Essay 4: Educational Quality: Student Learning, Core Competencies, and Standards of Performance at Graduation



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Evidence of Graduate Student Learning

During the process of establishing our Institutional Learning Outcomes, the distinction between undergraduate and graduate student learning outcomes become clearer. Beyond the core competencies, there are consistent themes within our graduate programs that may eventually inform the foundation for graduate student learning outcomes at CSUSM. Our graduate programs are committed to: 1) development of professionalism and career readiness; 2) community engagement; 3) ethical and responsible practice; and 4) producing scholars.


One example of the manifestation of developing professionalism, career readiness, and community engagement is from the Master of Arts in Education, Option in Communicative Sciences and Disorders (CSD). Graduates entering the field of CSD are expected to develop knowledge and skills in nine main areas of clinical practice, first learning content knowledge in the classroom, and then through field placements where students develop their clinical skills through direct service provision. Through community collaborations with the San Marcos Unified School District, Palomar Pomerado Health and Learning Services (a residential center for individuals with brain injury), faculty take students out to engage in scaffolded skill development in ecologically valid settings. For example, as part of the language disorders and swallowing disorders courses, students are provided with ample opportunity in the course to practice language and swallow evaluations on one another. They then apply their knowledge and skills to volunteer residents at Villa Pomerado Care Center. The students gain vital experience with reviewing patient charts, conferring with nursing staff, charting and providing oral reports during this exercise. This provides a real world opportunity for students to begin applying the knowledge and skills they are developing in class to professional practice. The program uses low-stake assessment measures for this assignment in that students are provided with significant feedback on their written charting and their oral presentations without a final grade to emphasize the process. The feedback from this activity is expected to be used in subsequent settings and is assessed more formally at that time. Reflections from our students and our off-site supervisors have been overwhelmingly positive. As one student put it:

As an SLP graduate student I have been provided examples of how various clinicians “swim,” informed how one’s “arms and legs should move” in order to obtain the intended result, and have been allowed to practice on my colleagues, but until I had experienced working with members of the community with communication difficulties, I felt myself to be at a disadvantage […] My experience at Villa Pomerado has provided me with increased confidence in my clinical abilities due to hands-on experience with clients who have true communication difficulties (at times with one or more concomitant factors), the otherwise inaccessible insight into my clinical style, and both spoken and unspoken reassurance by CSUSM faculty that I have their support and am developing the skills necessary to swim on my own. (Appendix 13)


Other graduate programs such as Social Work, Business Administration, Psychology, and Sociological Practice utilize similar engagement scholarship strategies, hands-on application of content knowledge in real world settings that enhance student learning, career readiness, and professionalism while working collaboratively with community partners.
Closing Achievement Gaps

A third of incoming CSUSM students are the first in their family to attend college. Many incoming students are also deficient in math and writing skills, with >30% requiring math remediation before taking a college-level math course and >40% requiring writing remediation before taking a college-level English course. The CSUSM Office of First-Year Programs coordinates a diverse group of activities designed to help our new students to more effectively transition to the academic and social norms of college. Central to this effort is the GEL 101 course (The Student, The University, The Community), which is taken by ~70% of first-year students. This course explores the time management, writing, and study skills integral to success in college and helps students to investigate career options associated with their major. First-Year Programs also coordinates a range of first-year learning communities in which students enroll in at least two linked courses, one of which is a section of GEL 101. Each first-year learning community addresses a unique theme (e.g. Global Learning, Business), both inside and outside of the classroom. Even before students begin their first official semester at CSUSM, summer programs are offered that assist first-year students with achieving proficiency requirements in English and Math: Summer Academy and Mathematics Acceleration Program in the Summer (MAPS). Collectively, these programs have helped improve transfer student 1-year continuation rates from 76% (2000) to 85% (2012) and freshman 1-year continuation rates from 60% (2000) to 80% (2012). See Appendices 14 and 15 for further data.


