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Foundations for Growth: A Learning Community Pairing
EGL 101 - Composition: Rhetoric and BUS 109 - Management Theories & Practices

 

November 18-19, 2011
University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras and University of the Sacred Heart
San Juan Puerto Rico

Sarbijt "Sab" Singh,, Farmingdale State College

Anthony Sovak,, Farmingdale State College

Ann Shapiro,, Farmingdale State College

Abstract

English Composition: Rhetoric (EGL 101) and Business Management, Theories, and Practices, (BUS 109) are foundational courses in their respective disciplines at Farmingdale State College (FSC). Both courses involve research, critical thinking, and writing. The aim of the Foundations for Growth learning community has been to enhance these essential skills and build a solid knowledge base of management, while simultaneously contributing to the students’ social connection with their fellow students and professors as well as to the college overall. The Foundations for Growth learning community provided a contextual framework—the world of work and business—to develop these skills and knowledge. Carefully selecting the course materials and scheduling the courses back-to-back were key factors in reinforcing the course content. The latter also enabled the students to become familiar with each other quickly and begin to establish friendships.

The Foundations for Growth learning community was designed for thirty first-year students. Over the course of the fall 2011 semester this learning community attempted to help students grow into effective communicators and leaders both in and outside the classroom at Farmingdale State College through deliberate points of intellectual collaboration and social interaction.

The Foundations for Growth learning community is part of Farmingdale State College’s comprehensive program, “Creating a Learner-Centered Institution” which includes:

  • Active, student-centered pedagogies and programs;
  • Robust orientation, advisement, mentoring;
  • Faculty development programs; and
  • Enhancing IT for student tracking, assessment, and advisement.

The goal of this program is to significantly enhance:

  • Student learning;
  • The overall college experience; and
  • Student retention at Farmingdale State College.

Introduction

The learning community model has been used at several distinguished colleges and universities to promote learning of a variety of topics, enhance the teaching of composition and other skills, build camaraderie, and increase student motivation (Tinto, 2). At Farmingdale State College (FSC), EGL 101 and BUS 109, respectively, serve as foundation courses in the English and business management disciplines. Both courses involve developing the first-year students’ appreciation for and ability to undertake research, critical thinking, and writing, all essential skills needed to grow into effective communicators and leaders. This learning community, captured by the theme Foundations for Growth, was developed to further encourage the students’ learning by providing a contextual framework—the world of work and business—for the practice of these core skills.

By encouraging students to think and act beyond a single course’s objectives, Foundations for Growth more accurately reflects the academic and professional landscape the students are facing. That landscape demands that each individual possess multiple skills for application in multiple settings. Taking place in the students’ first year at FSC, Foundations for Growth puts the student on the path to best meet those demands.

The goal of a learning community (or linked courses), as articulated by Zawacki and Williams, is “fostering greater academic coherence and more explicit intellectual content among students, between students and their faculty, and among disciplines” (110). Explaining the linked course initiative at George Mason University, the authors echoed our collective thinking in asserting, “We comp teachers were convinced that our students were more invested in writing courses when they were asked to write about ideas and texts they were studying in another course” (112). When surveyed in May of 2009 FSC students in writing intensive courses were almost unanimous in stating that they learned more and improved their writing and critical thinking skills in those courses.

Simply stated, students write better when they are engaged in a subject and have a context for their writing, and they also learn better when they write about the subjects in which they are engaged. In light of the importance of EGL 101 and BUS 109 we felt it imperative to bring this enhanced pedagogy to first-year students through the Foundations for Growth learning community.

The other key objective of Foundations for Growth has been the fostering of a sense of camaraderie, community, and the value of networking amongst students and faculty. These are important elements in ensuring a meaningful academic and social experience, part of FSC’s overriding mission.

Pedagogy: “Points of Collaboration”

The essence of any learning community is interaction between and amongst students and faculty. The proposed pedagogy for Foundation for Growth captured that essence via the quantity and purpose (quality) of the various interactions of those groups.

Purpose

The fundamental purpose behind all points of collaboration was to foster social interaction and academic cohesion amongst students and faculty. We were aiming to consistently aid students’ appreciation and retention of business knowledge, and critical thinking and writing skills.

We incorporated in-class and online tools and resources, outside experts, and co-curricular activities to achieve the stated objectives and outcomes. Core resources for the classes included the business management text, Understanding Management, by Richard L. Daft and Dorothy Marcicas, and The Changing World of Work by Marjorie Fordas, well as relevant case studies and current events articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals, as the foundation for class discussion and writing assignments. We added A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers to assist students with the writing process and other aspects of academic writing.

The main longer form writing assignments built upon class discussions and readings, with the students undertaking the writing process, including such basic skills as identifying main points, summarizing, paraphrasing, writing citations, as well as considering audience and purpose. Other “low stakes” assignments, e.g. those written in class, employed some of those elements as well.

The course supplemented traditional textbook and handouts-based learning with insights from two respected guest speakers from industry, as well as a major field trip to Manhattan (NY). Those opportunities allowed students to interact with professionals from the world of business and communications, and hear about the value of the interplay between the two disciplines. These “special” moments of collaboration also gave students the opportunity to bond with each other in a professional setting.

