I had an opportunity to make a presentation at the AAC&U Annual Meeting last week on what I see as a practice that helps student affairs rethink how to partner and collaborate with faculty and how to be systematic and intentional about helping students acquire important learning outcomes for a college graduate. I call this new practice cocurriculum laboratories.
With all my learning throughout the year and my conviction that cocurriculum laboratories can assist students in acquiring particular skills, relieve faculty of some of their workload, and define a clear and concrete way that student affairs and academic affairs can collaborate, I never made a speech about the labs as the primary subject.
I asked my colleague, Brian Sponsler, vice president for research and policy at NASPA, to provide a critique of the idea from a researcher’s perspective during the program session. And, I asked Brian to help me facilitate a discussion with participants who would provide their comments, critiques, and suggestions.
I shared the seven learning outcomes that I’ve been honing all year, and I suggested that it was time for faculty and student affairs to use what we know about how students learn to increase the probability that our students will be prepared for the ambiguous and chaotic world in which we expect them to live and lead.
The purpose of the cocurriculum laboratories is to help students integrate their in-class and cocurricular learning and experiences in a manner that will result in deep and transformative learning that will have an impact on their thinking and their behavior.
The way the cocurriculum laboratories will work is that a highly skilled student affairs professional and a faculty member will agree on out-of-class or cocurricular programs and activities that the faculty agree will reinforce their objectives for a particular course.
The out-of-class experiences could be a film series, campus speakers, field trips, concerts, games, workshops, or any number of other activities for which student affairs will take responsibility for the administration and logistics.
These activities to reinforce the course objectives are one aspect of the cocurriculum laboratory. Another major part of the cocurriculum laboratory is facilitated dialogue. The class will have a number of class sessions with a student affairs professional who will facilitate discussions around course readings and materials and students’ out-of-class experiences.
The student affairs facilitator will sometimes prompt discussions on controversial topics that will likely relate to personal experiences, strong opinions, and long-held values that will require students to reflect upon their values and behaviors.
Discussions that cause students to become emotionally engaged will be key in reinforcing course objectives for learning and in helping students acquire the skills of managing social interactions under anxiety producing situations.
Differences in the discussions in the classroom and the lab are that in the cocurriculum laboratory, students will be encouraged to talk about their history, significant events in their lives, and what they want for their future. The facilitator will help students develop stronger listening skills, to show respect for opinions different than their own, and to have the moral courage to share their own opinions even when they are in the minority, while listening to other perspectives without premature judgments. Discussions will require students to reflect on their behavior and to measure their behavior against the values they espouse.
What is the key to creating cocurriculum laboratories? Committed faculty and student affairs professionals willing to collaborate in the following ways:
- Out-of-class activities that reinforce course objectives agreed to by faculty
- Highly skilled facilitation with prepared discussion topics and activities to help students experience the seven learning outcomes, namely
- Knowledge & learning
- Personal & social responsibility
- Faculty requirement of students to attend events and discussion labs as part of course requirements or for additional credit similar to other lab experiences
My co-presenter, Brian Sponsler, shared his positive response to the concept of the cocurriculum laboratories:
- Is a holistic approach to student learning that reflects how students actually learn.
- Provides a clear and intentional engagement experience available to today’s student populations.
- Can reach all students and not just those who engage through affinity groups.
- Allows students to address a topic of community concern (e.g. environment) from their disciplinary perspective
He also raised important questions:
- What are the potential resistance/ sticking/discussion points from faculty to this concept?
- What is the relationship of this concept to existing student engagement efforts?
- How does the concept of cocurriculum laboratories fit into existing assessment approaches on your campus?
- How much content knowledge is likely to be required of lab facilitators?
Then we opened the discussion up to participants to hear their comments and to take note of their questions to continue to refine the concept.
I invite your comments on the idea of the cocurriculum laboratories, and I welcome suggested responses to the questions Brian Sponsler posed. I’m looking for faculty and student affairs colleagues who are willing to pilot the cocurriculm laboratories.
In the meantime, I’m working on innovative ideas to support the work of the cocurriculum facilitators.