lower level of competency, resulting in a diminished reputation of the educational institution. As disengagement spreads further, the value of a bachelor’s degree decreases as fewer graduates achieve a high level of competency.

Additionally, individual courses within an educational institution are damaged by student disengagement. Student participation, particularly in making known the areas of a course that need improvement, fits into the category of “extra work” that a disengaged student is most likely to skip. This is a deadly cycle: the problems which may have disengaged the student in the first place are never fixed due to the disengaged student’s failure to point out these problems.

The problems associated with disengagement are not only practical. Student disengagement also presents the ethical dilemma of student and instructor responsibility. Gretchen Winter, the Executive Director of the Center for Professional Responsibility in Business and Society at the College of Business in the University of Illinois, describes “responsibility” as having three levels: compliance – what one must do, ethics – what one should do, and values – what one aspires to do. These ranks accurately model a student’s involvement in a course. A disengaged student achieves only compliance. To increase the effectiveness of learning in a course, the student must reach the ethics level. This responsibility lies not only on the student but also on the instructor, who has a commitment to the quality of the University and post-secondary education in general.

Disengagement may be caused by a number of factors. A course’s material may be overly difficult or overly easy for the student, or the professor may be presenting the information in an inefficient or dull manner. Both of these problems are only able to be solved to an extent, the first by working to place students more accurately within their skill level, and the latter by showing the professor better teaching techniques. A much more solvable problem, and one that may spawn the majority of disengagement, is a very low teacher to student ratio. In exceptionally large classes, it is easier for students to get “lost” in the sizeable student body. Without any real contact with the instructor, or anyone who is familiar with the course material, a student has a greater potential to get confused, behind, and eventually disengaged.

Anthropology 143: Biology of Human Behavior, with around 700 enrolled students, is a course large enough for this effect to manifest itself. In an attempt to begin breaking this tendency, a “blended” section of the course has recently been introduced to students. This smaller section puts the students in less “large lecture” time and gives them additional work with an online version of the course, stationed on Moodle. The goal of the blended section is to give students a “smaller class” version of the larger course, containing the same information but presented in a way to help stem disengagement.

The Solution

The problem described above certainly calls for a solution of which we feel we have the beginnings. A peer-mentoring program offers low-cost benefits to students, professors, and the University alike.

There are some programs already in place that resemble peer mentoring. Courses like LAS 101 or Business 101 provide students with unique opportunities to learn more about campus life and their academic field, but they stand-alone. The model for these courses cannot be uniformly applied to other courses. The structure is specific to that course, and it would be difficult (if not impossible) to take it and try to squeeze another course into it. To lessen the difficulty of applying peer mentoring across a variety of curricula, our team has a proposal for a different sort of program that can be tested first with ANTH 143, and then applied to other courses should it find success.

The basis of our proposal is that students are most able to engage fellow students. We come to this conclusion based upon our own experience, that of our colleagues in CHP 395 (Designing for Effective Change), and that of our friends outside of class. Outside of class, mentoring relationships arise out of the need for guidance, academic assistance, and friendship. We want to take the idea of these relationships and, with ANTH 143 to start, establish them from the beginning of the semester in a way that guarantees that students will have at least guidance and academic assistance provided for them. To explain how we envision this taking place, we use ANTH 143 as our example for the remainder of our proposal.

Students who have previously taken ANTH 143 are vital to the success of this model. We need students with significant interest in being peer mentors and who have excellent performance in the class. A survey, given to students at the end of the semester (see attached example), is our means of finding students who are interested. A simple grade check is our means of determining who among those interested are most qualified. It is our feeling that interested mentors would most likely be anthropology, molecular and cellular biology, or integrative biology majors, but students from any major may express interest. About 15 to 20 peer mentors would be ideal for the program.

Peer mentors would enroll in a class on leadership while they fulfill their responsibilities to students currently taking ANTH 143. The leadership class, in general, would teach mentors skills that they could apply to their field, whether medicine, research, or anything else. Specific to ANTH 143, mentors would learn how to assist students with both academic material and online aspects of the course. The latter of these is especially important because a “blended learning” approach to the course is being piloted this semester and may be fully implemented in fall 2010. Having students who have “been there” fulfill a mentoring role would likely help students as they try to navigate the online technology. To make sure that mentors are available to help at a variety of times, each mentor would have scheduled office hours where any student could come in for assistance.

