Incorporating Transformative Learning into a Spanish Course

Introduction

Stacy SoutherlandI attended UCO’s Student Transformative Learning Record (STLR) training in the summer of 2019 and subsequently used information from that instruction to redesign one of my fall 2019 Elementary Spanish I culture activities. Motivating my effort was interest in refreshing course assignments, helping students meet course and UCO transformative learning objectives in new and diverse ways, and providing students an opportunity to earn STLR credit. This endeavor also allowed me achieve two of the five faculty learning outcomes (FLOs) that form part the faculty development framework offered by UCO’s 21st Century Pedagogy Institute. FLO 1 requires faculty to demonstrate the ability to redesign part of a course incorporating Transformative Learning Theory using evidence-based principles of teaching and learning. FLO 3 requires faculty to demonstrate the ability to use the STLR rubric effectively to measure student transformative learning.

A Culture Assignment Enhanced

STLR training provided me with the opportunity to redesign an existing assignment used to promote global and cultural awareness and understanding in my Elementary I Spanish courses. It enabled me to align the learning activity even more closely with course learning objectives and render it more meaningful to students. I had first developed the assignment for use in my campus-based Elementary I courses and later used it in my online sections of the same course. I also shared the assignment with other online instructors by incorporating it into the online course template I designed.

Culture activities like the one I planned to reimagine for this STLR initiative serve the purpose of increasing learners’ awareness of topics of local and global cultural importance. As such, assignment questions were initially crafted with the intent of fostering critical thinking about complex and controversial cultural topics, promoting an open mindset, challenging personal beliefs and biases, and promoting reflection about how we engage with others and our communities. Learners’ responses to assignment reflection questions indicated the success of the assignment in increasing their awareness of various facets of complex cultural and global issues and, in some instances, indicated a transformation in their worldview. My grading experiences with the activity and the information I had read about the STLR initiative led me to believe that the assignment would be particularly well suited for STLR tagging. Insights gained through STLR training validated this thought and provided me with the tools to transform the assignment to align with STLR tenets.

Time spent attending STLR training sessions and subsequently applying principles learned in those meetings afforded me dedicated time for reframing assignment reflection prompts and grading criteria in a way that would make the relevance of the assignments and the course to students’ daily lives more readily apparent to learners. Helping students discern the relevance of coursework potentially increases their dedication to engaging with course content, renders the course and it assignments more rewarding for learners and the instructor, and increases the overall value of the learning experience.

STLR certification also allowed me to enhance and refine my feedback practices for this assignment and others. I already routinely provided thorough, relevant, and meaningful feedback to students on course assignments, but the examples of feedback and rubrics provided in STLR training materials inspired new ideas for, and offered guidance on, ways to increase the value of feedback for students. In addition to comments specific to question responses as they affect grade outcomes that I have always provided, I have been able to leverage STLR tenets and concepts to offer feedback that includes actionable items to promote learners’ future intellectual growth and community engagement that are specific to the interests and experiences individuals express in their assignment responses. STLR principles and grading processes bring efficiency to this effort to offer an increased level of feedback customization.

The integration of STLR into my courses has served to increase the value of the learning experience for students, increased learners’ motivation to complete and do well on the assignment, and provided a more standardized method for assessing learners’ transformative growth resulting from the assignment.

Assignment Details

My STLR assignment reworked an existing culture activity that requires students to read an article describing the experiences and challenges of immigrants to the United States and their path to citizenship from the perspectives of an immigrant and those who work to help immigrants navigate legal and social dilemmas. For this assignment, students write a summary of the article and respond to reflection questions related to the article and the immigration issues it explores. The questions encourage learners to share personal perspectives on this complex and controversial topic at the center of many debates in students’ local and global community. They also prompt students to consider the topic from immigrants’ viewpoint, examine their own personal beliefs about immigration, and articulate their thoughts and opinions about this complex, multifaceted, and often divisive issue.

