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CurriCulum CoherenCe and Student SuCCeSS Dianne Bateman Stephen Taylor Elizabeth Janik Ann Logan Copie de conservation disponible en format électronique sur le serveur WEB du CDC. URL = Rapport PAREA, Champlain Regional College, campus St-Lambert, 2007, 316 p. en PDF. Dépôt légal - Décembre 2007 bibliothèque NatioNale Du québec iSbN 978-2-9810305-0-4 le coNteNu Du préSeNt rapport N’eNgage que la reSpoNSabilité Du collège et De SeS auteurS. la préSeNte recherche a été SubveNtioNNée par le miNiStère De l’éDucatioN, Du loiSir er Du Sport DaNS le caDre Du programme D’aiDe à la recherche Sur l’eNSeigNemeNt et l’appreNtiSSage (parea ). page layout by paule gauDet - 2008 Dianne Bateman, PhD Stephen Taylor, PhD Elizabeth Janik, MSc; MEd Ann Logan, MA CurriCulum CoherenCe and Student SuCCeSS oN peut obteNir DeS exemplaireS SupplémeNtaireS De ce rapport De recherche eN S’aDreSSaNt au Directeur DeS ServiceS péDagogiqueS champlaiN SaiNt-lambert cégep 900 riverSiDe Drive SaiNt-lambert, qc J4p 3p2 S.v.p. iNclure uN chèque ou uN maNDat-poSte à l’orDre De champlaiN SaiNt-lambert cégep au moNtaNt De 30$ par exemplaire DemaNDé. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This research project could not have been undertaken without the assistance of many people. We want to thank those who helped initiate and sustain the project: DaviD ShurmaNN and aNthoNy SiNgeliS for their enthusiasm and support rachaD aNtoNiuS for his willingness and expertise briaN o’boyle for his patience and dedication DoNalD ShewaN for his leadership and constant support. We especially want to thank our co-researchers, the 14 teachers who worked with their respective departments to collect, analyze and interpret the data. Their professionalism, dedication and leadership abilities are evidenced in these pages. priScila caStillo-ruiz elizabeth NeSbitt elham ghobaDi remi poirier morDechai glick eva roSeNfielD malcolm harper gail Sowerby JoaN kearvell aliSoN tett chriStiNe kerr peter varfalvy louiSe labelle moNica warr We finally want to thank the 67 faculty members from the eight participating departments: eNgliSh pSychology chemiStry Social ScieNce: methoDology humaNitieS biology phySicS mathematicS Their ability to transform the concept of curriculum coherence into a process of collegiality, collaboration and community, makes a project of this magnitude necessary and worthwhile. Dianne Bateman Stephen Taylor Elizabeth Janik Ann Logan This work is dedicated to Gail Sowerby 1951 - 2006 A teacher A colleague A friend When Gail realized she had limited time left, this research remained one of her priorities. Gail believed in its underlying values and its importance to the future of teaching and student learning. Her intellect, integrity and her laughter are truly missed. ChApTEr 1 iNtroDuctioN ......................................................... page 8 ChApTEr 2 literature review ................................................ page 13 ChApTEr 3 methoDology ....................................................... page 20 ChApTEr 4 coNcluSioN .......................................................... page 41 ChApTEr 5 eNgliSh ................................................................ page 50 ChApTEr 6 chemiStry ............................................................ page 93 ChApTEr 7 humaNitieS ........................................................... page 115 ChApTEr 8 phySicS ................................................................ page 158 ChApTEr 9 pSychology ......................................................... page 188 ChApTEr 10 Social ScieNce: methoDology .............................. page 223 ChApTEr 11 biology ............................................................... page 243 ChApTEr 12 mathematicS ......................................................... page 259 ViSuAL rEprESENTATiON Of ThE prOCESS .................... page 309 rEfErENCES ............................................................ page 316 Table of CoNTeNTS OrGanizatiOn Of thiS repOrt This report is intentionally organized to allow the reader to understand why this research was undertaken, how it proceeded and what was learned by reading the first four chapters: The Introduction, Literature Review, Methodology and Conclusion. Chapters five through twelve explain how the process evolved and what results were achieved in the eight departments that participated: English, Chemistry, Humanities, Physics, Psychology, Social Science Methodology, Biology and Mathematics. Having read the first four chapters, any one of the departmental chapters can be read as a separate report. . CHAPTER 1 INTroduCTIoN 10 intrOductiOn D ropout from higher education is a constant concern of college educators. Besides its budgetary effects which can threaten the very existence of an institution, its social and educational implications are far reaching (Astin, 1993; Braxton, 1999; Tinto, 1993). The Education Indicators: 2001 Edition reported that in a cohort of 100 students in Quebec, 71 will obtain a high school diploma before the age of 20, but only 39 of these students will go on to obtain a college-level degree.1 The Quebec government tried to address this problem by asking that each college develop a Student Success Plan to achieve pre-ordained graduation rates. Although their intentions were admirable and accompanied by generous funding, an emphasis on “success” and “graduation rates” risks negating the progress made towards building a college system that is based on a program approach with a competency-based curriculum. In addition, while the efforts to increase student success at many institutions have been necessary and worthwhile, the absence of an educational process that validates the kinds of learning students are being asked to be successful at, while simultaneously taking into account the cognitive and affective abilities students have when they enter Cegep, can render the achievement of the pre-ordained graduation rates meaningless. The purpose of this research project, therefore, was to bridge the gap between these two contrasting imperatives. It initiated and documented a process that combines outcomes assessment measures with an in-depth analysis of instructional objectives and the classroom assessments designed to measure the achievement of them. Our overall goal was to increase the chances of student success, while guaranteeing the quality of student learning. A basic premise underlying this research project is that student