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Volume 9, Number 7: April 9, 2003

UW-Parkside's ACCESS Project

by Frances M. Kavenik and James D. Robinson,
University of Wisconsin-Parkside

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In 2001, Frances Kavenik received two grants from UW System, an OPID Undergraduate Teaching and Learning Grant and a Teaching Scholars' Grant,1 to work on converting UW-Parkside's 20-year-old extended humanities degree program, the ACCESS Program, into a format more suitable to the needs and abilities of 21st century adult non-traditional students. She assumed that the new computer-based instructional tools now available could provide a richer learning environment for off campus students. Toward this effort, she assembled a team of UW-Parkside teachers and scholars2 who were accustomed to enhancing their classroom instruction with various technologies and strategies to improve student learning; that team included James Robinson, UW-Parkside's Instructional Design specialist.

The team's first conversations began to uncover the complexities of the problem. The ACCESS Program was built on the presumption that its students could not come to campus regularly for classes, even at night or on weekends. Its target population was adult non-traditional students who had completed about half their undergraduate education, including general education requirements. They were employed, with family responsibilities, and were either placebound or on such irregular schedules that weekly class attendance was impossible.

The curriculum was sequential rather than simultaneous, with 3-5 course modules delivered per year over four calendar years via study guides that closely followed the course texts. The course of study was self-paced, and the students behaved and were treated like individual learners, with the program instructor in a tutorial role. Though the program was interdisciplinary, many of the courses were disciplinary, written by faculty in history, anthropology, English, political science, and philosophy.

When the team approached the task of updating the "delivery" of the ACCESS Program and courses, we quickly discovered that the changes would be more sweeping than we had anticipated, and that issues of pedagogy, humanities curriculum, and assessment were so intertwined that they implicated one another. Our first questions related to the students themselves, their needs, abilities, and expectations. We recognized that, given the availability of course management systems and various software tools, the online domain now provides a medium where quality instruction and support can take place. Because of the high attrition rates for online learning generally, and for the original ACCESS Program, we decided to follow a hybrid model. Thus, students would meet on campus 5-6 times a year for seminars on interdisciplinary topics related to the curriculum. This would maintain the self-paced quality so important to adult learners, while enhancing their connection and collaboration with the instructor(s) and each other. The seminars would also reinforce the interdisciplinary character of the program.

Because adult students were likely to enter the program at different levels of computer skills and familiarity, we designed an online tutorial where students could identify their needs and upgrade their skills. After analyzing various course delivery systems, the group concluded that asynchronous online learning using CD audio/video transfer would best suit adult non-traditional students, and that the on campus meetings/seminars would be supplemented with field trips/experiences and other face-to-face contacts. We also agreed to use simulations, concept mapping, case studies, and/or problem-solving strategies to enhance learning in all courses.

By the end of the summer of 2001, we had identified a theme of Culture and Information with a multi-tiered curricular plan of increasingly focused study for the ACCESS Program, including a constructivist approach especially in modular courses which students could design themselves at the third level/tier. We had also identified specific courses to fit each tier, and an integrated plan connecting them. We had outlined strategies for admission, orientation, and overall support to improve student learning and retention.

During the fall semester, we began working closely with the Humanities Program steering committee (several members of which were on the ACCESS team) to create a set of program competencies which would be suitable for students choosing either option, ACCESS or the "regular" humanities major. By spring 2002, with the Humanities Program Review well under way, we set up correspondences between the two sets of course requirements that would enable students to move comfortably between on and off campus humanities courses and modes.

Individual team members identified courses they would be willing to design and then teach, either alone or in partnership with others, and the group laid out a interdisciplinary curricular plan which was multi-level and integrated. As a group, we agreed to design these courses, including their online components, ourselves. OPID funds were used to purchase Dreamweaver and other needed software. UW-Parkside Instructional Technology Support staff conducted training sessions in August 2002 on web design. One result of the training was the creation of an ACCESS project website.

The group also began to consider assessment strategies such as electronic portfolios, which stress student learning, reflection, and accomplishment. Plans for both formative and summative assessment are in progress.

In retrospect, when confronted with a major project involving curricular and instructional redesign we feel the "team" method has served us well. It forced us to ask each other the hard questions about student learning, humanities content, and outcomes. It engaged us in perpetual self-reflection and consideration of others' perspectives. It encouraged each of us to stretch the boundaries of our knowledge and skills to provide the best possible solution.

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1The Scholars' project was on a longer timeline than that of most of the other participants, but made good progress on the first two principles of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: systematic inquiry into teaching and learning issues and critical reflection on strategies, techniques, and possibilities.

2 Each member of the team had knowledge and experience in one or more pertinent areas: humanities and/or a related discipline, adult non-traditional students, non-traditional formats (e.g., extended degree, weekend college), online teaching and learning (including CAI), research methods (including community-based research and active learning), global skills and information resources, web-based and other non-traditional course design, film/video resources. By spring 2002, the nine remaining members of the group consisted of the following: Alan Goldsmith (Art), Peggy James (Political Science/International Studies), Frances M. Kavenik (English/Interdisciplinary Studies), Mary Lenard (English), John Longeway (Philosophy/Humanities), Megan Mullen (Communication/Humanities), Joseph Pearson (Philosophy), James Robinson (Instructional Technology Support), Carol Lee Saffioti-Hughes (English/Ethnic Studies).


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