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L2.3

ARC: Analyze, Research, Communicate: A Skills-Based Freshman Course Focusing on Training in Key Academic Core Abilities

How would this plan work?
Why does Millsaps need this plan?
What are the learning outcomes for this plan?
How could we assess these learning outcomes?
Which students would this plan affect?
Would this replace or augment other programs on campus?
What resources would this plan require?
Are there any particular obstacles to this plan?

Contact person: Patrick Hopkins
For a copy of the proposal, click here.



How would this plan work?

1. Students would be divided up into Core 1 classes of 15-18 students as happens now. However, the home class professor is not there to teach everything we want from Core 1. They are there for guidance, working on exercises, advising, and helping with revision of projects.
2. Instead of the home professor teaching everything, students would attend a series of workshops, lectures, demonstrations, or classes (whatever is most appropriate for the subject matter) taught by faculty trained in the specific skill at hand. Thus, faculty would teach what they know and students would get the same training and shared experience across the entire freshmen class.
3. The skills focused on in this course would include:
a) Analyzing arguments (critical thinking skills focused on listening, reading, and watching persuasive or informative speech and understanding the structure of the argument, detecting assumptions, identifying rhetoric, identifying fallacies, judging evidence, and determining the strength of the argument)
b) Analyzing scientific and statistical information (learning how to be a critical consumer of scientific and statistical information, understanding key components of experimental design and statistical reporting, learning to judge the generalizability and strength of studies, learning to detect errors in reporting of data)
c) Research (learning to search for information and how to judge the relevance and quality of the information found)
d) Communicating through writing (learning how to write clear, concise essays, reports, summaries, reviews, or outlines that correctly document sources and support claims)
e) Communicating through oral and visual modes (learning how to present one's research and arguments visually and orally)
4. After going to a special class/workshop/presentation on the skill being developed, students would receive exercises practicing those skills and a project based on applying those skills. They would then return to their home class where they would discuss what they had been taught, practice exercises, and develop a plan for working on the project associated with that particular skill set. They would then start working on the project. When one project was completed and revised, they would move on to the next project.  The hope is that the skills they learn from one module and project would be applied to future projects and coursework.
5. This course could work either of two ways. First, it could simply replace the Core 1 course we have right now, lasting one semester. This would be useful, but would limit the training in core abilities we could effectively teach. Second, it could be spread out over a year, focusing on analysis and research in the first semester and writing and public communication in the second. This would provide much greater opportunity to train in the relevant skills, but would be a greater logistical change to our current schedule. Whether ARC was done in one semester or two could be decided later if the concept was considered valuable enough to merit QEP status.

Why does Millsaps need this plan?

  • For a long time, both faculty and students have expressed dissatisfaction with the required freshman introductory course - called LS 1000 before and now called Core 1. Students have often complained that the goals of the course are unclear and they are uncertain why they are taking it and what they are supposed to learn from it. Faculty have often complained that the course requires them to teach things they have no particular expertise in and that in general the course is uneven, unfocused, and unsystematic. Other faculty have often complained that students should have learned skills in Core 1 that they have not. This proposal attempts to solve those problems by creating a course that has clear and assessable educational objectives and learning outcomes, teaches core ability skills that can be applied to any discipline, deploys faculty in efficient ways by utilizing their areas of expertise, creates a shared experience for freshmen, and actually trains students directly in the skills they need.

What are the learning outcomes for this plan?

  • For Analysis:
Goal: Students will be able to read and listen to persuasive or informational writing and speech and a) recognize the issues, b) recognize assumptions, c) distinguish between argument and non-argumentative persuasion, d) outline arguments, e) determine credibility of claims, f) evaluate the strength of arguments, and g) determine what conclusions are warranted.
Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs): Outcomes for this skill could vary, but might include, for example, that 75% of students improve their scores on assessment measures 10% from pre-test to post-test, or that 75% of students achieve post-test assessment measures of "average" compared to normed 1st year university students.
  • For Research:
Goal: Students will be able to a) define research needs for particular purposes, b) identify appropriate resources, c) access resources, d) evaluate resources, and e) utilize resources ethically, legally, and effectively.
SLOs: Outcomes for this skill could vary, but might include, for example, that 75% of students improve their scores on assessment measures 10% from pre-test to post-test, or that 75% of students achieve post-test assessment measures of "satisfactory" according to standards judged as appropriate for our college freshmen.
  • For Communication:
Goal: Students will be able to a) develop a clear and focused purpose for oral and written communication, b) identify the relevant audience, c) develop a clear and well-argued text or presentation, d) identify and adopt appropriate voice, tone, and level of formality, e) make effective use of visual aids, and f) for oral presentations, demonstrate vocal qualities that augment and transmit content.
SLOs: Outcomes for this skill could vary, but might include, for example, that 75% of students achieve post-test assessment measures of "satisfactory" according to standards judged as appropriate for our college freshmen.

How could we assess these learning outcomes?

  • For Analysis: a number of standardized tests for critical thinking and analytical skills exist, including notably the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal, which focuses on recognizing assumptions and determining what conclusions are warranted from a set of claims, or the ETS Proficiency Profile, which includes a focus on synthesizing information, evaluating competing causal claims, and recognizing valid inferences. There are many others as well.

  • For Research: a number of research skills assessment instruments exist including tools developed by other schools on Information Literacy Skills Assessment, and commercial versions such as the Chillibreeze Online Research Skills Assessment Test, which focuses on internet research skills. We could also develop our own if needed.

  • For Communication: a number of portfolio methods of assessing writing and oral communication exist that use standardized rubrics. We could adopt one of these or develop our own. There are also standardized tests that address communication including the ACT Speaking Assessment. There are also standardized tests for grammar including Prentice-Hall's Diagnostic Test for Writers.

Which students would this plan affect?

  • All freshmen, and thus eventually, the majority of Millsaps students.

Would this replace or augment other programs on campus?

  • It would replace the current Core 1 course.

What resources would this plan require?

  • Financially, there would be a relatively small outlay of funds. Faculty (and in some cases where certain expertise was needed from outside, invited specialists) would need to be paid for classes, lectures, and workshops, since these presentations would be outside the normal class duties. This, however, is not unusual--Heritage and some other programs on campus already use this model to get faculty with certain types of expertise in contact with students. We would just be expanding this approach. Depending on what methods we chose for assessment, there would also be costs associated with pre- and post-test assessment. Commercial standardized tests costs vary greatly and depend on how many students take the test.

Are there any particular obstacles to this plan?

  • There would be some complexity in identifying exactly what core liberal arts abilities would be taught in this revised Core 1. There would be some difficulty in identifying which faculty would teach which modules. There would be some adjustment to a significantly different model of education in which the "home class" instructor was more of an advisor, coach, and editor than responsible for teaching every aspect of the Core 1 class (though this is also the value of the course) and in converting to a much stronger "culture of assessment" in which students are regularly assessed in quantitative as well as qualitative ways.


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