retention is a consequence of student success and that the most important characteristic of an institution that leads to persistence (success and satisfaction) is the quality of learning that its students experience. In other words, students persist when they are experiencing meaningful learning and personal growth that they can relate to their current and future development. Most studies on student success and retention focus on personal characteristics of the students such as social economic background, attitudes, motivation, study habits and previous academic achievement. This has been the focus of PAREA funded research in the past (Barbeau, 1994; Barbeau, et al., 1997; Gagnon, et al., 1993; Larose & Roy, 1993; Terrill & Ducharme, 1994; Thivierge & Carbonneau, 1998). However, one crucial dimension has been missing from the general trend in such research, that is, the role of curriculum which includes the methods used to measure the learning of that curriculum. Quality student learning, or the lack of it, lies within the curriculum that is planned for them. Ultimately, the faculty is collectively responsible for the quality of that curriculum.2  Ministêre de l’Éducation, Education Indicators: 200 Edition, [on line], Québec, 200. <http: ia200.pdf>.  Curriculum is defined as “a college’s - or program’s - [or department’s] mission, purpose, or collective expression of what is important for students to learn” (Stark & Lowther, 986). Methods used to assess student learning are central to the curriculum. curricuLuM cOherence and Student SucceSS 11 Prior to the Cegep Reform, the responsibility for designing the curriculum and stating instructional goals fell, for the most part, to the individual departments within a college, and to the teachers who staffed those departments. Coherence or alignment within the curriculum could only occur to the degree that members of a department felt that establishing agreed-upon learning goals and methods of assessment for individual courses, and across multiple sections of the same course, was important. Measuring learning outcomes across the college was seldom discussed or attempted. It was assumed that departmental work on curriculum, hiring, scheduling, budget allocation, teaching and the evaluation of student learning were producing the desired outcomes. The educational reform of the Cegep system, which began in the early nineties, inaugurated competency-based education within a program approach. Ministerial objectives and standards (the goals of learning) were assigned for each course, in each department, within each program. Although faculty are contractually obligated to respect these objectives and standards, their usefulness and underlying philosophical assumptions are still being debated on many campuses (Bateman, 2002 a,b,c; Sowerby & Bateman, 2001). There is no way of knowing to what degree they have been understood, intellectually endorsed and integrated into classroom practice. Using graduation rates as the primary indicator of student success devalues the importance of establishing what students have learned (Simard, 2001). It promotes the message that quantity (the number of students who graduate) is more important than quality (the subject matter knowledge and intellectual abilities they graduate with). As a result, many faculty members view the pressure to meet preordained success rates (commonly referred as targets) as proof that “the Ministry of Education wants teachers to lower standards and pass everyone” (common response to Faculty Questionnaire on Student Success, Champlain St-Lambert, May 2001). It can be seen as a bureaucratic requirement devoid of substance, rather than as an opportunity to make systematic, explicit, and public, the agreed upon goals of learning and the assessments used to measure, monitor, and document that learning. Despite the hesitation surrounding the benefits of a competency-based education, most college educators understand that, theoretically, an authentic competency-based model does not put restrictions on ‘how long’ it might take to ‘genuinely’ achieve the required competencies at a satisfactory level. Therefore, the new challenge of ensuring that students complete their DEC in a prescribed amount of time can be perceived by faculty as colliding with competency-based learning (i.e. higher order thinking skills, intellectual abilities) and, subsequently, devalues the kinds of complex, permanent learning required today (Donald, 2002; Taylor, 1990). One way to ensure that the current emphasis on “student success” does not lead to the lowering of standards is to find a way to guarantee that the assessments used to measure the achievement of the curriculum are directly connected to the goals of instruction. 12 intrOductiOn The broad objective of this research, therefore, was to design a model of institutional development that is grounded scientifically, by using research on student outcomes to drive curriculum and program development. Because disciplinary differences exist in how knowledge is acquired and measured (Donald, 1995, 2002; Taylor, 1990, 1994), this research sought to document formal discipline-specific curriculum validation processes that will become part of the culture of each department and accepted as standard procedures that, when followed, validate the grading practices being used across the college to measure student learning. Approaching “student success” from this perspective placed the assessment of student learning at the center of Champlain St-Lambert’s “student success” initiative. We specifically sought to determine what kind of learning represents “student success” in each participating department and in each course that was studied. This meant that we had to find a way to determine if there was a common understanding about what the learning outcomes (goals of instruction) were within each course and across multiple sections of the same course. We wanted to know if the assessment tasks used to measure student performance represented the achievement of the specified learning outcomes. At the same time we wanted to identify educational processes that would enable and motivate faculty to assert their collective responsibility for the integrity and coherence of the curriculum they deliver, while building in the capacity to continually improve teaching and learning. The importance of this research project lies in its contribution to the knowledge base on how assessment practices can be used to improve and monitor the quality of students’ learning. At the same time, the process that it intentionally initiated, supported and documented offers a framework to the collegial community that demonstrates how teachers and institutions can develop a model of curriculum coherence that simultaneously ensures and increases the quality of student learning. CHAPTER 2 lITeraTure revIew 14 Literature review H igher education is in an era of change. Recent reports emanating from Canada (Smith, 1996), Great Britain (JISC, 1995) and the United States (US Department of Education, 2006) suggest that these changes are being provoked by four issues that need to be continually confronted, monitored, and improved if colleges and universities are going to maintain their importance in society and enjoy public support. These four issues include: ac- cessibility, affordability, accountability and quality. The Cegep system in Quebec has successfully dealt with two of these issues; Cegeps are accessible and affordable. They are open to anyone with a high school diploma and funded by the provincial government. Like its European and Amer- ican counterparts, however, it struggles with issues of accountability and quality. In a recent attempt to improve quality and make Cegeps become more accountable to the public, the Ministry of Education challenged each college to develop a Student Success Plan designed to intentionally increase graduation rates and shorten the extended time it takes to complete a pre- university or professional DEC (a fair number of students need an additional term to complete their program of study). Many Cegep teachers responded to this challenge in a negative way, hearing it as a demand to lower standards and pass more students. Some colleges responded by adding new programs and positions in student learning centers to support students outside of class and handle the increased demand. At Champlain St-Lambert Cégep, the faculty and administration acknowledge the importance of increasing student success and providing centers that support their learning but reject the view that graduation rates and preordained targets account for the quality of student learning. Champlain St-Lambert Cégep chose to address the challenge of increasing student success by focusing on the academic tasks that students were being asked to master within their respective classes (Doyle, 1983). Efforts focused on finding a way to ensure that ministerial objectives were aligned with departmental standards, curricula and assessments within a course, across multiple sections of the same course, and between courses within the same program. The goal was to create a process that would allow for the constant monitoring of and accounting for the quality of our students’ learning. This would be achieved by collecting data on student performance and analyzing the assessment tasks used to measure this performance. The data was fed back into departments to inform curriculum decision making aimed at redesigning assessment methods to make them more coherent with course and program objectives. It was posited that the achieve- ment of an aligned or coherent curriculum at the course and departmental level would increase student success because it would decrease inequities in assessment practices and increase op- portunities for all students to learn. curricuLuM cOherence and Student SucceSS 15 curriculum coherence: a possible solution to a complex problem The need for alignment among curriculum, instruction and assessment is a fundamental principle of educational practice. In a coherent or aligned curriculum, all components in the teaching sys- tem, the curriculum and its intended outcomes, the teaching methods, the learning activities, the assessment tasks and resources to support learning are aligned. When these conditions have been created, the learner finds it difficult to escape without learning (Biggs, 1999). It has been reported that when assessments are aligned with instructional objectives, student learning (i.e. success) can be increased as much as two standard deviations (Cohen, 1987). The literature also suggests that faculty who clearly understand the intricate connection between instructional goals and student assessment can both communicate their expectations to students and measure student learning in ways that foster student success without lowering standards (Crooks, 1988; Walvoord & Anderson, 1998; Wiggins, 1993). Creating a coherent curriculum appears to be a simple, straightforward solution to a complex problem that should be easy to design and imple- ment. The literature also suggests, however, that curriculum alignment in higher education is not the norm (Biggs, 1999, 1996; Cohen, 1987; Ramsden, 1992; Pellegrino, 2006). Although attempts have been made to examine coherence at the state (Cohen, 1995), institutional (Cowan, George & Pinheiro-Torres, 2004), program (Newmann, et al., 2001) and policy levels (Spillane & Jennings, 1997), a documented process for achieving curriculum coherence does not exist. There is little empirical research on the nature of coherence in practice (McDonald, 2005), nor has there been any research on how departments and programs develop coherence (Ham- merness, 2007). Pellegrino (2006) suggests that the lack of a central theory about the nature of learning and knowing in a given domain of knowledge and expertise makes it difficult to coordinate curriculum, instruction and assessment. Anderson (2002) describes curriculum alignment as having a strong link between objectives and assessments, between objectives and instructional activities and materials, and between assess- ments and instructional activities and materials. In other words, content validity, content coverage, and opportunity to learn are all included within the more general concept of “curriculum alignment.” Our initial conception of coherence was based on this traditional definition which views coherence as an achievable, objective outcome, that is, the internal alignment of standards, curricula and as- sessments (Biggs, 1999, 2001; Ramsden, 1992). As the research project progressed, however, it became clear that this simple view ignored the political, and subjective realities operating within an academic department which can easily inter- fere with a task that requires compromise, collaboration and a conceptual change about how aca- demic departments might work together on issues of curricular structure, pedagogical alternatives, and student assessment. The dynamic process that enfolded during the four years documented in