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)
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.
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: http://www.library.illinois.edu/ugl/howdoi/las100.html
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.