Another example of closing the achievement gap on campus is our Supplemental Instruction (SI) program in the sciences. Specific lower-division classes covering conceptually difficult material (e.g. calculus, first-semester general chemistry, and first-semester molecular/cellular biology) have a high student fail rate. This is a nationwide problem, and these courses can act as a significant barrier to student success in STEM majors, leading to decreased retention, changes in major, and/or increased time to degree. While a variety of strategies and course modifications within the classroom have been carried out to help improve student performance in these classes, perhaps the most impactful program has been Supplemental Instruction. The SI program is designed to help students in historically difficult classes to master course content while they develop and integrate new learning and study strategies. SI Leaders are paid students (nominated by faculty) who are trained in proactive learning strategies, attend all course lectures, and conduct biweekly student-centered review sessions that are open to all students in a particular course. At CSUSM, the SI program focuses on 11 historically difficult science courses, and in the past year the program has reached >700 students with >5000 total student contact hours.
The results of the SI program at CSUSM have been striking: students who attend SI sessions have ~40% lower fail rates than non-participants, and their course performance is typically a full grade point higher than non-participants. Although the SI program was initially supported at CSUSM primarily through external grant funding (as a component of a National Institutes of Health RISE grant), the program has been fully funded by the University since 2007. Overall, the SI program provides a model of the University’s approach to addressing achievement gaps: establish fledgling student support programs using either internal or external funds, quantitatively assay student outcomes, and institutionalize programs which substantially improve student performance and help to “close the gap.”
In 2009, CSUSM joined the CSU system in a national “Graduation Initiative” effort to increase 6-year graduation rates for students while also “closing the gap” between rates of URM students and non-URM students. Starting from a 6-year graduation rate for students entering CSUSM as freshmen in Fall 2000 of 37% (35% for URM and 37% for non-URM), CSUSM set a goal of increasing this rate to 45% for all students by 2015. We achieved our overall goal of 45% for the entering class of 2004; however, the gap between the graduation rates of URM and non-URM students remained. As of Fall 2013, the 6-year rate for freshmen entering in Fall 2007 was 38% for URM students and 46% for non-URM students. We anticipate seeing an increase in these rates as we have seen the 1-year continuation rate improve from 57% for freshmen entering CSUSM in Fall 2000 to 67% for Fall 2006 entrants to 81% for Fall 2012 entrants. In addition, the gap between the one-year continuation rates for URM and non-URM students closed for students entering in Fall 2009 and 2010 and has remained small in subsequent terms (see Appendix 16 for student characteristics).
The campus set similar goals for students entering as transfer students. Although their six-year graduation rates are already higher than those for first-time students, we intend to raise those rates from 65.2% for students entering in Fall 2000 to 71.4% for students entering in Fall 2009. Our overall rates have improved but the gap between URM and non-URM students remains. The most recent 6-year graduation rates (for students entering in Fall 2007) are 43.5% overall and 38% for URM students and 46% for non-URM students.
Improving Teaching and Learning Through Assessment

We have two primary ways in which we improve our teaching and learning practices. The first is through faculty review. Faculty, including tenure track and lecturers, are required to submit an annual Working Personnel Action File (WPAF) in which they discuss their teaching practices. The faculty member develops a narrative statement that is expected to include a critical analysis of the student feedback from course evaluations, any peer or supervisor observations, and a self-reflection. As part of this process, the faculty member should explain the steps that he/she will take to improve instructional practices. This WPAF is then reviewed by a department chair or college level Peer Review Committee (PRC), college Dean, and depending on the faculty status and level of review, the Promotion and Tenure Committee (PTC) and Provost. At each level of review, faculty members are provided with constructive feedback regarding their file, which includes recommendations for improved instructional practices. The WPAF review letters become part of the faculty member’s subsequent WPAF and are considered in the next year’s review. As such, faculty members are held to implementing their own proposed changes and the recommendations from reviewers. For tenured faculty, this review process is completed every five years.


The second way that we improve instructional practices is through program review (further discussed in Essay 6 of this self-study). One example of the use of assessment findings to improve teaching and learning practices comes from the Master of Arts in Education. Program faculty hold two annual weeklong retreats to reflect on and analyze survey data from current students, alumni, supervisors, and employers, as well as collective observations over the performance of students towards program learning outcomes. Based on survey data from students and supervisors, faculty noted a protracted timeline for the student development of professional writing skills. As a result of these assessment findings, the program developed a writing workshop to provide early preparation for our incoming graduate students. In Spring 2014, prior to the start of their first semester, graduate students attended the first component of the writing workshop on how to read and dissect a research study, with particular focus on the style and format, mechanics, content and organization, and synthesis and critical analysis. In June and July, students completed online writing assignments where they deconstruct an article and then write an argumentative piece aimed at convincing an audience of their position. These papers were then graded on a rubric related to the four focus elements, and faculty created lesson plans for common areas needing improvement. Finally, the students engaged in a revision process based on the lessons provided. The data from this first application has not yet been reviewed; however, the subjective feedback from students has been positive.
Further evidence of improving teaching and learning based on assessment is the four degree programs submitted for WASC substantive change approval. In Spring 2014, the proposals of three existing programs— the Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, the Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Justice Studies, the Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences, and one new online program option, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN option)— were all approved (Appendices 17-19). In the case of the three existing programs, faculty discovered that course expansion over time made it possible for students to complete 50% or more of their major requirements through online and hybrid courses, which required formal WASC consideration. Upon their approval of the programs, WASC reviewers praised the departments involved for taking their program reviews seriously and using them to determine that substantive change applications were necessary. In addition, WASC reviewers were pleased that faculty used prior assessments to consider how pedagogical and assessment design could best address the changes to their delivery methods and expansion of their programs.
Learning Centeredness Across the Institution