We believe that a system of increasing incentives will be fair compensation and attract peer mentors. Since students can take ANTH 143 during their first semester on campus, they may choose to be peer mentors for each of the following three fall semesters. During their first semester as a mentor, students might receive course credit as their compensation, which is fair because much of their learning will be concurrent with their acting as mentors. Students who wish to return as mentors would receive hourly pay. We feel that monetary compensation for second or third time mentors is fair because their responsibility would increase to mentoring students in the class as well as helping teach other mentors. Mentors would be encouraged to return as many times as they wish because experienced mentors are a vital asset to any mentoring program. An interdepartmental drive toward peer mentoring might allow students from different disciplines to be tutors within courses offered by departments other than their own. We think mentors would return because each semester would offer them a different experience, compensation would increase as they remain with the program, and this unique opportunity would augment any resume.

One might wonder if such a program is feasible given the current economic condition of our state and the decrease of fiscal resources, but there are several reasons why the program will work. First of all, it is possible that the program will require no extra resources during its first semester. No mentors will be paid during their first semester. Only if mentors were to return for a second fall semester would they receive any sort of financial benefits. Second, the use of mentors may be more efficient than using graduate student teacher’s assistants. Mentors can grade assignments as part of their duties, and they already are taking on some of the responsibilities of graduate students by assisting with explaining material to undergraduates. Furthermore, the current model of ANTH 143, and we would hypothesize other courses, requires a lot of teaching and preparation time from professors who are hired to do research. Professor Kate Clancy, instructor for ANTH 143, has higher productivity under this model, and we think students still learn more. It is difficult for Professor Clancy to do research in the fall while preparing an honors, blended, and regular section of the course. Therefore, we believe introducing a single, blended section with peer mentoring would be a more efficient model for ANTH 143, and for other courses.

ANTH 143

In the past, ANTH 143 has been very responsive to innovation. The professor incorporates iClickers into lecture as a way to conduct formative assessment. In addition, the course has a Moodle site, a classroom management system and virtual learning environment. The Moodle site has allowed the anthropology department to take the next step in molding the course to better fit students’ needs and test the capabilities of new technology. The aforementioned “blended” section of ANTH 143 depends on Moodle for organizing outside activities, talking with the professor and teacher’s assistant, and general classroom management. The next step, we believe, to making ANTH 143 a course that meets students’ needs, beyond even one semester, is to apply a peer-mentoring model to the blended section.

Our group received access to the ANTH 143 Moodle page near the end of the fall semester. On first glance, there are a few differences that immediately jump out. First, there are “virtual office hours.” Students may talk with the instructor online at certain times throughout the week. In addition, there are opportunities for traditional in person office hours. Furthermore, some activities in the blended course require “Wimba Voice Tools,” which “allow you to record and listen to audio,” according to the Moodle site. None of us, as seniors, have ever had to use such technology during our academic careers here at the U of I; this is new to us, and it seems like it might take some time for students to become familiar with using it for assignments. With new technology and online learning, it seems like there could be potential for challenges using it and initial reservations on the part of students. From the student perspective, having someone who has had similar experience available to answer questions is a significant help.

The general structure of the blended section has students complete weekly readings, activities, and assignments. Readings come from one of two texts, which students may purchase in hard copy or online form. Activities are, for the most part, online discussions, videos to watch, or something in that same realm of learning. Assignments include online quizzes or group project submissions on a wiki. Though lecture and some group work require in-person interaction, the majority of the course takes place independently from wherever a student’s computer resides.

Peer mentors who have taken ANTH 143, especially those who have experience using the online technology associated with the blended section, could have a very positive impact on students’ learning experiences. They could hold their own in-person and online office hours to help students figure out the technology and coursework. It is likely that a former student will have previously encountered any sort of technological gaffe encountered by a student in the blended section. Peer mentoring makes communication among these students easier. When students begin working on their unit projects in groups of five, there begins a series of “checks” to make sure the group is progressing toward its common goal. A peer mentor could be assigned to their group to check in with them on their progress. If there is a topic in the course that is confusing, students may contact a former student may be able to address it before the instructor needs to be involved.

