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What my freshmen think about the IF Process…

This week I asked my freshman class to continue discussing “the public value of higher education.”  I told them to focus on their college experience to present — activities they had attended (required by the University) & courses in general: “What were they learning from these? Why did it matter?”  I also reminded them of the facilitation rules, and distributed/discussed a model for summary reports (grouping ideas under themes). When they broke into groups, I could see most were extremely happy, except for one group.

The groups had about 30 minutes to discuss and I couldn’t keep myself from focusing on the unhappy group. Two of them sat on chairs; the other three on the floor. The facilitator — a very shy, reserved male student up to that point)– was in control of the flip chart and marker.  I overheard a peer asking him to take notes faster, and he replying that he needed more time to (re)write?! ideas.  I did not want to interfere/correct his behavior in the group, and still don’t know what to do!  The guy is so shy that I fear he may totally shut off.  I guess this will be my “problem” group and wonder what I can do to help improve their dynamics.

After  30 minutes of discussion-time I asked students to complete a brief (anonymous) assessment form.  The form was very simple. It  asked if (a) the discussion process helped clarify points, (b) they had contributed to the discussion, (c) everyone had participated, (d) they had read the last summary report (and if so, if it had been helpful for discussion), and, finally, if (e) they wanted to continue using the discussion process. Most questions were close-ended —  students  could ony answer yes, no, somewhat/maybe. The three last questions, however, were open — what was the best & worst part of the discussion process, and why they would keep it or drop it.

I tallied (23) responses and was happy to learn that, overall, they find the process helpful/positive.

N = 23

Yes

Somewhat

No

Q1 Discussion helped clarify points

14

9

0

Q2 You contributed to the discussion

13

9

0

Q3 Everyone participated

20

 

3

Q4 You learned from the discussion

5

18

0

Q5 You read the summary report

17

 

6

Q6 Summary report help (if read)

9

6

1

Q9 Discussions should be dropped

0

4

19


Although the group is small, their feedback helps me see  “problems” I wasn’t seeing before:
(a) While most find the discussion experience positive, many are not sure of what they are learning from it. (In some ways they reproduce my own experience at the IF Institute!)  How can I help them gain awareness of the learning going on (if any?)
(b) More than half (said) they read the summary reports, but a minority found them helpful when continuing the discussion. The quality of their reports wasn’t good, granted… but I must confess I  felt the same way in Wisconsin! What is the best way to use Summary Reports? How ot make them part of the follow-up?
(c) I learned that not all students are participating in the group discussions. This probably means I have to do a better job coaching facilitators!  I am still not sure how to evaluate them since I can hardly keep track of five groups!

The answers to qualitative questions were revealing. Not a single student asked me to drop the discussion process; four students said maybe, but no one completely opposed them. Although this may simply suggests that peers are more fun than lecturers — no news on that front!  — many expressed that they learned much from listening to students with other views!!! On the diversity front, IF seems to get A+++ Several students mentioned that their social skills benefitted from the process: they like being involved/engaged with other students.

When I asked what was the worst part of the discussion process, the most common answer was “talking about the same topic.” The second most common answer was “dealing with silence” or “not knowing what else to discuss.”  Both responses point to the same issue —  freshmen students need more input/direction to expand the discussion scope (unlike us!)

I had invited two colleagues to visit my class during  the last 25-30 minutes to speak about their journey in college and the value of Higher Ed from their perspective. One of them arrived earlier and was surprised to see the groups so actively engaged! She roamed around the room observing them and before leaving told me, “You have to show me what you are doing here! I would like to have a class like this”.

So, what can I say? Despite one unhappy group, this was another happy (IF) week!
Maria Villar