Faculty, staff, and students at CSUSM take learning-centeredness seriously, which is evidenced through multiple, and often intersecting, campus efforts. The Office of Civic Engagement, creates opportunities for service learning that strengthen the university’s connection with the greater community, while providing students with experiences that bridge learning inside and outside of the classroom. Students are paired with non-profit organizations and schools and complete internships that supplement and reinforce the knowledge imparted in their coursework. These experiences deepen their understanding of their fields of study, and often provide them with invaluable knowledge about graduate school and future work opportunities, as noted by student Mathew Jerome: “Interfaith [Community Services] provided me the experience I needed in the field to enter the job market with a necessary set of skills to obtain employment. I also was accepted into the MSW program at the University of Southern California. I think the experience I gained from Interfaith greatly contributed to that.” The diversity of field placements offered allows students to enjoy a wide range of involvement in the professional and scholarly life of our community (list of over 300 participating sites). Community Engagement provides service-learning faculty with training and special resources to help them enhance the learning experiences around the students’ community service.


The Faculty Center provides additional professional development opportunities for faculty who are interested in improving their methods of instruction. Numerous workshops and lectures are offered each academic year on a variety of pedagogical topics by the Faculty Director, CSUSM faculty, and guest facilitators, such a Spring 2014 workshop, “Teaching in the 21st Century.” In addition, the Faculty Center runs a Faculty Mentoring Program that pairs first-generation and economically challenged college students with faculty members across the University in mentoring relationships. The program is focused upon building supportive relationships between faculty and students that will help build students’ educational resilience and their academic skills. Faculty mentors and students are paired based upon their areas of expertise and major area of study, which facilitates the communication of discipline-specific advice between them.
A campus-wide effort known as the Civility Campaign addresses some of the overarching social factors that affect student learning. This campaign, which as been in effect since 2012, is an effort to create a safe, supportive environment for the campus community through curriculum and events stressing care, mutual respect, and empathy; its centerpiece is a student pledge to support those values. The Office of Student Affairs (further discussed in Essay 5) focuses on helping individual students sharpen their academic skills through the tutoring provided in language, writing, and math labs.
Other instructionally related activities outside of the classroom also reinforce learning in the classroom and the University’s goal of promoting a well-rounded educational experience. The Arts and Lectures Series is a yearly series of 20-30 events, including talks, films, performances, concerts, book readings, and scientific discussions that draw upon the expertise of scholars and artists. These events are often used as touchstones for discussions inside and outside of class time in order to deepen students’ comprehension of course concepts (see Appendix 20 for Fall 2014 series). The Context Library Series presents art and visual representations of a given theme in an exhibit on the main floor of the library and a number of learning-centered activities, such as lectures by the artists, attendance at expert panels, and activities/assignments that are integrated into the coursework of participating classes (all previous exhibits). For example, the exhibits from the 2013-14 academic year, The Uterus Flag Project and More than a Fence: (de)Constructing Mexico/US Borders, inspired scholarly discussions related to a wide-ranging number of disciplines, including feminist studies, health studies, ethnic studies, sociology, visual arts, communication, and law.
The Office of Graduate Studies and Research hosts the annual Symposium on Student Research, Creative Activities, and Innovation, which allows selected undergraduate and graduate students across the University to present their scholarly work to a panel of professional expert judges. A selection of up to ten finalists is chosen to compete in the statewide CSU competition; historically, our finalists have often placed first or second in their divisions at the competition. Students benefit by increasing their knowledge in their field as they learn from their peers across the Cal State University system. Other similar opportunities for students to present their scholarly work include the Council for Undergraduate Research’s bi-annual Student Poster Showcase, and discipline-specific events, such as the Psychology Research Fair, the Global Studies Research Fair, and the Nu Epsilon Research Fair in Human Development.

Prepared in Summer-Fall 2014 by Melanie Chu, Catherine Cucinella, Matthew Escobar, Suzanne Moineau, Pat Morris, and Richelle Swan.
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