Peer mentors will, as previously mentioned, take a course that instructs them in best practice and leadership. They will learn how to take what they already know from having taken ANTH 143 and help their fellow students. These are skills that everyone should have. One truly understands something when one is able to clearly explain it to a peer and have them in turn understand it. After having taken this seminar course, mentors will have the skills required to do their best. They will, under the guidance of the professor or an experienced peer mentor, aid students currently enrolled in ANTH 143.

It may seem like this proposal takes students away from the professor, who is seen as an “expert,” and requires them to spend more time with fellow students, who might be considered more of “amateurs.” In reality, this strategy is meant to put students into contact with the most talented people who became experienced with and succeeded using the online technology of a blended course. A single instructor for a course of 750 students is not the solution, and using all available resources, including former students, is the solution. To demonstrate this, we have the following quote from an announcement posted to the ANTH 143 Moodle site on August 24, 2009:

“This class is large, with an enrollment of 750 students. This means that I [Professor Clancy] won’t get to know as many of you as I would like. Please take advantage of every opportunity you can to meet me, such as a quick hello or question after class, or visiting my office hours. Because of the volume of email for a class this size I ask that you not email me and instead email the TA – should the email involve me they will forward it along. Don’t misunderstand this sanity-saving strategy as my not wanting to get to know you. I hope you will get as interested and invested in this material as I am, and I hope we will get to engage with it outside of class time or in other ANTH courses that you may take with me.”

What we have in ANTH 143 is a professor who truly wishes to know students and interact with them and 750 students who are interested in learning. There is a gap present that can be filled if we are willing to try an approach that has been successful at smaller scales.

With ANTH 143, we have both a course that has shown itself to be able to be adapted to new resources and ideas in instruction. Applying the peer-mentoring model we have proposed is the next step for this course and possibly for others on campus. It will teach students leadership skills; provide current ANTH 143 students with help from experienced students; increase student engagement; free the University from requiring so many teachers’ assistants; and free Professor Clancy to do more of the research she has been hired to do. Overall, we believe this model will work well for all parties involved and should be considered.

Subgroup on Peer Mentoring Network

Subgroup on Catalog of Campus Mentoring Programs

Summary of the Mentoring Catalog Project


Our project focused on implementing a comprehensive catalog of all of the mentoring programs available at University of Illinois. Although several registered student organizations at University of Illinois offer mentoring programs, an organized list of such mentoring programs is not available or broadcasted to the student body. Thus, through our project, our group hoped to take advantage of the resources already available at our university in order to inform our fellow students about these mentoring programs.


During the first couple weeks of working on the class project, our technologically challenged group took time to get familiar with the survey service through Google. A couple of us (AKA Alessandra) were anxious to get the survey out as quickly as possible. Yet spending time thinking about how to make the questions even better turned out to be really beneficial.

Soon, we had a survey that asked all the right questions. We then divided up all of the registered student organizations on campus and contacted these organizations through our survey in order to get information regarding student groups. Our survey was short, yet comprehensive so that we could receive the right information without alienating those groups that would not have time to fill out a lengthy survey.


Over twenty different groups- from religious groups to academic groups- responded to our survey. We then complied all of the results that we received in an organized document. Still, the question lingered of how we were actually going to distribute this information? We knew that we wanted our project to have a lasting effect. The projects of our classmates gave us a hint. We decided to contact the coordinators for the college introductory courses to see what they thought about our project. All of the LAS 100, ENG 100, and BUS 101 coordinators were more than willing to work with us in getting our information out to the incoming freshman this fall.

Plans for the future

We have several plans for the future that we hope to implement during this week, over winter break, and throughout next semester. First, in class, Tyler mentioned the idea of working with the Division of General Studies. Thus, before leaving for break, Alessandra is going to contact this division and discuss our mentoring program with them, just as we did for LAS 100, ENG 100, and BUS 101. .

Second, we plan to link the document to a netfile or a certain webpage so that students can access the information online.

Third, to reach out to students other than freshman, this week each of us is going to take an hour to put up our work in the campus buildings- in classrooms and on bulletin boards. We also plan to distribute the document as fliers in the Union and other campus locations after break, upon getting approval from the university.

Fourth, beyond winter break, Nashrah volunteered to keep the information updated. On the bottom of the catalog, we are planning to write a note insisting that if any changes or additional information comes up, to contact her e-mail address. She will update the “master list” with new contact information and new organizations.

