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Development of the LSA pilot project

The LSA project has its roots in a grant from the Teagle Foundation to the ACM and the Great Lakes Colleges Association (GLCA) to explore student learning on off-campus study programs. The original study focused on student responses to a survey instrument consisting of a set of cross-cultural scenarios. The survey was administered to students across a range of off-campus programs. With funds remaining from the original grant, and with the support of the Teagle Foundation, a different approach was tried for the current LSA pilot project.

From the beginning, the current LSA pilot project was developed through collaboration among a variety of stakeholders in ACM off-campus study.

  • ACM consortial office staff, led by Joan Gillespie (Vice President and Director of Off-Campus Study Programs) and Senior Program Officers Elizabeth Ciner and David Schodt.
  • Faculty and staff at the ACM program sites, including on-site program directors who also teach in the programs, local staff and instructors, and visiting faculty from the ACM colleges.
  • The Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) for each program site, whose members meet annually, read student applications, advise students on campus, and contribute to program review materials.
  • Consultants on this project, including:

Elizabeth Brewer, Director, Office of International Study, Beloit College
Nina Namaste, Associate Professor of Spanish, Department of World Languages and Cultures, Elon College
Karl Wirth, Associate Professor of Geology, Macalester College

The outlines of the project took shape at ACM's annual professional development conference in June 2013 for on-site directors and staff from ACM programs and visiting faculty from the campuses.

Students in the Pilsen neighborhood

ACM students exploring the Pilsen neighborhood during the Chicago Program's scavenger hunt on the first day of orientation.

In one of the conference sessions, Chicago Program staff (Director Robyne Hart and Program Faculty Dorothy Burge and Mary Scott Boria) led participants on a variation of a "scavenger hunt" exercise they do with their students on the first day of orientation each semester. On the program, the staff send students in small groups on mapped routes through various neighborhoods in Chicago. Each route ends at a restaurant where the students pick up pre-ordered meal. The groups return to the program office to share the food they picked up, show the photos they've taken, and talk to one another about their impressions of the neighborhoods they visited.

The session at the directors conference included a shorter neighborhood walk and a discussion led by the Chicago Program staff. This session was paired with a session led by Elizabeth Brewer about using rubrics to score written work by students.

Following the conference, ACM consortial staff developed the Reflection Assignment and the Neighborhood Walk Assignment. An important guiding principle of the assessment is that it is embedded in each program. That is, the prompts that the students are given are directly keyed to the academic and experiential goals of the programs. In the exercises, the students are asked to bring their learning on the program to bear.

On the neighborhood walk, for example, students are asked to make reference to what they saw during the walk and to describe, the second time around, how their observations and perspectives have changed during their time on the program. How does the neighborhood look different to them now than it did when they first arrived at the program site?

The LSA exercises were put into place for the fall 2013 semester on four programs:

In March 2014, Joan Gillespie organized a pair of workshops to score the students’ writings/reflections. David Schodt and Elizabeth Ciner worked to fine-tune the rubrics that would be used to score the reflections. For each program, on-site staff, faculty advisors from the campuses, and consortial staff engaged in the scoring.

The workshops included several steps:

  • Norming, to develop consistent scoring procedures;
  • Actual scoring of the assignments using the rubrics;
  • Discussion of insights gained in reading the students’ writing;
  • Suggestions for refining the assignments and rubrics; and
  • Discussion of the implications of the assessment for programmatic improvements.

The LSA project was again on the agenda at the annual ACM Program Directors and Visiting Faculty Conference on June 16-18, 2014 in Chicago.