First-Year Seminars: Designing Assessments Using Backward Design
Participants will walk away with numerous ideas about how backward design can be used to determine the most useful assignments in the first-year seminar course. Specifically, participants will discover how to use action-focused career assignments and activities to help students choose a career pathway and the importance of increasing the academic rigor by fostering information literacy and critical thinking skills that are needed for success.
The first-year seminar is often designed using a content-based or activity-based design. With content-based design, the first-year seminar often becomes the dumping ground for many different topics and related assignments and activities. With an activity-based model, the course is often designed around guest lectures, scavenger hunts, or other activities. Wiggins and McTighe (2005) argue that these approaches leave the achievement of learning outcomes to chance. Instead, backward design provides a framework that keeps the learning outcomes front and center. It is therefore essential to shift from first-year seminar courses that require students to complete a variety of activities that are not linked to requiring students to complete a couple of significant projects that are directly aligned to learning outcomes.
According to the backward design framework, assignments and activities need to stem from learning outcomes. This webinar will focus on summative assessments that align with the learning outcomes for the first-year seminar and the importance of identifying formative assessments that help students know if they are on track to be successful. During this webinar, the focus will be on assisting students to choose a career pathway and building academic skills that will enable them to meet with success.
Because of a national focus on student success reform such as Guided Pathways, many first-year seminar courses have been increasing their focus how to help students choose and stay on a career path (Harrington & Orosz, 2018). On most campuses, a re-design or re-imagination process is needed so that the first-year seminar course is focused on career exploration and planning and also developing essential academic skills. Unfortunately, career is one of the least emphasized topics in the first-year seminar, with only 29.3% of two-year colleges and 13.1% of four-year colleges indicating this is a topic area in the first-year seminar (Young & Hopp, 2014). At colleges and universities with a career component to the course, the focus is usually on self-assessment and gathering career information. As a result, students are often not taught how to develop and expand their network. This webinar brings attention to the importance of action-oriented assignments and activities that build essential skills such as networking, which has been shown to be the most effective way to find a job (Adler, 2016).
Although career exploration and skill development are important, the first-year seminar should also be used to help students develop essential academic skills that will enable them to achieve their goals successfully. It is critical that we raise the bar and increase the academic rigor of first-year seminars. Research has shown that student study habits during the first semester are predictive of behaviors during their senior year (Schilling & Schilling, 2006), yet the academic rigor of first semester classes such as the first-year seminar are sometimes not on par with other academic classes. Because of the supportive nature of the first-year seminar, it is a perfect place to challenge students to engage in high-level academic tasks and develop critical thinking and information literacy skills. Participants will discover how to use several academically rigorous assignments, and activities can help students develop the essential academic skills they need. For example, participants will learn how using scholarly research can help students build their information literacy and critical thinking skills. With this approach, students will learn how to read and extract key findings from peer-reviewed research and learn how to find and evaluate information on student success. This more academically rigorous approach to the course will increase the credibility for both students and faculty.
- Describe backward design and the importance of identifying summative assessments that align to learning outcomes
- Identify several action-oriented assignments and activities that will help students choose a career pathway
- Discover how scholarly research can be used to help students develop essential academic skills needed to stay on a path and achieve success
- Enrollment Management
- Student Services/Affairs
- First-Year Seminar Course Coordinators/First-Year Experience Directors
- Any educator interested in learning more about backward design can be used in the first-year seminar course
To help students determine a career path and develop essential skills so that they can be successful, it is critical that first-year seminar coordinators and faculty step back and reflect on course design and the nature of the assignments and activities. Increasing academic rigor and action-oriented assignments will help students make good decisions about their career path and will empower them to successfully achieve their goals.
Dr. Christine Harrington is an Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at New Jersey City University. She worked at Middlesex County College for 18 years as a Professor of Psychology and Student Success, the Director of the Center for the Enrichment of Learning and Teaching, Coordinator of Student Success and a Counselor. She also served a 2-year term as the Executive Director of the Student Success Center at the NJ Council of Community Colleges. She is the author of Student Success in College: Doing What Works! 3rd edition, a research-based text for the first-year seminar course that aligns to Guided Pathways, published by Cengage Learning. She also co-authored with Todd Zakrajsek Dynamic Lecturing: Research-Based Strategies for Evidence-Based Practices, and Designing a Motivational Syllabus: Creating a Learning Path for Student Engagement with Melissa Thomas, both published by Stylus. She is also a contributing author of Foundations for Critical Thinking, published by the National Resource Center on the First Year Experience and Transitions. Most recently, she co-authored, with Theresa Orosz, Why the First-Year Seminar Matters: Helping Students Choose and Stay on a Career Path. Dr. Harrington is frequently invited to present at conferences and at colleges an universities.
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