We hope that more organizations will come forward with mentoring programs in the future, once this catalog becomes more advertised and distributed. When Nashrah leaves next year, she will find someone else to “carry the flame” as we eloquently said in class.


The main reason why we believe that our group was successful was because we always kept in mind – “How can we be the most effective with the resources and the time available to us?” We are very proud that our project left something concrete to help students make the most out of their time at University of Illinois.

By: Alessandra Musetti, Nashrah Maryum, Greg Eisenmann, and Fred Sollberger

Subgroup on LAS 100

Tiffany Chan, Roveiza Irfan, Xuan Li

In order to address the problem of student disengagement on campus, we chose to examine the LAS 100 course at the University of Illinois. The College of LAS constitutes more than half of the University of Illinois; it has 14,000 students, 800 faculty, and more than 50 departments and unites. (College of LAS Website, 2009)


Course Overview:

LAS 100 is a learning community course offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The main goal of the course is to help ease the transition to college life and to introduce freshmen to resources on campus. The class acts as a "discussion" section to an introductory higher enrollment course. For example, one section may have students who all happen to be enrolled in MCB 150, the introductory biology course. The section meets every week, is limited to 18 students, and is led by a junior or senior Learning Leader. Topics covered in the class include test-taking, financial aid, dorm life issues, and introductory to the UIUC library system. Learning Leaders not only lead the discussion sessions, they also guide the students toward resources and opportunities on campus.

LAS 111 is a sister course to LAS 100. It is essentially the same class as LAS 100 but it is not linked to a general studies class. LAS 111 is simply titled "The Illinois Experience."

As of Fall 2009, an introductory course like LAS 100 or LAS 111 is required for all incoming freshmen in the college.

Course Requirements:

The course is one hour credit based on a scale of 100 points. Grading for LAS100/111 consists of four parts: attendance, class participation, community service, and homework. Attendance is required for each class and a weekly assignment is due at the beginning of each class. Class participation includes taking part in class discussion and completing four hours of community service work outside of the class.


Our research process included emailing and in-person meetings with various people associated with the LAS 100 discussion sections. This includes: Ruth Hoffman (the head of the program) LAS learning leaders, students part of the LAS group formed to improve the sections, past students, and students currently in the class. We also visited one of the discussion sections and had the opportunity to experience the class. In the class, we spoke to a couple students that were able to give their honest opinions. We feel that going to the classroom itself is the best research data we have because it is unbiased. The other reflections of the course were received from students who were active and had positive opinions about the course.



· Only some of the topics on the syllabus seemed relevant, from the perspective of freshmen. In topics deemed irrelevant, students were disengaged.

· Students are unresponsive to Learning Leaders

· Difficulty in concentrating topics to one major area of study since LAS students comprise the biggest range of majors and breadth of career goals

· Students perceive the class a “blow-off” and this negatively influences future students


· Students have the opportunity to interact with other students from their large lecture courses, which allows them to form study groups and work on assignments together

· Students have the opportunity to learn about resources available on campus, like the Library, Career Center, and study abroad opportunities

· Website with resources for students:


1. After talking with the student leaders, we think it would be a good idea to make the course an eight week course instead of a full semester course. There are eight subjects that are particularly more important than the other ones covered in LAS 100; those will be the topics to keep. These topics include: overview of campus/academic culture, housing, professional development, registration, stress management, study abroad, current event discussion, and final reflection.

2. Another recommendation we have is to incorporate outside speakers into the class curriculum. These individuals could be representatives of RSOs, the study abroad office, or campus deans and faculty. LAS 100 is all about helping students transition to college, so why not have those who have been there and are successful talk about how they got to be where they are? This goes along with what a couple of the other groups are doing with integrating their media project and peer mentoring information into a handout for the class. Many students involved in RSOs enjoy college because they found something that they were passionate about. These students could better motivate freshman students than any professor. On the other hand, professors and other renowned speakers could provide credibility. For example, we could bring in the study abroad adviser to talk about the procedures for studying abroad; a panel of students who have studied abroad could also join in the class session. This would be much more beneficial and engaging than having a learning leader who has never been abroad pass out a few pamphlets.

3. The students who researched Engineering 100 seemed to come about more positive results that our group for LAS 100. We believe this is because of not only the competitiveness of the college---arguably some of the highest caliber students at the university, but also because the separation of the students into majors makes the course seem more relevant. Perhaps LAS 100 can separate the discussion sections according to major or professional interest.