The reading and the accompanying assignment reflection questions challenge learners’ belief systems, increase students’ awareness of the struggles many immigrants face, and stand to promote a deeper understanding of and greater appreciation for the unique challenges inherent in the immigrant experience.

The article for this assignment presents multiple perspectives on the immigration issue. The reading and the accompanying assignment reflection questions challenge learners’ belief systems, increase students’ awareness of the struggles many immigrants face, and stand to promote a deeper understanding of and greater appreciation for the unique challenges inherent in the immigrant experience. The activity prompts students to think critically about what they hear from news outlets and others in their community about this increasingly complex issue and consider the broader consequences of rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate. Moreover, it encourages learners to form and express their own informed opinions and has the potential to prompt them to engage in informed, responsible, and appropriate civic actions that may advance civil debate and conversation on the topic and empower positive solutions to various facets of the issue.

Scaling the Assignment to Other Sections

The process for integrating my first STLR assignment into online Elementary Spanish I and II courses that I designed and coordinated, but that were taught by multiple additional instructors, proved effective and efficient. These courses form part of UCO’s core curriculum and online sections of the offerings comprise approximately 33% of UCO’s Elementary Spanish courses in fall and spring and approximately 75% in summer. This effort to integrate a STLR-tagged assignment into all sections of online Elementary Spanish I and II expanded the impact of the assignment by affording more students than those in sections I teach the opportunity to participate in this STLR-tagged learning experience.

This implementation strategy also expedited the integration of a STLR-tagged activity into all online Elementary Spanish courses and introduced STLR training to all instructors of those sections. At the time of this initiative, the majority of the online Elementary Spanish instructors had not been STLR certified and did not use a STLR-tagged formal course assignment. To establish a timeline for the initiative while allowing instructors time to plan accordingly, I asked all who had not previously completed the training to do so before the spring 2020 semester. They each completed it in the summer of 2019, enabling us to launch the initiative and implement the assignment in all fall 2019 sections of the courses.

Although we standardized the assignment and evaluation information across all online sections of these courses for the initial STLR assignment, instructors completed their own assessments of student achievement. Feedback from instructors indicated that they appreciated the example of an assignment and assistance with the first STLR activity.

Advancing the STLR Culture

This assignment proved successful for meeting the vision I had for it and for promoting student achievement of learning outcomes. The reworked questions promoted better learner responses than those submitted in past semesters and reflected learners’ sincere efforts to provide thorough and thoughtful responses to the assignment’s question prompts. The majority of students demonstrated evidence of integration of the goals of UCO’s Global & Cultural Competencies tenet. Some students indicated interest in civic engagement inspired by the assignment and reflection activities that, if acted upon, could provide evidence of attainment of STLR transformation credit.

The reworked questions promoted better learner responses than those submitted in past semesters and reflected learners’ sincere efforts to provide thorough and thoughtful responses to the assignment’s question prompts.

Moving forward, instructors for all sections of the courses will create their own STLR-tagged culture activities. They may use this assignment as model to work from for redesigning and adapting the other existing culture assignments in the courses or creating entirely new ones. Some instructors requested the option to continue using the article assignment created for use in all courses in the short term, but will develop their own assignments over time. This diversity in STLR culture activity topics across sections promotes academic integrity while ensuring that all learners in the courses enjoy STLR assignment opportunities.

STLR Training Outcomes

STLR training was one of the most productive and worthwhile professional development activities I have experienced. The facilitator used our time well and was knowledgeable, well organized, and helpful, particularly with regard to my questions about how to integrate my STLR-tagged activity into multiple sections taught by other instructors. Information covered in the sessions stayed on topic and proved relevant as I developed the assignment. Materials provided during training advanced my understanding of the criteria to consider when developing STLR-tagged assignments and associated evaluation rubrics and served as a reliable and easy to understand reference during and after training. The D2L resource site for STLR-trained faculty members continues to serve as an invaluable and comprehensive guide for all facets of integrating STLR into my courses.

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