Increasing Student Engagement with Negotiated Curriculum at Florida Gulf Coast University

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Brenda Thomas, Director of the University Colloquium Program at Florida Gulf Coast University joined the podcast to talk about negotiating course curriculum with our students, and the incredible engagement power of getting that student buy-in up-front.

So negotiate a curriculum. The idea behind it is to give students agency, to give them autonomy in the classroom. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect Edu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Brenda Thomas, director of the University Colloquium Program at Florida Gulf Coast University. Brenda, welcome to the show. Thank you. Good to be here. Really excited to talk with you today about negotiating course curriculum with our students. Before we dig in, can you get the listeners a little...

...bit better understanding of both Florida Gulf coast and your role there? Yeah, so I am the director of the University Colloquium Program at Florida Gulf Coast University. University colloquium is an interdisciplinary introduction to sustainability that is a graduation requirement. So every accillaria student that passes through I GCU is required to take this introduction to sustainability. That's something that's that's pretty unique in academia and something that was put into place when the university opened its doors in one thousand nine hundred and ninety seven. So it has been baked right into our DNA from the very beginning. Love it branded to kick us off today, can you just give us a high level overview on your negotiated curriculum experiment with your students in the original goals behind it? Yeah, so negotiated curriculum. The idea behind it...

...is to give students agency, to give them autonomy in the classroom. So you are giving them ownership of whatever component of the curriculum it is that that you can allow them to negotiate themselves. My goal in doing so was to create buy in, to increase their engagement. Colloquium is it's a graduation requirement and, as such, students come into it with some level of resistance, anyway, in the way that I resisted, you know, economics and in sociology when I was doing my bachelor's degree. So this is a way to overcome that. In addition, because most because it's an introduct interdisciplinary course, most of the students who are sitting in the classroom are not environmental studies majors and for most students, when they think sustainability, they think environmental sustainability.

So they don't see themselves in course. So anyway that I can increase engagement to break down that resistance and the barrier that they come into the class with, the better off I'm going to be. So I think when I first heard about this, and maybe others listening right now may be curious about, how do you maintain academic governance as a professor while making sure you still get this student buy in upfront regarding the relevancy of the course content for them? Yeah, so it's not a free for all. They're not just picking and choosing, you know, randomly out of midair. The way that I set the course up. I introduce the concept to them on day one and and they are a little bit skeptical about how this is going to happen, most of them, you know, they have never seen anything like this in a classroom before. They're accustomed to walking in on the first day and the syllabus is said and the schedule is said and this is what we're going to do.

So what I do is give them, over the first four or five weeks, the background information that I feel like they need to understand sustainability, what it is, what it isn't, the history of the environmental movement and how that has morphed into what we now think of as sustainability, broadly defined and and to include people and prosperity as well as planet. So once I've given them that background information, then we have a planning day and the way that I framed it with my students was, okay, here are the things that I think are important and the things that your textbook covers and the things that I have some ability to speak intelligently to. But that doesn't mean you have to stay within these constraints. If you rely on me to pick course content, it's you're going to get an environmental focus because that's my background.

See Company. But I want them to think about again, it's an interdisciplinary course. I want them to think about their interests, their majors, their careers, their disciplines and find the things that are related to sustainability to apply to them. So they are given some constraints, but within those constraints they have, they have a great deal of freedom. So the first semester that I did this, which was fall of this past academic year, the students they selected what they wanted, the broad topics as well as some specific questions within each topic, and then they came up with a schedule for the last however many, what ten weeks or so of the semester? They came up with the schedule of how they wanted to when they wanted to address those things. In all honesty, the topics that they picked were not any different than the topics that I would have picked. The difference was they didn't know that.

They didn't need to know that. All they needed to know was that they had the ability to pick those topics. When I did it in the spring, however, the makeup of the class, the chemistry of the class, was completely different. It was by far one of the most engaged classes I've ever had and they pick things that were all over the place, that related to sustainability, but things that I had no, not enough background that I could speak intelligently to, and so would warned them, if you pick outside of the things that I have a decent knowledge about you guys are going to have to help me figuring out what to do with this. And they they didn't hesitate. They took me in a direction, in several directions, that I never would have done on my own. I love the constraints that you set up. Even when you framed that way, did you notice that your spring term required a heavier lift on your end, since the curriculum was...

