Developing and Assessing Learning Outcomes for a Cohort-Based Multidisciplinary Course with a Technical Component

Grant program: Teaching and Learning Development Grant (TLDG)

Grant recipients: Ted Kirkpatrick, Computing Science, John Bowes, SIAT, Rob Cameron, Computing Science, and Jan Kietzmann, Beedie School of Business

Timeframe: Spring to fall 2012

Funding: $10,000

Description: A team consisting of a master teacher, instructional experts, and graduate research assistants will work with the instructional team of a cohort-based, multidisciplinary course entitled SFU Mobile to develop learning outcomes and methods of assessing those outcomes.

The course will be offered at SFU Surrey in summer 2012. It will be co-taught by faculty members from Computing Science, the School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT), and the Beedie School of Business and will draw students from all three areas. It will provide an extensive summative experience for upper-level students under conditions of ambiguity, team work, self-directedness, and cross-disciplinarity like those that prevail in actual work contexts.

The course design draws from SFU's successful Semester in Dialogue program, but adds new elements. Where the Dialogue program emphasizes dialogue as a field of study and practice in its own right, SFU Mobile emphasizes the skills students have learned in their respective disciplines, requiring them to coordinate their abilities with those of other specialists in service of a larger goal. Where the Dialogue program emphasizes individual and social transformation and delivers plans for political or neighbourhood improvement, SFU Mobile will emphasize product development, delivery of road maps, concept demonstrations, and preparation of business plans.

The distinctly different intent of SFU Mobile, its heterogeneous participants, and its aim of building on and polishing the disparate disciplinary skills of the participating students will require development of a structure and outcomes distinctly different from those used for the Semester in Dialogue.

The draft learning outcomes of SFU Mobile are deliberately broad. Students will have the opportunity to develop a range of skills:

  • Setting an initial goal within a broadly stated objective and refining that goal as constraints and opportunities arise
  • Producing clear products by a specified deadline
  • Coordinating across widely disparate skill sets and multiple formulations of the "problem" to ensure productive activity for all project members
  • Building on the disparate skills of the team to ensure the highest-quality final product
  • Genuinely collaborating on each work product and collectively critiquing each one rather than employing the more typical student "scatter-gather" approach to "group" writing

The desired learning outcomes pose interesting challenges for evaluation, due to the broad, evolving course mandate and the unexpected barriers that will inevitably arise during the course. For this reason, we propose to organize an inquiry team to co-develop learning outcomes and conduct a rich evaluation of the course. This process will proceed in coordination with, but independently of, the work of the instructional team, which will be fully occupied in running the actual course.

Questions addressed:

  • What is current practice for specifying learning outcomes and their assessments for experiential, multidisciplinary courses?
  • How can learning outcomes be evaluated for a course such as SFU Mobile with deliberately broad, ambiguous outcomes?
  • How does actual student experience match and contrast with the instructors' beliefs about student experience?
  • Do the students genuinely collaborate on work products or do they adopt the expedient but impoverished "scatter-gather" approach?
  • To what extent did any interventions around the intentional group development process affect the quality of group functioning?
  • How do student experience and satisfaction differ between the participating disciplines?
  • Do the students from each discipline have a greater understanding of the constraints, needs, and potential contributions of the other participating disciplines?