Schedule/Timeline

To truly fulfill the purpose of each collaborative effort, extensive “course management” was undertaken to ensure the best probability of success. We anticipated, correctly, that our interactions were going to have to take place before (planning), during (monitoring/adjusting), and after (assessment) the semester in which we taught the courses.

Initial meetings between Dr. Shapiro and Professor Singh began the semester before the class was taught, with a focus on developing course outlines with proposed readings, assignments, and co-curricular activities. Much of the development of the learning community took place during the summer of 2011, when the respective course syllabi were crafted, including detailed writing assignments and course calendar, outreach to guest speakers was undertaken, and arrangements for the class trip were finalized.

Weekly meetings took place during the semester as Dr. Sovak and Professor Singh monitored their respective classes and the planned points of collaboration. They also sought out additional opportunities based on their perceptions of how the classes were proceeding and informal student feedback. (The addition of a second guest speaker was one such opportunity.)

Finally, assessment of student learning and overall class efficacy was planned for soon after the completion of the semester via FSC’s standard student class evaluations as well as in the learning community’s participation in the Washington Center’s National Project on Assessing Learning in Learning Communities (specified below).

To highlight the pedagogy employed in this class, a key part of the students’ learning and assessment is presented here.

Featured Point of Collaboration: Graded Assignment 2- External Environment - Doing Business in India

The students were introduced to the concept of management in the global environment. Discussions centered on how similarities and dissimilarities in the economic, sociocultural, and legal-political environments at home and throughout the world can affect business plans and operations. The students viewed a video, read articles from major business and news publications, reviewed the textbook chapter, and engaged in in-class debate.

To further bring the concepts to life the students were given an assignment in which they would have to assume the role of a manager in an international company and analyze the risks and benefits of doing business in India, considering the consequences of any potential final decision.

  • Scenario: You are a manager in one of the following three companies—Coca-Cola, Google, or Levi’s—and the company is thinking about entering the Indian market. Your boss has asked you to identify and describe issues related to one of three components of the general environment—economic, socio-cultural, or legal-political—and how it may impact your ability to be successful in that market. Based on your research and analysis, please explain why you think it may be a good idea or not a good idea to enter the Indian market. (Deliverable: 2-4 page paper)

Purpose and Method

The “point” of this collaborative moment was to give students multiple, enriched opportunities to learn the material from BUS 109 through the methods they had been practicing in EGL 101. While reinforcing the material they had studied in class, this assignment also allowed for interaction between students and each other, professionals (via the trip to the Indian Consulate in New York City) and their professors. At the conclusion of the assignment, students were provided several forums to then share that learning with their peers, working professionals, and their professors. The aim was to reinforce the material while simultaneously building a stronger sense of community.

Results

More productive time spent:

  • Researching and analyzing the subject matter
  • Going through the writing process
  • Increased social and learning interaction between students
    Especially via field trip to Indian Consulate
  • Greater appreciation of students for:
    Importance of each academic discipline
    Farmingdale State College’s commitment to being part of the “real” world

Testimonials regarding outcomes

  1. "The India assignment became much easier after we talked with someone who knew that economy better than most. It’s a completely different experience than just looking up sites on the computer. Research can be a boring thing but when you’re sitting face to face with someone who lives, eats, and breathes India it becomes a real thing.” Student

  2. "I thought the trip was cool. It was the first time in my short college experience that we got to leave the classroom. I think that this class has allowed us to know our classmates better than other classes. I would definitely recommend doing this trip or something similar again. I believe the best learning is done through real life experience.” Student

  3. "It was our pleasure to have you, Dr. Sovak, Dr. Shapiro, and the students for an interactive session at the Consulate. We appreciate your efforts for bringing them here for greater exposure and will be happy to have you again at the Consulate.” Vice Consul, Indian Consulate (NY)

Future Plans

This course pairing will be offered at least two more times in the next four years as part of our Title III funded grant. As such, some considerations will be given about how this course offering can be strengthened. (This process has already started.) We will also be sharing our experiences and findings with colleagues in our respective departments and to the larger FSC community during spring 2012, and potentially at other conferences.

The Foundations for Growth learning community offered everyone involved at FSC an opportunity to enhance traditional pedagogy in a way that served the intellectual and social growth of its most important constituency, the student. We are encouraged by the initial results and are excited by the potential for improvement. For example, there seemed to be an under-exploited natural synergy between the two courses centered on group work. For example, students could study successful methods of planning, leadership, and management in BUS 109 while they are simultaneously expected to use those same methods during group work in an EGL 101. It is areas such as this that we feel can be strengthened, thereby extracting even greater value from the learning community model.

References

Tinto, V. (2000.) Learning better together: the impact of learning communities on student success in higher education. Journal of Institutional Research, 9 (1), 48-53.

Zawacki, T. M. & Williams, A. T. (2001.) Is it still WAC: writing within interdisciplinary learning communities? In McLeod, S. H. (ed.) WAC for the new millennium: Strategies for continuing writing-across-the-curriculum-programs. Urbana, Ill: National Council of Teachers of English.

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