4. In our experience, we feel that the learning leaders are passionate and dedicated to helping the freshmen. These learning leaders, who are selected through an application process and are paid, are successful students who have been able to take advantage of their time at the school. However, some of the students did voice concerns over the format of the class. Perhaps the learning leaders should have more open communication so they can better understand the mission of the class and feel like they are making a bigger difference.

5. The Learning Leaders indicated that most of the time, there is not enough information to fill the 50-minute class session. One possibility for improvement could be that the Learning Leaders present on the class topic for about 35 minutes, and save the last 15 minutes for group activities. During the group activity time, the Learning Leader could hold one-on-one conferences with each student (perhaps two students per week). This time would function as a peer mentoring session, and the Learning Leader could address some of the more personal academic or professional concerns of the student. Freshmen students would be able to ask any questions they may be too shy of to ask in class and the learning leaders could also get feedback on how the class is progressing.

6. Grades are a motivator for students and the fact that this class is pretty easy makes students less engaged. One solution could be for the course to increase the number of points in the class, and devoting a larger percentage to participation points. Instead of participation points being “free points” for students who show up to class, it could include writing a list of 2-3 questions they have each week and posing them in the next class session. This would force students to reflect on the topic covered each week and also help the learning leader guide the discussion better.

Subgroup on Engineering 100

Christine Cheng, David Luedtke, Niranjan Venkatesan


Engineering 100 (ENG 100) at the University of Illinois is a zero credit hour course taken pass/fail that serves to introduce new students in the College of Engineering to each other, to the resources on the Illinois campus, and to the many opportunities available after graduation; the course meets twice weekly for the first seven weeks of the fall semester each year. The course was created to meet the “University 101” requirement, which stipulates that each college on campus have an introductory course for new freshman students. As such, all engineering students are required to complete a University 101 course as one part of their degree requirements. For most students, this means taking ENG 100 their first semester; however, if they fail the course, they will have to retake it the next year. Students who transfer into a program from within the University will not need to take ENG 100 if they have completed a different University 101 class (e.g. a different section of ENG 100 or LAS 100). Transfer students from outside the University take a different class, Engineering 300, which is not discussed here.

ENG 100’s stated goal is “to catch the new freshmen students as they enter and instill in them high ideals, confidence, and the noble purpose of the engineering profession. With a solid understanding of the preparation required to ultimately achieve their goals, these students will very quickly become contributing members of the engineering profession and accomplished Illinois alumni.” This goal evolved from three main considerations: That new students may or may not know much about what the discipline of engineering actually entails; that the large classes that new students typically take are not conducive to the formation of relationships with professors, older students, or one another; and that an understanding of the tools and opportunities available on campus will help new students be successful even after ENG 100 has finished.

The structure of ENG 100 is instrumental in achieving these goals. Small sections of about 18 students are lead by Engineering Learning Assistants (ELAs), who are undergraduate upperclassmen who have demonstrated strong academic achievement, leadership and involvement in campus activities, and strong communication skills. Sections are divided by major so that students will take the course with other students in their field of study; typically, the ELA has the same major as the students. The ELAs are more than TAs: they also act as peer mentors for the students. In addition to forming relationships with the ELA during class, students are encouraged to meet with the ELAs outside of class if they have specific concerns, perhaps to review the students’ resumes or discuss possible major changes. ELAs are trained in a six hour session prior to the beginning of the course, and given materials that will help them prepare lesson plans for the class sessions. The topics for each lesson, as well as the short homework assignments for each lesson, are all proscribed by a detailed course manual.

The topics covered include:

1. Introduction to Engineering 100 + Why Diversity Matters on Campus

2. Navigating the Illinois Campus

3. The College of Engineering

4. The Engineering Profession

5. Your Engineering Major

6. Developing Professional Skills

7. ECS, Career Fairs, & Internships

8. Habits of Effective Engineering Students

9. Options for Engineering Graduates

10. Multidisciplinary Engineering Challenges

11. Setting & Achieving Goals

12. Building a Powerful Network

13. Teamwork

After the course is completed, ELAs are invited to provide feedback about the course to the course’s administration, comprised of the Program Director, Assistant Dean Susan Larson, as well as two Engineering 100 Student Co-Directors, Amanda Burns and Claire Joseph. The Student Co-Directors are also known as “Head ELAs.” The feedback provided by the ELAs is used to develop the course’s content and syllabus. Student feedback was not collected this year because in past years it was not influential in any way after being compiled. Some ELAs independently surveyed their sections mid-course to improve their teaching, but this was not done on a course-wide scale.


