Initial Publication Date: July 12, 2012

Developing and Assessing Student Agency: The Process at Beloit College

A. Structures for Advising

The advising relationship and formal curricular structures that support advising stand at the center of this effort, which is located within the Initiatives program, Beloit's program for first-year and sophomore students. Each incoming student is assigned to an [link 'FYI (First-Year Initiatives) seminar'] based on his or her selection of four favorites among the topics being offered that year. The instructor of the seminar becomes the Initiatives advisor, the student's advisor in the liberal arts, for the first two years of college. The "developing student agency" project aims to make this advising relationship more intentional, reflective, and productive on the part of both advisors and advisees.

To this end, students complete reflective and goal-setting essays at crucial points in the advising process: when they first arrive on campus, and during each of their first three semesters in preparation for the Advising Practicum, the day that begins Beloit's preregistration period. Advisors make use of these essays in the individual and group advising processes.

Two of the essay prompts are almost identical in each iteration:

  1. Identify one specific learning experience from high school/the current semester that was especially meaningful and memorable—something that you think will have lasting impact on you. Explain why it had such an effect on you, and how you think it will affect your life in the future.
  2. Identify two specific learning goals you have for the semester ahead at Beloit College, and explain how you may be able to achieve them and what will be required of yourself and others to do so.

The prompts to which students respond in preparation for the preregistration period include additional questions that vary in accordance with the student's semester in college, and are arranged in a developmental sequence that supports and fosters Beloit's approach to the liberal arts. Each semester has a distinct theme (Semester 1: Exploration; Semester 2: Agency; Semester 3: Practice), which students explore through short essays focused on those themes. (The essay prompts are included in the guidelines provided below.) Students submit the essays online a couple of days before the Advising Practicum, a day in which classes are cancelled and a variety of advising sessions are held immediately prior to the preregistration period.

For students in their first, second, and third semesters, the Advising Practicum begins with an 80-minute advising workshop led by the Initiatives advisor. Advisors use student responses to the online essays as the primary basis for these workshops. (Optional guidelines for structuring these group discussions, posted below, are provided to faculty.) The workshops help students to prepare to take advantage of sessions offered during the remainder of the practicum, and to plan for individual advising meetings and the semester ahead.

Workshop Guidelines for First Semester (Acrobat (PDF) 38kB Jul16 12)

Workshop Guidelines for Second Semester (Acrobat (PDF) 72kB Jul16 12)

Workshop Guidelines for Third Semester (Acrobat (PDF) 61kB Jul16 12)

These student essays therefore serve several purposes:

  • First and foremost, they enable students to reflect on their past learning experiences and their aspirations for the future at a time when those experiences and aspirations can help to inform their decisions about courses and college life.
  • Additionally, the essays also signal to students and advisors the rationale for and value of core components of Beloit's liberal arts curriculum (i.e., the prompts and the way students process them through writing are crucial "messaging" mechanisms).
  • The essays are also valuable resources for liberal arts advisors, who can use them to learn more about students' educational experiences and goals, and to help students plan for the semester and years ahead.
  • In this way, the essays and the structures in which they are embedded also provide the contours and context for significant and meaningful development of faculty members as effective advisors.
  • Finally, the essays enable the Initiatives program to conduct research on student learning and to continue to improve the success of the program in helping students to achieve personal and program learning objectives.

In very important ways, the last of these purposes is ancillary to the rest; the essays are above all a strategy for advancing, deepening, and structuring crucial relationships and conversations between advisors and advisees. Precisely because they emerge in such a context, however, the essays also offer us rich resources for reflecting on our success in preparing students to achieve the outcomes we envision for them in the Initiatives program and at the college as a whole.

B. The Assessment Process

Essays written in response to the two questions that are repeated in each iteration are analyzed using a rubric developed to gauge student agency through four factors: internalization, curiosity, reflection, and ownership. The rubric borrows from existing AAC&U VALUE rubrics, has been adapted throughout the process, and we continue to make adjustments. Student essays are collected centrally as they are submitted to their advisors; students are given the opportunity to opt out of having their essays used anonymously as part of programmatic assessment. In the most recent assessment, a random sample of 50 student essay groups were selected, each consisting of three sets of paired essays.

As with the student essays themselves, a primary goal of the assessment process is to foster development that reaches beyond the assessment needs of the program. Faculty, staff, and student participation in the rubric development and evaluation process helps broaden campus understanding of and input on the advising process, the intended outcomes of the Initiatives Program and the College, and the tools of assessment. In its most recent form the assessment process took 5 hours, from 9 AM to 2 PM, with roughly 30 minutes spent explaining the program and process followed by roughly 1 hour and 15 minutes explaining rubric grading and holding a norming session using two essay pairs. Grading, followed by a brief closing and the distribution of feedback forms, took up the remainder of the session.

Using a translation table, essay numbers can later be associated back with student identification numbers so that the results can be correlated with other student work, educational choices, and assessment instruments—most recently, we have added the ten questions on the "Hope Scale" questionnaire (Snyder, 1991) to one of the instruments. Results can be then be used to inform faculty development, the creation of programmatic and advising resources, and the assessment process itself.

Student Agency Evaluation Rubric (Microsoft Word 48kB Jul12 12)

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