Developing Student Agency

Phase One: Collaborative research in the scholarship of teaching and learning

Phase One Participants: Beloit College (lead institution), Coe College, Lawrence University

Phase Two: Collaborative event in which phase one participants lead a workshop focused on best practices for all interested members of ACM colleges

Project Leaders:
  • Natalie Gummer, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Academic Director of the Initiatives Program, Beloit College
  • Rick Eichhorn, Associate Professor of Economics, Coe College
  • Monica Rico, Associate Professor of History and Pieper Family Chair of Servant Leadership and Director of Engaged Learning

This project sought to develop, assess, and share across the ACM exercises, assignments, and learning experiences that foster students' sense of agency and responsibility, both as learners and as community members, through a progressive sequence of exercises initially focused on observation, exploration, and self-reflective interpretation of the environment in which their college is located, with the aim of preparing students for thoughtful and respectful modes of engagement with community members and organizations, whether at home or abroad.

The project proceeded in two phases. During Phase One of the grant, the three participating colleges focused on designing and assessing a developmental sequence of learning experiences appropriate for first-year students. These learning experiences are intended to challenge new students to engage actively, reflectively, and critically with the communities in which they will spend much of the next four years. Through exploration activities and writing assignments, students develop basic skills in mapping and careful observation. Through in-class activities, they also encounter theoretical frameworks that will help them to think with greater awareness and insight, both about the communities in which they live and about their own role as members and observers of those communities. Phase One included a three-day workshop in June 2010 that focused on developing relevant skills and perspectives among those faculty and staff directly involved in the planning and implementation of first-year programming. During the 2010-11 academic year the participating colleges collaborated to develop and test a "toolkit" of customizable assignments, activities, and developmental sequences, with the goal of sharing and further developing this toolkit with other ACM colleges in the second phase of the project.

While our plans to assemble a toolkit of exercises and assignments met with limited success, all the participating colleges found that the assessment instruments and processes we designed have significant and exciting potential both for developing and for assessing student agency. The second phase of the project was therefore modified to incorporate further testing of these instruments and processes. We also broadened the scope of the project to encompass other means for the development of student agency, particularly through self-reflection and metacognitive exercises. Results from Beloit will be available soon.

Spring 2012: A workshop in April 2012 (held in collaboration with the "First-Year Learning Outcomes and their Assessment" FaCE project) brought the results of our research and concomitant changes to curricula and advising structures at Beloit College to interested members of ACM colleges. See the description of the process at Beloit College for further details.

Outcomes: The primary and overarching outcome of the grant is to foster the development and assessment of student agency across the ACM. In addition, project leaders perceive this model to offer beneficial outcomes for student acculturation, development, and retention.

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