Engineering 100 Fall 2009 Engineering Learning Assistant Teaching Manual, ©2009 College of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Engineering 100 Course Book, ©2009 College of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dialogue with Claire Joseph, Engineering 100 Student Co-Director

Discussion on Potential Administrative Course Changes

One change that is currently under examination is to make Engineering 100 worth one hour credit for a grade rather than the current zero credit hour and pass/fail system. The general consensus often seems to attribute student disengagement to whether a class has credit assigned to it or not. It is thought that students are more likely to value the course and take it seriously if they receive credit for it; however, just because a course contributes one hour to an engineering student’s major does not guarantee improved student engagement or necessarily make the course more significant to the student.

The Engineering 100 course website briefly addresses this issue in its Frequently Asked Questions section. Its reason for the zero-credit hour assignment is that “it does not require an out of class intensive workload.” In our research, we looked up what the basic definition was for “academic credit hour.” While every university calculates it differently, an academic credit hour is defined generally as “the unit of measuring educational credit usually based on the number of classroom hours per week throughout a term” (Merriam Webster). By this definition, Engineering 100 should count for 1 credit hour, but the College of Engineering seems to have a different means of measuring academic hours.

If we go by the College’s definition, it is true that the students do not have a lot of workload outside of class. Almost all the assignments are low key and require menial work. It might be interesting to compare this course to Engineering 101 entitled “Engineering at Illinois.” ENG 101 is approved for 1 credit hour though it still uses pass/fail grading. Based on its course catalog description, that course seems to focus on introducing students to engineering majors and careers. While engineering students can take it, the description seems to indicate that this course is intended to help those who may want to transfer into the College. In particular, the course is tailored towards those in Division of General Studies. Students enrolled in DGS are ones who have not declared a major or who are in transition between colleges or majors. The DGS website claims that its students make up 10% of all Illinois undergraduates – approximately 3,100 students.

Since ENG 101 is intended to help students make a significant college decision, it may have students do more work than in ENG 100. Given that ENG 100 is a requirement for all Engineering freshmen, the student might prefer to have it counted as pass/fail. It is one less course to worry about during the first year of college. This kind of reasoning is found in other universities such as MIT where freshmen have all pass/fail courses during their first semester. The argument for this system is to aid the freshmen as they transitioned from high school to college. Before, the pass/no record system applied for the entire year since 1973 when it was established by MIT faculty, but in 2003, the administration changed the freshman spring semester to be on the A/B/C/D grading scale. Studies have been done to see whether this increased the students’ scores in later years, but the results were inconclusive.

All in all, the College of Engineering should think carefully through the potential impacts of changing the credit hour for ENG 100. The benefits may not outweigh the costs of implementation such a system change.

Besides the course credit issue, we also researched other potential changes for ENG 100. We came up with the following recommendations.

1) Training sessions: In our interviews with ENG 100 students and ELAs, we observed that the success of the class depended largely upon the ELAs’ teaching methods and creativity. One ELA said that the biggest challenge was keeping the course material interesting. His strategy was to include “active games or challenges so that they would have to pay attention on some level.” One of the ENG 100 students said that most of the class sessions were engaging, but that was due to the ELA’s direction rather than the course material. These comments seem to indicate that the College is recruiting the right kind of students to be ELAs. The ELAs are willing to give some effort towards the class and to think outside the box. The College should be more supportive and give more guidance to these upper level undergraduates. Currently, ENG 100 offers only a 6 hour training session. In other similarly run classes such as Business 101 or programs like the Writer’s Workshop, student teachers take semester long courses in the semester preceding the teaching period. The College might consider lengthening its training sessions, so that ELAs are even more prepared. More preparation will enhance the independency of the ELAs and the quality of the program. During those sessions, the College should ask the ELAs what they think should be incorporated into the ENG 100 class for that year. Since most of the ELAs are past students, they would be good sources of feedback.

