Linked courses could promote working together

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When professors and instructors assign a lot of work, it may seem like they aren’t aware of what else students have going on.

Karen Eboch, senior lecturer in the college of business, said a new way of scheduling classes through linking courses, helped her realize students have more classes than just hers.

“I was more aware of life outside my class,” Eboch said.

Linked courses is a University initiative to try to improve freshmen’s connections with the campus community and their peers.

“The basic idea is to get students seeing each other across courses and there’s a lot of evidence from other universities that that simple thing enhances their learning experience,” said Susan Kleine, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Education.

The initiative will allow students to be in two to four classes with the same group of students.

“The linkages were defined with the students’ major in mind,” said Rich Rowlands, project specialist. “It’s another means to connect with their campus community.”

Rowlands worked with different departments to identify the best links and he said about 450 links were defined. For students who come in undecided, Rowlands worked with pre-major advising to identify areas of interest.

The students were put into the courses during Student Orientation, Advising and Registration this summer, he said.

The process isn’t perfect, said Kleine, and a few students may be unlinked.

“Odds are they’re going to find groups anyway,” Kleine said.

The reason some students may not be linked is due to complications such as students enrolling late and student involvement, such as band, athletics or advanced placement.

“There’s always going to be a little bit of fuzziness,” Rowlands said. “It’s not a perfect match between the number of seats in one lecture versus another, we’re dealing with room sizes, pedogogical constraints.”

Though this is the first step in a “difficult” effort to do this, Kleine said “our goal in the long run is to increase the extent to which people are matched from one course to another.”

In the future, Kleine is also hoping it will provide opportunities for faculty to collaborate.

This past fall, the University tested the program with two pilot linkages. There were two General Studies Writing sections paired with a section of the first business class and the first philosophy class.

Eboch was involved in the pilot.

“It worked really well,” she said. “The students got to know each other well.”

Students were also able to excel due to what Eboch calls positive peer pressure, which means students were reminding each other of homework assignments and tests for both classes.

“There were a lot of crossover conversations I saw happening with the students,” she said. “Now they know somebody and feel connected to somebody.”

The pilot groups were more strongly linked than they will be this year, as every student was in both classes, Eboch said.

Being linked with GSW also helped Eboch to be aware that students were learning something in the class that they could bring into her class.

Eboch thinks linked courses are important because “it’s a matter of as a freshmen class, you’re really establishing what the expectations of college classes are.”

“I think it’s going to have more of that academic focus and hopefully create those positive peer groups to bring that success over the long haul,” Eboch said. “At least it gives them a foundation to go off of and have a little more confidence.”

The program is one of many that students can take advantage of to enrich the first year experience, Rowlands said.

“Some of the anecdotal feedback from students was they appreciated coming in and having some of their courses set up for them,” he said.