A Professor’s Experience with STLR

Faculty involvement in STLR has amazing benefits for both faculty and students, but there are some issues that can be avoided through preparation. Here are the experiences of one faculty member who has implemented several STLR projects.

 

Over the past year, the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) has been implementing a Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) on campus. This is an opportunity for students and the university to record transformative learning (TL) experiences in a similar way to the traditional academic transcript. It enables students to show potential employers their extra-curricular learning and the university to measure the success of transformative learning initiatives.

The implementation of STLR at UCO is being funded by a Department of Education grant and the bulk of grant funds are earmarked for paying students to participate in transformative learning projects. These projects can be research, community involvement, creative activity, or any other TL experience. At UCO, this is an especially meaningful endeavor as a large percentage of our students need to work to support themselves. While outside work experience can be valuable, it might not be nearly as valuable as the TL experience in which they could be participating. Under this grant, those students no longer have to choose between being paid and experiencing transformation.

While I have always been committed to the tenets of transformative learning, I had to operate under the supremacy of students’ classes and grades as these were their only measure of success. With STLR, while courses and grades are still primary, students have something to show for their TL experiences which may justify slightly less focus on grades. This year I have had ten students working on seven different projects funded by STLR. These projects range from using linear programming to model the board game Settlers of Catan to designing assessment questions for Algebra skills. While most of these projects would have happened without STLR, there is no doubt that the number of hours students would have been able to commit to them would have been diminished, and there would have been no permanent record of the students’ participation. In addition, I have always included creative/research projects in many of my classes. Now that I am adding STLR to these projects, students who are already completing these get more credit for their creativity and hard work than just a grade.

While STLR was not a hard sell for me, and the benefits have been incredible, jumping into the process was not all smooth sailing. Here are a few things I have learned while participating as a STLR project mentor:

  1. Start with the low hanging fruit: There are so many students on our campus and many others that are already participating in TL experiences both inside and outside the classroom. These students are highly motivated to get financial compensation and/or document proof of their existing work.
  2. Be sure to lead with the reasons for STLR: It is too easy for faculty and students to see the STLR assessment as just one more piece of paperwork being forced on them by administration. If we start from the perspective that students should be getting credit for their TL experiences, then buy-in is much easier to obtain.
  3. Be detailed in explaining your project and its impact: By its very nature, STLR is a multi-disciplinary endeavor. While you may think that the project you are proposing and its impact are self-evident, you will need to justify that to reviewers who have no experience in your field.
  4. Be realistic in what you promise students: We all have many students who we know are worthy of TL experiences, but our time and funding are limited. Introduce projects over time so that you do not overwhelm yourself, the program’s administrators, reviewers, or funding. Beware of finding yourself having to fulfill – or worse, renege on – promises to students that are not nearly as viable as they once were.

Even with all of these things, I do not regret for one second my involvement in TL or in STLR. Our students do incredible, diligent, transformative work and are not always recognized for it. STLR allows that achievement to be seen and displayed for the world and I encourage everyone who is able to participate in any way they can.

Find out more about STLR at http://www.uco.edu/stlr

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