...slightly out of your wheelhouse? Yeah, there was definitely a busy bit of a heavier well, okay, so doing this requires somewhat of a heavier lift. Anyway. I'm I tend to be a control freak and I am type A and I typically have my my course up in my learning management system and everything is planned out from the very beginning. So it's a little bit terrifying to only be able to plan like the first four or five weeks of the semester and then just to wait and let them plan out the rest of it the second semester, the spring semester. Yeah, there was definitely more of a learning curve for me because I was I was having to cover things and plan for things that I didn't necessarily have a foundation of information for well, unfortunately, the covid nineteen pandemic, the coronavirus pandemic, really through a wrench into things in that some of the topics that I was really excited about covering...

...with them because they were going to be teaching me. Essentially we had to shift gears and those topics were still covered, but in a very different way than what they would have been if we had been sitting in the classroom. So, yes, spring is a really tough lit mess. When you think back to last ball. What kinds of student engagement improvement did you see as a result of this approach? So this is a research project, it's a it's a Soto Project, a scholarship of teaching and learning, and I collected data on student engagement both semesters. I conducted a survey on the first day of class, after our planning day, and then the last day of class, and it's the agentic engagement scale. It's it's a validated survey that's in the literature and it assesses student engagement and specifically a gentic engagement, so engagement...

...related to student autonomy and student agency. And I haven't crunched numbers yet. I haven't analyzed that data, but looking at it superficially, engagement definitely improved. The feedback that I got in our end of semester survey that the university initiates every at the end of every semester, that anecdotal evidence from students was very, very positive and exactly the kinds of things that I had hoped for this this made me more engaged. I wanted to learn about the topics. It made me want to come to class because we were learning things that I chose. Some of them talked about improving their skills and working with peers and peers that were outside of their majors. So I was really, really pleased with the preliminary feedback that I've gotten and that students really did feel like it was improving their engagement in the material real it's such exciting early results in a...

...tremendous initiative that you're leading their finally, any next steps? Advice for potentially other type of faculty like yourself, excited about the possibility of increasing student engagement in their classroom, slightly nervous about the lift required to do so. Where should they start? First? You know, it doesn't have to be the entire curriculum. It can be smaller steps and I think some courses probably lend themselves better to this. So, you know, an introduction to sustainability. Sustainability is such a broad topic that can be covered and there's so many different perspectives that you can bring into the course. So this seemed like the perfect course to incorporate this kind of a pedagogy, you know, mathematics class or something. Obviously you don't want students to be able to to negotiate whether they're doing those kinds of things, but I think there are still other ways that you can include negotiation. I taught a tree rings and the Environment Class in...

...the spring dendri chronology. We were doing tree ring analysis and there was a lot of that curriculum that I didn't feel that students could negotiate, but I gave them other things that they could negotiate with me. So we were analyzing processing and analyzing tree course, and so I was able to give them some flexibility and what their final lab report related to those tree cores was. Do you want it to take this format or that format? Do you want to we were talking about doing some actual tree cooring, so collecting cores of their own rather than just using course that I had already processed. Do you want to do that this way or do you want to do it that way? With my spring colloquium section, one of the things that I added in the spring was that they negotiated their writing assignment. So it's a writing intensive course. They have to do some essay and so I gave them the ability to...

...to negotiate what that look like. Let's talk about it here the teria. This is the purpose for this assessment. This is what I want this assessment to accomplish. Now, what do you think that assessment could look like? Should look like? That still helps me to move you toward these student learning outcomes. So it doesn't have to be the entire curriculum. I think there are lots of ways that you can incorporate negotiation, in small ways that still it creates relationship with your students. It shows them that you respect them, that you believe that they are able to contribute to your own learning, and I think that can be done in small ways as well as allowing them to to negotiate an entire cup of Branda. It's such great stuff. Thanks so much for your time and your brain. Today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? So the easiest way to get a hold of me is my university email and that's B...

Thomas Thomas, add fgcu Dot Edu. That's the most reliable way to get ahold of me. Awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today. Brenda. You are welcome. Thanks for the opportunity. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprize wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Download it today for free at Helix educationcoms playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player.

Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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