Foundational Studies Program
When over 500 employers were surveyed, they reported a desire for colleges to “place more emphasis” on the outcomes above. The results of this survey, in addition to the opinions of other higher education stakeholders, contributed to Boise State University’s creation of a course focused on civil learning outcomes: Civic and Ethical Foundations (UF 200). Find out more about Civic and Ethical Foundations at http://academics.boisestate.edu/fsp/students/uf-200/.
In December 2014 The Foundational Studies Program held a focus group with 15 students who were all over 25 years old to find out more about their experiences. The questions ranged from the general (“Essentially, what did you get out of the class?” and “what are the challenges faced as a non-traditional students at Boise State and in UF 100 in specific”) to specifics focusing on whether they would prefer non-traditional only sections, if there were particular readings or assignments that were effective, and if there were particular themes that they’d like to see in the future.
Overall, the students’ comments were valuable information for the UF 100 faculty as we continually seek to support all of our students’ learning and growth. The following document shares the feedback generously shared by the students.
The students were not shy with their thoughts. We first talked about why they picked the section that they picked. Most said, that they didn’t know what the course was about, but picked a course that was compatible with their work schedule. When asked, “were you aware of the various themes available in UF 100?” students told us that they generally were either unaware, or that the topic did not determine their choice. For instance, one student said, “I didn’t pay attention to the theme descriptions because I had scheduling conflicts with most plenaries.” Another student commented, “Yes, schedules are a problem” while other students seemed to agree with that summation. Some of the students commented that they did not understand the course because they did not attend orientation because of their work schedules.
A suggestion offered was to explain the course and the ULOs the first or second week of class. Several students expressed the idea that initially, they did not like the course mainly because they did not understand what they were supposed to be getting from it. One such comment was offered, explaining “When I started this class I hated it. But if they had explained the curriculum in the beginning…explained the purpose of the course that would have been great.” Similarly, another student told us, “I went in thinking I didn’t need the class. By the end, I completely reversed my opinion.” Not all of the students started the class unclear about its purpose. One student who was more clear about the reason for UF 100 said that she knew “going in that the class was on critical thinking. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much more focused I am.”
We wanted to understand the aspects of the course that posed a challenge to non-traditional students. One theme that resonated with many of the participants as a challenge was learning to use new technology. They tended to compare themselves to the younger students who might have been introduced to some of the learning technologies in high school, particularly social media and YouTube. The students said that the faculty would make assumptions that all the students were familiar with technology “things.” A few commented that they “looked around the room, they noticed that, “I was just as lost as the other students. I was confused. I didn’t understand that purpose. Once I figured it out – it all made sense.” Another commented, “There were times that I was intimidated. My biggest struggle was technology. (Blackboard, connect, google, websites).”
The non-traditional students had concerns with small group work. They noticed they needed to navigate the leadership role while working with traditional aged students. “I was doing a group project. Because I was older – everybody looked at me in my group for direction because I was the ‘mom’.” Group work, however, was highlighted as being very hard for these students, all of whom worked in addition to attending classes. Students’ comments on groups and the work in the class in general highlighted this tension they feel in balancing their responsibilities outside of the classroom with those of being a student. One student suggested that “Group work needs to mostly be done in class.” Because she was unable to do so, she explains that she, “ended up having to create a video message of my contributions to the presentation. I did it as worked and Skyped it in.” One student comment suggests that the students hear the “finish in 4 message” and see it as unrealistic,” and there’s too much pressure to graduate in four years. I’ve had several advisors pressure me to get done quickly.” Another adds, “The university thinks school is all students are doing.” Although these are not UF 100 specific issues, they impact students’ performance in the course and their perceptions of the course as part of the larger Boise State experience.
In the latter half of the discussion, the students were asked if they thought there was value in ‘non-traditional’ students taking UF 100. All of the participants said non-traditional students should take the UF 100 class. “The class was good for helping me develop time management. It really helped me manage multiple priorities.” Another student stated, “I went in thinking I didn’t need the class. By the end, I completely reversed my opinion.” When asked if Boise State should offer a non-traditional student only UF100 class. The majority of the group said no. They stated, “…it was good for me to be a fish out of water in a pond of much younger students….. I think veterans should be in the classroom because traditional students get exposure.” There were two students who thought it would be worth a try to have a +25 years old UF100 course. The justified that “Non-traditional students I think are more serious than the incoming, 18 year olds” and that, even in a blended class, the peers these non-traditional students tended to connect to were also older students. Another student stated, “I could see a group of non-traditional students as more of an opportunity to make some connections with, and it would be nice to have more serious students to work on projects with that had similar life experiences.”
We also asked the students to tell us about particular skills, readings, or projects that they thought were effective. Many cited particular readings that they were able to connect to (e.g. an article on Google’s business practices, a chapter from Gladwell’s Outliers). In this part of our conversation the students told us about enjoying learning to use Prezi and a “Contemporary Connections” assignment, as well as final projects in which they were able to “go deeper” into topics of interest to them. In this part of our discussion students used words like “relevance” and “connections” suggesting that they enjoyed the activities that permitted them to have a say in the project’s focus.
Finally, we asked this group about topics that they might find interesting for future course themes. Several mentioned health related themes or topics, another mentioned, “electronic arts” and another specifically referred to a “Reasoned Discourse” course that he thought could be developed into a UF 100 offering as the professor draws upon Philosophy, Sociology, and Psychology.
As we wrapped up, the students shared observations on the course and the behavior of students in the course. They commented that [traditional] freshmen don’t realize that they need to “take initiative on things” or perhaps they don’t appreciate the topics in the same way the non-traditional students do.
While the focus groups were overwhelmingly positive, there were areas of critique that we are sharing with professors teaching UF 100:
● Repeating the “why” take UF 100 beyond the first class is important. The students felt lost in the course and they believe the younger students were also
● Offering more online sections would be helpful to non-traditional students
● Providing opportunities to go deeper into shorter readings would be appreciated
● Understanding that many of them are working 40 plus hours in addition to the course and that not everyone is a typical college student.
● Keeping group work within the course time (because of the point above about work).
Note: We appreciate the assistance of Rick Moore and Stephanie Cox who volunteered to lead a focus group as well as the 15 students who volunteered to help us. 10 additional students volunteered, however, to keep our groups manageable, we limited our invitation to the first 16 students who were able to attend. Student participants were given a $15 gift card to Starbucks in appreciation for their time.
The Foundational Studies Program Council (FSP Council) has drafted a University Learning Outcomes (ULO) Assessment plan that outlines the collection and evaluation of student learning evidence. This fall, faculty teaching Disciplinary Lens Literature and Humanities (DLL) as well as Disciplinary Lens Visual and Performing Arts (DLV) are invited to pilot our data submission form and to provide feedback to the FSP Council. See the attached document for details on the multi-year multi-phase assessment plan.