Redesign of ARP 610 Educational Leadership and implementation of a Dilemma-Based Learning approach, CTL Mini-grant Fall 2016

Instructor: Lisa Gates, Administration, Rehabilitation, and Postsecondary Education

Summary: In response to students’ requests to focus more on social justice leadership in her graduate-level course ARP 610, Educational Leadership, Professor Lisa Gates redesigned the course, hoping to achieve deeper engagement, provide a structure that would allow for increased student voices in addressing critical problems facing higher education, and synthesize the content across the semester. She implemented Dilemma-Based Learning, which situates the learner as a central problem solver. By creating a structure whereby students could revisit key concepts throughout the semester, Gates was able to address important issues more deeply rather than simply add more course content. Students worked in teams to identify a specific problem in higher education, define the extent of the problem, interview administrators and students about the problem, research and identify solutions, and present their findings at the end of the semester.

Final report

What I Did

I redesigned the course to increase the amount of content that addresses social justice leadership in higher education, with the goals of achieving deeper level engagement, providing a structure that would allow for increased student voices in response to the critical problems facing higher education—particularly with respect to social justice on campus—and synthesizing the content across the semester.

The course redesign included the completion of a Dilemma-Based assignment that was scaffolded across the semester. Further, the course involved brainstorming key challenges in higher education along with identifying a vision for our students. Throughout the semester, students circled back to the critical challenges, the vision and to the previous content covered as we moved on to other topics. Students worked in teams throughout the semester to identify a specific problem in higher education, defined the extent of the problem, interviewed administrators and students about the problem, researched the problem, identified solutions to the problem and presented their findings at the end of the semester.

The course innovation came in response to student requests for more focus on social justice leadership in general and in light of the current socio-political climate. I agreed we needed to raise these important issues and have deeper discussion about them, but I didn’t just want to add content; I wanted to create a structure where we could revisit key concepts throughout the semester. This required building into the course design plenty of opportunity to revisit what had come before.

How It Went

The projects were evaluated part-by-part throughout the semester. For the final draft, I used a standard Dilemma-Based Learning rubric to assess the projects. I would say the innovation was a success in light of our assessment strategy. The learning was a success for a few reasons: the increased complexity of the projects compared to the previous year was remarkable; their ability to articulate the issues in a well-crafted presentation that included a discussion engaged the whole class in a conversation around the issues; but most remarkable was seeing them move from a state of discomfort with the uncertainty around the issues and questions to establishing ownership over the projects and identifying positive responses to the challenges they identified.

Our goals were met. We know this because students selected critical problems to research and analyze all semester; their voices were included in that students presented on course content and synthesized the content with the vision and challenges identified at the beginning of the semester. Students articulated their positions on key issues and connected their topics to previous topics, opening space for discussion of social justice issues in higher education.

What I Learned

The course design fostered a culture of deeper engagement in the long-term project and deeper discussion of important issues generally. While the course redesign is something I will definitely keep for next year, students offered feedback that they wished they’d heard more from the instructor on the issues. While students had the opportunities to connect the content to key issues, some didn’t opt to make those connections as clearly or boldly as was hoped for.

 The Rubric was the best one I could find but didn’t offer key evaluation of several aspects of the work. Next time around, I will revise or build a new Rubric, engage in more frequent debrief/discussion of the content, and revise the DBL assignment for greater clarity. I will also inform the students about some of the challenges faced by previous students, namely, the difficulty in reaching out to and communicating with high-level leaders. I might add another step to the assignment to have students provide interview questions in advance to encourage dialogue between them and higher education leaders. What was clear was that even though they interviewed high-level leaders, there was in some cases limited perspective taking for administrators in higher level positions.

I found that the bulk of the work is on the front end of the course design. It sometimes felt like I wasn’t really teaching throughout the semester, apart from evaluating their content. But the work came in the process of coaching students through the presenting, synthesizing, and fulfilling the requirements of the semester-long project. So, the shift from instructor to coach was an adjustment.