Congratulations to Liz Frey, Sean Mayfield, and Alisha Williams for being our most recent faculty innovators! They did some amazing work putting together Dr. Strangelove’s America this past fall, a course you may have heard much about already. This 3-way linked course on the Cold War pulls together US History, Art Appreciation, and English Composition into an exceptionally cohesive experience for students, with many cool, innovative elements you can read about below.
Linked Courses + Weekly Seminar = Deeper Learning
Central to the concept of having linked courses is having a common theme that unites them. In the words of Sean Mayfield, the group’s history instructor:
“By sharing a common theme we were able to develop lesson plans that leveraged the content and overlap from all three courses. I think this gave our students a much deeper perspective on the major themes and issues that impacted the history and art of the Cold War era. … In addition to meeting for each of the three classes, the students also attended a two hour, weekly seminar session that helped them synthesize the content and themes covered in all the courses.”
Liz Frey also has shared the benefits she sees in structuring courses around a unified theme:
“My portion of this linked course, Art Appreciation, is an art survey class that explores the meaning and purpose of art in our society, today and in the past. We look at how cultures develop and change over time, and the role of the visual arts in this process. I found that these course objectives dovetailed beautifully with those of American History and English 101 as we looked at the United States in the decades immediately following World War II. Each class approached the topic from a slightly different perspective, and I believe students were able to gain a richer sense of the time period we were studying because of this. They also gained a deeper understanding of the role of art in shaping culture, and how this process develops in response to social and political changes.”
A major element of the success of this integration was the weekly seminar that helped to synthesize and relate the content covered in each of the three courses over the past week, intentionally drawing the lines and helping students to draw parallels and make connections.
According to Liz Frey,
“Seminar was the key to this integration of concepts. Students read assigned texts, prepared their own notes, then participated in group discussions where we unpacked the meaning of the text, its relevance to the things we were studying in class and its bearing on our own life experiences. In seminar students learned group communication and facilitation skills while making connections between ideas. They worked out concepts together, drew parallels between the past and the present and related their own personal experiences to those of others.”
Student + Faculty Cohorts = Better Support + Outcomes
Besides the common themes of the content, another major benefit of their linked course was the supportive learning environment. Since students had to be enrolled in all three classes at the same time, this created a cohort of students who are encouraged to get to know each other, communicate outside of a single classroom, and support each other as peers. Sean Mayfield sees the benefits:
“Developing and teaching this course did create an increased workload for me, but overall, I think the impact on students was very positive. The number of students dropping the course and/or receiving sub-standard grades was lower than what I normally experience in the “normal” History 148 course that I teach. I also observed students building strong relationships with each other throughout the quarter and even during the next quarter, I still see many of these students sitting together and walking together around campus. I believe this level of engagement with peers can be very beneficial to student success and student retention efforts.”
Liz also mentioned noticing similar results in her art class, suggesting benefits that could be applied to any subject:
“This community model of students and faculty learning together had a positive impact on students’ college experiences. They made friends and worked together both in and out of the classroom. In before and after surveys students reported increased levels of participation, collaboration, confidence and peer support. Attendance levels went up in comparison with past Art Appreciation classes, and attrition levels went down.”
Alisha Williams, English instructor, thinks the benefits to having a cohort in a linked course go beyond just the students:
“Not only was there a cohort of students, but there was also a cohort of instructors. Working closely with Sean and Liz made it easier to assess and encourage students more holistically, and enabled us to coordinate support strategies. I feel this directly impacted our high student attendance and engagement levels. I’m looking forward to doing another one!”
Liz echoes these observations:
“The opportunity to work closely with other faculty on a shared goal was a gift for me. Sean, Alisha and I were able to confer about individual students and how to best help them. We gave each other feedback on our lesson plans and shared teaching strategies. Although preparing for this class did increase my work load, it also increased my enthusiasm and enjoyment of the process, and it was a net gain in the end.”
Open and Flexible Tools + Content
Last but not least, in addition to executing the elements of a successful linked course, they also innovated their tools and content. According to Sean:
“We also made great use of technologies (hybrid courses using Canvas, multimedia content, and the active learning classroom in WSC) to provide multiple pathways for students to access and make use of course content. … Open source textbooks and readings supplied by instructors minimized the expenses that students incurred.”
There’s a lot of great stuff going on here. Hybrid courses are a great way to afford flexibility to students by transitioning content online, where it is accessible any time of day and more learning and assignments can be at the student’s convenience. Multimedia content, too, can help engage students in a variety of ways, supporting different learning styles and needs and encouraging students to engage with material more actively. This is also accomplished by the active learning classroom in WSC, which is set up to allow students to connect laptops to large screens in the classroom so that the entire class can work together on projects. And, of course, open source textbooks and other open educational resources (OER) save students money, improve learning outcomes for students by ensuring everyone has equal access to the course material whenever they need it, and give the instructor more control over the content in their lessons. The college is currently pursuing a grassroots Open Education Initiative, so it’s great to see people continuing to get involved and to see open textbooks being put to use for students in classes like this. These are all great tool and content innovations to improve the in- and out-of-classroom experience for students.
Liz, Sean, and Alisha have done a great job planning and executing a wonderful and successful three-way linked course, and have already seen a variety of benefits. We look forward to seeing what they do in the future! Great job, guys!