2) Follow up sessions: ENG 100 not only introduces the students to the Engineering College and university, but it also introduces engineering students to each other. The College was wise to group students by major and to assign ELA with the same major to each section. The entire group already has a common point to start out together. Some students in ENG 100 who we interviewed still remember the class as a time when they built friendships with those in their respective majors. One ELA also thought that the course material could be improved with lessons that centered on connecting the students and allowing them time to get to know each other. Given that sections share the same major, this is a valid point that can be acted upon in the future. One suggestion is to have the school conduct two or three short follow up sessions either during the second half of the semester (when the class is over) or the following semester. Some leadership conferences incorporate this for their participants after the conference has occurred. The sessions do not need to have to be elaborate, but they would just provide a time for people to reconnect. The college could also invite guest speakers to these sessions, so that the students could have a chance to interact and ask questions based on what they learned during the course.

3) Online availability of materials: Since freshmen students are taking ENG 100, they might not realize the importance of the information they are given until much later on in their college careers. One student remarked how he only realized as a senior that the information he got was valuable. He now applies the knowledge he gained as he is looking for internships and shaping career plans. Another student also said that he recalls very little of the information given during the course. As a sophomore currently, he believes that the information could be helpful. We suggest that if the student material used during the course was available online, students might benefit even more from it. Freshmen often are undergoing a big transition process during their first year, so allowing them to access the material afterwards when they have had time to reflect might be beneficial. The college would incur little cost to act on this recommendation.

Comparison Between Incoming Freshman Class in ENG vs. LAS Departments

To examine the reasons behind the varying success of ENG 100 and LAS 100 it is first necessary to look at the backgrounds of the students in each class. The freshman population entering into Engineering and LAS differ in many aspects. For our project we would like to focus on the class size and standardized testing scores. These are the two factors that we felt were most closely associated with student disengagement.

September 08, 2009

Large classes with many students promote student disengagement. The speakers who visited class often mentioned that many students stopped paying attention to the class when they realized that the teacher did not notice them. Looking at the incoming freshman class in the Engineering department and LAS department we can see that there almost 600 more students in LAS. With a larger student base it becomes harder to give personal attention to each and everyone one. Especially due to the recent budget limitations, it is very difficult to support breaking down a large class into smaller classes.

Standardized testing is often used as a measure to find a “good” student. A good student can be defined as someone who is attentive to class and strives to learn in school. We also expect students who perform well in high school to continue their performance in college. If there are more “good” students in our classes we also expect the success of the class to rise. We can see from the table above that the incoming engineering freshman class has a marginally higher test average than those in LAS. From this we assume that there is a larger percentage of “good” students who make up ENG 100. This leads to a better performance for the class as a whole.

We then compared this data with our findings from both classes. From our findings we were able to see that the ENG 100 programs had a marginally higher approval rating than LAS 100. This supports our assumptions made earlier. We can also say that a similar program has a better chance of gaining success in the Engineering department when compared to LAS simply due to the Freshman demographics involved.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Libbie Morley Visit

Background Information

Libbie Morley taught undergraduate writing classes at the University of Kentucky and later went back while teaching to get her doctorate in educational policy in 2005. Before coming to University of Illinois, she worked at the writing center at the University of Kentucky for several years.

A writing center at the University of Illinois was created in the late 1940s as a consequence of a large influx of students after World War II lacking formal preparation for college and strong writing skills. In the 1980s, the writing center was called the Writing Clinic, and in 1989 the Center for Writing Studies was formed as a unit of the English Department, which took the administrative reins of the Writing Clinic. In 1990, the Writer’s Workshop opened its office in the Undergraduate Library, and since then has added locations in Grainger Library and Weston Hall. Until 2000, the Workshop was funded by the Provost. Today, the finances of the Writer’s Workshop are run by the Center for Writing Studies, with some funding from the College of LAS.

The purpose of the Writer’s Workshop is to provide writing assistance to anyone in the campus community. Although students often come in wanting someone to edit and proofread their writing, the consultants focus on helping with the more basic elements of following the writing prompt, organization of ideas, incorporating sources to support evidence for a thesis, and if there is time taking a look at grammar. The Workshop emphasizes the complete involvement of the student in improving his own writing. In a session, the consultant will take notes on what is said, but no marks are made on the writing--that is the responsibility of the writer. The writer can make changes or reject changes based on consultant suggestions. Sometimes the best result of the consultation is that the writer can verbalize ideas more easily than write them, and the consultant can guide the student to identify on their own what is missing in the writing.

