“Bookends” is actually two assignments linked together to assess programmatic learning outcomes related to “applied and collaborative learning” within a Communication Studies department. The first assignment, which is completed in the “gateway” (the introductory course that introduces majors to the discipline), is a collaborative project in which students explore ways in which communication can be used as a lens through which to address a community issue. The second bookend, an assignment which is completed in the “capstone” course, asks students to take their understanding of how communication can be used to address community issues to a deeper level, utilizing relevant concepts and theories to analyze and propose appropriate communicative interventions for dealing with a complex intercultural challenge.
Background and Context
The Department of Communication Studies at IUPUI places considerable emphasis on civic engagement and service learning, which is in keeping with the “applied and collaborative learning” outcomes in the DQP. We have made a concerted effort to scaffold students’ learning related to this objective by: 1) introducing students to the relationship between communication as a discipline and community engagement in the “gateway” course, a 100-level introductory class that is required of all majors, 2) developing and reinforcing the objective through service learning projects embedded in several 200- and 300-level courses in the Department, and 3) asking students to demonstrate their ability to use communication concepts/theories to analyze and propose communication-based interventions for dealing with complex challenges in the capstone. The assignment presented here functions as the bookends for this endeavor.
Before elaborating on the learning outcomes associated with the assignments, allow me to provide a bit of information about the courses. Both courses have an enrollment cap of 30. The 100-level course is a required core course for majors in Communication Studies. Because the class is an introduction to Communication as a discipline and to our Department, the course really is intended to be for majors only. Non-majors who end up in the class because they are looking for a general Communication course are encouraged to replace the course with a more appropriate course for them. As a result, the composition of the class typically is almost entirely majors. The intent is for students to take the course in their first year, but, for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the majority of students at the University enter through a University College rather than directly into a particular program of study, that doesn’t always happen. In fact, the majority of students in the class are in their sophomore or junior year before they take the course. The introductory course is offered in a traditional face-to-face format as well as in a hybrid format with 4 mandatory face-to-face meetings and the rest of the class delivered online. I have used this assignment in both the face-to-face and hybrid version of the course and have found that it works equally well in both formats. In the hybrid course, students are put into groups during the third mandatory face-to-face meeting. They are given some class time that day to do some preliminary planning and to develop a strategy for functioning effectively as a virtual group. Each group is provided with online tools (i.e., online meeting rooms, e-mail groups, discussion forums, etc.) to facilitate collaboration. The groups have one month to complete their projects. At the final face-to-face meeting, the groups are given time to present their projects to the class.
The 400-level course for which the second bookend assignment was developed is Intercultural Communication. This class is also offered in a face-to-face format or fully online. I have only utilized this particular assignment in the online version of the course. This class is part of a cluster of courses that majors can choose as their Capstone. Because of the structure of our major, with a cluster of Capstone courses instead of a single Capstone class, there is no guarantee that every student who completed the first bookend assignment will complete the second bookend because this assignment is specific to Intercultural Communication and not all students choose that as their Capstone. In addition, because Intercultural Communication is a popular course for non-majors, not every student completing the second bookend has completed the first because not every student has taken the 100-level gateway class. In my experience, this has not been a major problem. Each assignment has worthwhile stand-alone learning outcomes. My experience has been, however, that there is added benefit to those students who complete both bookend assignments and have the opportunity to reflect on how the assignments interconnect through aspects of the second bookend assignment that only majors are required to complete.
While these assignments reinforce several of the DQP learning outcomes, including “Communicative Fluency,” “Broad and Integrative Knowledge,” and “Civic and Global Learning,” the primary focus of the Bookends assignment is “Applied and Collaborative Learning.” The first bookend, which is used in the gateway to the major, assesses two of the DQP’s “associate level” outcomes. First the student “describes in writing (or a media-based format) at least one case in which knowledge and skills acquired in academic setting may be applied to a field-based challenge, and evaluates the learning gained from the application.” In addition, the student “demonstrates the exercise of practical skills crucial to the application of expertise.” The second bookend, which is used in a 400-level “capstone” course in the major, then assesses the DQP’s “bachelor’s level” learning in this area. Specifically, for this assignment, the students write a paper “linking knowledge or skills acquired in work, community or research activities with knowledge acquired in one or more fields of study” and write an “illustrative application for an analysis or case study” in a “communications context.”
Alignment and Scaffolding
The first bookend assignment is given in the third unit of the gateway course, after students have been introduced to communication basics (e.g., history of the discipline, models of communication, nonverbal and verbal messages, listening, etc.) in Unit 1 and communication in context (e.g., interpersonal communication, organizational communication, health communication, etc.) in Unit 2.
The second bookend assignment is the final assignment in Intercultural Communication, which serves as a capstone for the major. Students are expected to utilize concepts from the entire class as well as from other courses in their major in their analysis. The two assignments build on each other. The gateway assignment introduces students to the ways in which communication can be used as a lens through which to address community issues. The Capstone assignment asks students to take that to a deeper level, utilizing relevant concepts and theories to analyze and propose appropriate communicative interventions for dealing with complex intercultural challenges.
The graded components of the gateway assignment include the in-class presentation, a group paper describing the project and linking it to relevant course concepts, and peer evaluations. Students are also asked to write an individual paper assessing their group’s interaction, which is used to assess their learning related to collaboration and group communication. The rubrics used to grade the Gateway assignment are included in the Rubrics attachment.
The graded component of the capstone assignment is a written paper. The grading criteria used for this assignment are also included in the Rubrics attachment.
I taught the hybrid version of gateway course for the first time in Fall 2015. I was very pleased with the projects completed by the students in response to this assignment and felt they were comparable in quality to the projects produced in previous face-to-face sections of the class. The Fall 2015 projects included the following:
- The media group created a social media presence for promoting Indiana’s new “Lifeline Law”
- The rhetoric group developed a rhetorical strategy for promoting the “Go Green” initiative on our campus
- The interpersonal communication group interviewed people about the ways in which they feel they have been stereotyped and compiled them into a YouTube video
- The organizational communication group volunteered at a local nonprofit and wrote an analysis of how that organization communicates with its volunteers
On the basis of feedback received through the assignment charrette process, I have made some adjustments to the way the first bookend is presented. One change was to create a file in Canvas (the online teaching platform used at my university) with samples of previous projects.
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