Course Redesign with Student-Faculty Partnership (Part 1)
by Ketevan Kupatadze
Whenever I talk about student-faculty partnerships with my colleagues, the first questions they ask have always been: where does one start, or what can be considered a partnership? How small or how big should my experiment with student-faculty partnership be? In the following blog posts, I describe several of my experiments involving student-faculty partnership: one, which was a relatively big project that was planned in collaboration with other colleagues, involving several students and work/research outside the classroom setting. And others (described in a later blog post), that were on a much smaller scale and had to do with asking for students’ help with co-creation of a course syllabus, a class assignment, and end-of the-semester feedback on a course.
Several years ago, in partnership with two of my colleagues at Elon I decided to (re)design a course in my discipline, Spanish language and Hispanic culture. My colleagues did the same in their respective disciplines. We collaborated with our students in order to engage in a dialogue about teaching and learning and, more importantly, to invite student voices into our conversations about pedagogy.
My specific goals for this project were to revise an already existing course, then titled: “Advanced Spanish Composition,” which was a required course for all Spanish minors and majors. I was looking for in-depth student input on revision of the course syllabus, goals and learning outcomes, course assignments, as well as the selection of the most appropriate textbook.
Throughout the years, I had modified the course considerably based primarily on my personal observations and student feedback. Students’ final and mid-semester course evaluations, as well as focus-groups conducted by Elon University’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, had been extremely helpful in understanding students’ expectations of the course and their overall response to it. Thinking that more in-depth feedback from students would be beneficial, I decided to ask students for even more input when redesigning the course.
My primary objective when starting the course design project with student collaboration was to receive extensive and meaningful input from students – to invite them to share their perspective on the positive as well as negative aspects of the course that they had already taken, and suggest possible ways of making the course more appealing for future students. I did not want to silence my voice in this process, but rather become an interlocutor with my students. I also was curious to know if students would be willing and capable of contributing meaningful insights to the overall design of the course and to see how this collaboration would alter my students’ and my perception of the teaching and learning process and our respective roles in it.
I invited three of my former students to collaborate on course design. I decided from the very beginning that it was paramount that I invite former and not current students to collaborate because I strongly believed that the partnership would not succeed unless some sort of equality (at least, when it came to power relationships) was established.
I chose the students based on the following: they exhibited diverse linguistic proficiency in order to address the differences that exist in the level of students’ preparedness in the advanced language courses; they had shown dedication to language learning as part of their minor or major; and they had an exceptional level of engagement with the subject compared to their peers. These were not all “A” students, but rather students with diverse levels of knowledge who shared equal interest for the subject (Spanish, in this case) and were highly motivated to learn. Students were told in advance that the project would require a semester-long commitment with individual and group work of 8 to 10 hours. Students were also promised stipends of approximately $200 upon the completion of the project.
Since my goal was to redesign the existing course incorporating student voices, and considering that these were students who had previously taken the course, I organized the process of the project in the following manner:
- Students reflected upon their initial expectations of the course and how they were or were not met;
- Students then looked at the syllabus of the course and were asked to rewrite the course objectives based on their needs and expectations;
- Students were asked to align the existing activities of the course (tests, projects, presentations, class discussions, grammar workshops, etc.) with the newly written (or rewritten) course objectives;
- Students were asked to add/eliminate activities when/if necessary, as well as adjust grade distribution for each activity;
- Students were asked to think of an ideal textbook for the newly redesigned course. For this final assignment, students wrote a list of components that an ideal textbook was to contain. I created a rubric based on their lists and after this, students evaluated six different textbooks and chose the one that met most of their expectations.
The Table below describes some of the changes made to the course and includes comments from faculty and students.
|Advanced Spanish Composition|
|Change/contribution||Comments from faculty and student collaborators|
|Learn about history, civilization, and diverse literary authors of Spanish-speaking societies.||Student collaborators suggested to structure the course based on historical and literary content in order to introduce more consistently different authors and texts (cultural, historical, and literary) of the Hispanic societies.|
|Improve students’ knowledge of Spanish morphology, syntax, and writing style through reading of original texts and extensive writing projects.||Student collaborators pointed out that the course did and should focus on developing their writing skills and on giving them effective writing tools; Hence, they singled out the objective of the course to develop their writing skills through the instructions of Spanish morphology, syntax, and writing style. Hence, they added the latter as one of the objectives of the course separate from the objective to improve students’ written argumentative and analytical skills. Students also pointed out the importance of reading seeing the interdependence of reading and writing. One student wrote: “through reading, I feel like I gained an understanding of how the Spanish language is composed that I could transfer to my writing” (Student #1)|
|Quizzes (vocabulary and grammar)
Reading comprehension and analysis
|Based on the feedback from student collaborators there will be as much focus on testing students’ reading comprehension and analysis skills in the quizzes and exams as the knowledge of vocabulary and grammatical accuracy.
Students noted that the quizzes should “test the knowledge of Hispanic societies” (Student #1); “Have reading quizzes” (Student #2).
|Option 1: Manual de gramática
Option 2: Essay 4 (3 versions)
|Since students’ linguistic proficiency varies dramatically, their goals for the course were also different. Those who came to the course with more advanced level of proficiency considered doing grammatical exercises “boring” and “useless” (Student #3), while for those with less proficiency these activities were essential. I tried to reach compromise, by offering students a choice between completing the grammar exercises and writing an essay. Students will have to consult with the instructor regarding the topic of the essay or the activities of the grammar workbook in order to address their personal weaknesses and/or interests.|
In my next post, I’ll reflect on the impact of these changes and the student-faculty partnership.
Ketevan Kupatadze, Senior Lecturer in Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures, is the 2017-2019 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Kupatadze’s CEL Scholar project focuses on student-faculty partnerships.