It is necessary to schedule an appointment for the Writer’s Workshop, as consultants do not leave open time for walk-ins. The computerized scheduling system of the Writer’s Workshop, Tutor Trak, is a valuable tool for administrators like Libbie to be able to assess the effectiveness of the organization. This commercial scheduling software compiles such information as the student’s level in school, what type of writing the student has, if he or she is a native English speaker, and a list of additional demographic information. At the close of each month or semester, Tutor Track can report the number of students served, the number of repeat visits, demographic information, and tutor utilization. For example, around 85% of graduate students and 50% of undergraduates that come to the Workshop are non-native English speaking. Tutor utilization--the number of hours used of those available from consultants--is usually high (90-95%) compared to similar writing centers at other universities which may have an average of 75% tutor utilization.

Training the Consultants

The graduate student consultant training for the Writer’s Workshop consists of a two-day workshop before the semester begins. During this workshop, practice sessions are performed and questions are answered. The primary trainer is Libbie Morley, who assisted by returning grad student consultants. The two-day workshop is followed by 1-2 weeks of the trainee consultants observing veteran consultants’ sessions. Additionally, consultants are given some student papers to read and critique over the summer preceding their consulting semester. With these two activities, consultants are given experience in both face-to-face interactions with students as well as experience in improving papers.

The undergraduate student consultant training is similar to the grad consultant training, except that the undergrads are taking the consulting job for course credit, forcing all training sessions to be during the semester. In this case, a week’s worth of classes are devoted to consultant training. During the next one or two weeks (depending on the consultant’s experience,) the undergraduate consultants participate in co-consulting with a veteran consultant, participating in the consulting work but relying on the veteran consultant for direction.

In all cases, training sessions are concluded with a survey where trainees input their thoughts on the training sessions and how they can be improved. (It should be noted that these surveys are not ICES forms. Instead, they are short-answer surveys, allowing for a greater amount of response information to be collected.)

Volunteer workers are generally not accepted as consultants, unless they are returning consultants that Libbie Morley personally trusts. This is because there is no room for absences: if a volunteer worker decides not to come in one day, an entire day’s worth of appointments have to be canceled.

Grad students work as consultants as part of their graduate fellowship, and generally undergraduate students are compensated for their consulting work with course credit.

Other Details

Libbie’s favorite part about the Writer’s Workshop is working with consultants and writers. Her least favorite part, though, is not having the resources to help everyone. The statistics kept on the Writer’s Workshop show that the Writer’s Workshop could grow substantially and still have the same high rate of utilization. The main constraints in expanding the Writer’s Workshop are money and space.

The monetary constraint stands in the way of additional hours, more consultants, and extra services. Aside from the consultants and Libbie, the Writer’s Workshop also employs an office manager and two student workers. If the Writer’s Workshop offered more hours, the non-consultant employees would need to be paid for more hours. Currently, one reason the Writer’s Workshop cannot afford to be open over the summer instruction periods is because it cannot afford its auxiliary employees. Libbie admits that if the Writer’s Workshop received the funds to expand, she would like to have an assistant so that she could dedicate more of her time to the Writer’s Workshop instead of administrative duties. Adding more consultants would require the University to give more/larger assistanceships and course credit. Hiring more consultants, though, would be beneficial to the Writer’s Workshop in that more students could be served in better ways. More students could be served if the Writer’s Workshop could increase the number of consultants (or the number of hours) it has at satellite locations. Students could be served better with the addition of specifically graduate consultants because then graduate consultants could work exclusively with grad students and undergraduate consultants exclusively with undergraduates. Also, having more consultants available would allow the Writer’s Workshop to host special presentations both to specific organizations and to the general campus population, have walk-in hours, and do more “fun stuff.” Libbie refers to “fun stuff” as special events the Writer’s Workshop could host addressing items unrelated to writing for classes—such as creative writing seminars, personal writing seminars, general writing-improvement seminars, etc. Finally, the Writer’s Workshop does not offer very much, if any, professional development for its consultants. Libbie believes that consultants would benefit from being observed/taped and then having meetings to discuss their feedback. She believes this would help consultants with their consulting skills, personal growth, and professional presence. Naturally, longer hours staffed with more consultants would result in a need for additional space.