Senior Culminating Experience and Developmental Pathways

The Senior Culminating Experience Vision Team[1] believes that SCEs will draw on Wofford’s existing strengths and further enrich the experiences of all students. SCEs affirm Wofford’s ethos of dialogue and engagement, highly-mentored student experiences, and transformational educational opportunities. SCEs could fit in a variety of curricular spaces: within majors or interdisciplinary programs, or as courses open to students from multiple majors. Our aim is for every student to have access to an SCE.

 

What are SCEs?

SCEs offer students the opportunity to practice sustained work that develops and enhances students’ skills in critical thinking, analysis, and argument around complex questions. SCEs have the potential to be driven by student interests and will build on prior learning.[2] In order to balance access and rigor, SCEs may have pre-requisite courses that provide methodological, disciplinary, or experiential foundations.

All pilot SCEs must guide students through an iterative process of inquiry to generate a product, individually or collaboratively. All pilot SCEs will also have the following learning objectives. Students will be able to:

  • Engage with the work of communities of scholars, researchers, or professionals who are in sustained discourse on relevant topics
  • Synthesize and critically evaluate information clearly in oral and written form
  • Make meaningful connections between their own and/or others’ decisions and the social and material world
  • Reflect critically on their own assumptions and process of inquiry.

 

Why SCEs?

SCEs will help fulfill Wofford’s mission to provide students a superior liberal arts education through transformative learning opportunities with faculty and staff. Wofford institutional reports, existing capstones and theses, comparisons with benchmark institutions, and current scholarship on teaching and learning all show the value of and desire for providing all students the opportunity to participate in an SCE.[3] Wofford’s Strategic Vision Implementation Plan calls for improving academic quality, promoting undergraduate research, and creating opportunities for collaborative curriculum design. SCEs are one way to work towards fulfilling these goals by offering all students opportunities to engage in meaningful academic work that is the culmination of their learning at Wofford.[4]

Important facts about SCEs:

  • National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) data from the last several years shows that only 45%-50% of Wofford students participate in an SCE, compared to over 75% of students at other institutions.[5]
  • Two thirds of entering Wofford students would like to do an SCE, significantly more than those who ultimately have the opportunity currently at Wofford.[6]
  • Surveys of alumni at other institutions found that their capstone experience was one of their most rewarding and enriching experiences in college.[7]
  • Scholarship on teaching finds that highly mentored experiences like SCEs help students develop the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information and communicate effectively in both written and oral form.[8]

 

Preparing Students for SCEs: The importance of pathways

SCEs are dependent on students’ having previously developed during their time at Wofford the knowledge and skills required to complete their work. Understanding the importance and complexity of research design, having familiarity with appropriate methodological approaches, or knowing how to apply disciplinary theory are some of the potentially necessary skills for the successful completion of an SCE. Ensuring that students start their SCE with the requisite capacities will enable SCEs to be meaningful experiences for students and promote sustainable teaching experiences for faculty members.[9]

Research on best curricular practices has found that “guided pathways” help students “connect the dots across learning experiences,” gain familiarity with methodological approaches, and nurture the skills they need for their SCE.[10] There are currently some majors and programs at Wofford that offer the pathways necessary for successful completion of an SCE. However, institutional reports[11] and input from faculty participating in honors theses and capstone projects demonstrate that many Wofford students are not adequately prepared to succeed in an SCE.  Wofford students often have interesting, creative, and meaningful ideas for their senior projects but lack the required training and skills to carry them out. As an institution we fail our students if we do not provide them clearly-marked pathways to prepare them for SCEs.

In order to address this issue, we propose that all SCEs represent a culmination of a pathway or pathways. These pathways should be clearly articulated and highly visible to all students, faculty, and advisors to ensure student preparation for rigorous and sustainable SCEs.

pathways.arrowsDreyfus and Dreyfus Developmental Model

timeline

[1] Christine Dinkins (cohort leader), Laura BarbasRhoden, Helen Dixon, Rhiannon Leebrick, Geoffrey Mitchell, Rachel Vanderhill, Emily Witsell

[2] Nancy Budwig and Amy Jessen-Marshall. “Making the Case for Capstones and Signature Work.” Peer Review 20.2 (2018): 4-7. Budwig, Nancy, Jeffrey Ratliff-Crain, and Michael Reder. “Student Preparation for and Engagement with Signature Work.” Peer Review 20, no. 2 (2018): 15-19.

[3] Capstone Committee, “The Wofford Capstone Experience Report Spring 2015” (Ad Hoc Capstone Committee Report, Wofford College, 2015): 2.

[4] “Strategic Planning Report: The 21st Century Learning Agenda.” Wofford College, Spring 2014.

[5] Data was gathered from NSSE reports from 2013-2017. In 2017, for example, 48% of students reported completing an SCE (this data includes comprehensive exams which are not normally considered an SCE), compared with 77% of students at comparison institutions and 76% of students at baccalaureate institutions. National Survey of Student Engagement, “NSSE 2017: Frequencies and Statistical Comparisons: Wofford College,” Senior question 11f. Data was also gathered from peer and aspirant institutions including: Beloit, Bucknell, Centre, Davidson, Furman, Hope, Lawrence, Kenyon, Sewanee, and Wheaton (MA).

[6] Capstone Committee, “The Wofford Capstone Experience Report Spring 2015,” 18.

[7] Capstone Committee, “The Wofford Capstone Experience Report Spring 2015,” 14.

[8] Nancy Budwig and Amy Jessen-Marshall. “Making the Case for Capstones and Signature Work.” Peer Review 20.2 (2018): 4-7. Robert C. Hauhart and Jon E. Grahe. “The Undergraduate Capstone Course in the Social Sciences: Results from a Regional Survey.”Teaching Sociology 38, no. 1 (2010): 4-17. Seanna Kerrigan and Rowanna Carpenter. “Culminating a College Education While Fostering Civic Agency.” Peer Review 15, no. 4 (2013): 16-19. Jillian Kinzie. “Taking Stock of Capstones and Integrative Learning.” Peer Review 15, no. 4 (2013): 27-30. Patsy Tinsely McGill. “Understanding the Capstone Experience Through the Voices of Students.” The Journal of General Education 61, no. 4 (2012): 488-504. Kathleen McKinney and Melissa D. Day. “A Multi-institutional Study of Students’ Perceptions and Experiences in the Research-based Capstone Course in Sociology.” Teaching Sociology 40, no. 2 (April 2012): 142-157.

[9] Nancy Budwig, Jeffrey Ratliff-Crain, and Michael Reder. “Student Preparation for and Engagement with Signature Work.” Peer Review 20.2 (2018): 15-19.

[10] Nancy Budwig, Jeffrey Ratliff-Crain, and Michael Reder. “Student Preparation for and Engagement with Signature Work.” Peer Review 20.2 (2018): 17.

[11] Such as senior surveys, external reviews, and external evaluator work done for grants.