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Conference for Off-Campus Program Directors and Visiting Faculty Builds Connections

Published: June 12, 2013

Go to ACM Notes

ACM off-campus program staff from around the world were joined by faculty from six colleges last week at the Program Directors and Visiting Faculty Conference in Chicago on June 3-5. The annual meeting focuses on professional development and building connections, both among the consortial programs and with the ACM member colleges, according to Joan Gillespie, ACM Vice President and Director of Off-Campus Study Programs.

Reflecting the different program models ACM uses, about half the participants were permanent on-site staff from programs in Costa Rica, Italy, India, and Chicago and half were faculty from ACM campuses who will serve in visiting positions during the upcoming academic year.

"The topics we covered ranged from big picture issues, like pedagogy and student learning outcomes, to sharing ideas, to what I call the day-to-day 'bread and butter' operational aspects of programs, such as health and safety," Gillespie said.

Chicago Program faculty took the lead on "Learning through Experience and Structured Reflection," a session that spanned the first afternoon and evening of the conference. Following a discussion of the pedagogical model that provides the foundation for experiential learning, the participants moved out into the city for a variation of the scavenger hunt that is part of the Chicago Program's orientation each semester.

Conference participants were divided into small groups and sent out to explore different Chicago neighborhoods, including Pilsen, Chinatown, Uptown, and Austin. Each group used city bus and train maps – no help from Mapquest or Siri allowed – to navigate to several assigned sites and then back to the Chicago Program office for dinner and to report on what they discovered and how they might adapt the exercise to their own program location.

Elizabeth Brewer, Director of Off-Campus Study at Beloit College, led ACM's on-site staff in a session about assessment and evaluation of student learning. She introduced a model through which students on a program periodically engage in a reflection exercise, which is then assessed by program staff.

"We're really working to tie the learning goals of the program – both the goals that ACM sets out as well as the goals each of the students identify for themselves – to what the students actually learn on their semester away from campus," Gillespie explained. "Our aim is to create a structure for students to think critically about the process of learning off-campus, and to be aware of what they are learning and how they are learning."

Independent study projects (ISPs) are a feature at most ACM program sites, and one of the conference sessions addressed the pedagogical challenges of working with students from different disciplines.

"Our different program models raise a variety of interesting questions," Gillespie noted. "On the London-Florence program, for example, how do you approach a course as the faculty director in London when your discipline is theatre and you have students on the program who are art history majors and have never done theatre?"

"Another type of challenge particularly arises in the Botswana and Jordan programs, where we don't have local, on-site advisors for projects," she continued. "In those cases, the visiting faculty member directs ISPs in a wide range of disciplines."

A third situation, most often seen on the programs in India and Tanzania, is where program faculty may have support from local professors at the program site, but are still deeply engaged with helping their students think through the different pedagogical practices involved in independent projects.

"In short, all of our faculty grapple with working with students from different disciplines and using teaching strategies that will serve all of their students," Gillespie said.

Woven into the conference were short workshops on program operations. One covered ACM's ethics review process for student research projects, which was put into place during the past year. In another, Associate Director of Off-Campus Study Kevin Dostal-Dauer addressed aspects of health and safety for students at program sites, such as procedures for staff and faculty to use in day-to-day situations and during emergencies. Other sessions covered technology support and software, insurance, and meetings with ACM office staff.

Along with ACM consortial staff, the following off-campus program staff and visiting faculty participated in the conference:

Chicago Program
Dorothy Burge, Faculty
Robyne Hart, Program Director
Mary Scott-Boria, Faculty & Internship Coordinator
Brittany Wisniewski, Program Assistant

Botswana Program
Georgia Duerst-Lahti (political science, Beloit College), Spring 2014 Faculty Program Director

Costa Rica Programs
Chris Vaughan, Program Director

Florence and London & Florence Programs
Chuck Lewis (English, Beloit College), Spring 2014 Florence Affiliated Scholar
Jodie Mariotti, Program Director, Florence
Steven Marc-Weiss (theatre arts, Coe College), Spring 2014 London Visiting Faculty Director
Steven Sacks (religion, Cornell College), Fall 2013 Florence Affiliated Scholar

India Program
Sucheta Paranjpe, Program Director
Brian Caton (history, Luther College), Fall 2013 Faculty Coordinating Representative

Jordan Program
Khaldoun Samman (sociology, Macalester College), Fall 2013 Visiting Faculty

Tanzania Program
Memuna Khan (biology, Ripon College), Fall 2013 Faculty Program Director


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