What do students think of cross-campus curriculum?

As this semester comes to a close, I’ve spent a fair amount of time engaging with students in reflective practice. Whether formal or informal, the process allows us to move beyond the basics of the course evaluation survey (which hardly anyone fills out anyway!) and into real “closure” work for the experiences of the semester.

In particular, one of the most productive reflection processes has been with a class that tackled a huge, full-semester cross-campus curriculum (CCC) project. This group of 10 students collaborated with our admissions department to evaluate and develop materials for new an online new student orientation platform. We followed our CCC implementation guide (for the most part, anyway), including the design sprint, regular meetings with the “client,” iterative project work, and major presentations to stakeholders.

A few major themes emerged as we discussed the experience…

Ambiguity & Clarity

A common refrain among students was that the project deliverables were unclear, and that they had difficulty figuring out whether the team was on the right track or not.

“During much of the project, I felt lost as to what I should have been working on and whether or not the work we were doing was valuable to the project. I was hesitant to communicate this with my teammates because I did not want to seem difficult to work with or unsupportive of my team.”

Perceived Work Balance

One of the biggest challenges to successful implementations of a cross-campus curriculum project is balancing the needs of the client project and the needs of the particular course. I selected this course as the home for this CCC work because of its breadth and how flexible we could be with deliverables. Since the CCC project changed course a few times during the semester, there was a bit of extra work (a valuable learning activity in itself) it crunched the timeline a bit in terms of other planned classwork. In the end, students commented on this, but it seems as if it was an understandable and acceptable part of the process.

 “If I had to say what my least favorite part would be, I would say how fast everything was for the client project and the lack of time to focus on that project. The jumping between other projects and that one kinda sucked but it also helped me learn how to juggle all this work at once.” 

“Another aspect of the client project that I did not appreciate was the amount of time that it took from the rest of the class assignments. I understand, though, that this was simply because the client project ended up being more time consuming than expected.”

Essential Skills

Despite some of the above criticisms about tight timelines, and broad rather than deep technical learning, students commented on how valuable the experience was in terms of learning essential skills (not “soft skills”) through the CCC approach.

Lessons in leadership and a new understanding of what that really means:

“…the client project really helped build on my skills and test them in a group setting which was difficult. I guess I was chosen as the “leader” but I was more of a guide or helping hand than a leader but I did not see that until the end.”

“Overall, the project was full of great experiences like leadership, teamwork and lots of communication which will help me long term with future client projects. (Hopefully I will get paid next time!)”

Collaboration and teamwork can be a real challenge:

“In this class, I was reminded by my peers that everyone has their own personalities and work styles. Some took high profile (almost managerial) leadership roles, others seemed to complete their part in the background, and others somewhat relied on their peers to pick up their slack, whether intentionally or not.”

“I learned that everybody has their own opinions and thinks a certain way. They aren’t trying to disrespect you when they tell you what to change or choose. They just have a certain way that they design.”

Followership and individual responsibility:

“I learned a lot from my peers this semester, a lot more than I thought I would if I am being honest. By working close with a class like I did this semester, I learned from others the sense of having good ‘people skills.'”

“I learned about myself, my habits, and my work style, and I will continue working to improve upon myself as a designer, team member, and person.”

Building relationships can have positive effects on work!

“I learned at least one thing from my peers and that is to be sure to make friends with my classmates. Making friends with my classmates means that I can talk to them about projects and for the client project I can talk to them without being too nervous around them.”

“I enjoyed having the ability to work and then get instant feedback from other teammates. I will try to do better on listening to the team’s feedback and try to be a better teammate.”

Creative Process and the Business of Design

One of my priorities in designing this learning experience was to challenge students to see how complex and often frustrating it can be to work in a creative industry. Clients and teammates will criticize your work, deadlines and scope of work will change, and communication will sometimes break down… but we need to learn to adapt! I think this particular project was well-suited for this learning outcome:

“I learned the great lesson of not being attached to your work because it’s really not yours.”

Similarly…

“Sometimes just because the designer likes the design does not mean that the client will, so make sure you don’t get too attached to your work and make sure you are pleasing the client.”

We may not all be speaking the same language…

“I would also say that when you present your work, the client may
not like what you have created but do not get defeated, they may not know how to critique your work because they may not know what they want honestly.”

Next Steps

Looking ahead to next semester when my Web Design and Development III class will actually implement the online new student orientation platform, there are a few things I’ll be taking into consideration:

  • Build more coursework and associated demonstrations of learning into the CCC project itself;
  • Work more effectively as a teacher-leader to anticipate and prevent major changes to the client project;
  • As the project facilitator, be more deliberate with scoping the work so that students have a clear(er) goal in mind from early on;
  • Maintain student-driven team work, collaborations, and exposure to clients as much as possible;
  • Be more consistent with weekly stand-up meetings to ensure accountability, course correction (if needed), and roles.

I’m thrilled to see what spring semester has in store for us!

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