Spartan Studios: Planning

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Spartan Studios: Planning

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Author :
Ellie Louson
Spartan Studios: Planning

EL Contact profile image
Author :
Ellie Louson

This is the fourth article in our iTeach.MSU playlist for the Spartan Studios Playkit.

Teaching a Studios course requires more coordination with co-instructors and/or external partners than standard undergraduate courses. It’s important to begin planning your course early and take this planning seriously in order for your course to be successful. During the planning phase, you will be selecting a course theme, choosing the right challenges for your students, developing your syllabus and learning objectives, thinking about recruiting students, and deciding on your course structure.

▶️Course Theme: Form your class around a theme or challenge that is difficult to solve and benefits from many disciplinary perspectives. The topic or project you already have for your course might already relate to a wicked problem; you may just need to make that explicit by iteratively asking yourself why that topic matters. For example:

Diagram of iterative "why this matters" questions

▶️Defining the challenge: The course topic needs to be significant enough for students to create a meaningful connection to the project (develop passion and drive outside of obtaining a grade, or the “Gravity” in our model), while still being focused enough for students to make progress on their projects within the time and resource confines of a semester course. Striking this balance is important for students to feel connected to the project while also feeling empowered to make a tangible difference. Students should have the agency to shape what their solutions to these problems look like, but you’ll need your judgement to balance between the course’s gravity and the depth of focus on these problems. Ask yourself “what project goals will matter to my students and our partners but be achievable in one semester?” Ultimately, your students’ deliverables (what they create in the course, which can range from a plan, a prototype, or a finished product) will depend on the mix of specific students and majors who show up for the class. 
  • Too broad:
    •  worldwide food waste (too intractable and disputed)
  • Too narrow:
    • students’ personal food waste is too high (not enough impact)
    • campus is not aware of MSU’s anaerobic digester (pre-existing solution) 
  • “Just right”:
    • food waste on MSU's campus (increase awareness and track campaign’s success)
    • food waste at a grocery store (partner with a local business)
    • food waste at the individual level within our community (partner with the municipal government)

▶️Future potential: Consider a course theme with the potential for repeat offerings. The local solutions produced by the class one semester can be built on in the following semesters, or you can emphasize different facets of the problem each semester. Think about how to maintain community partnerships for those longer-term projects (see Partnerships, our next article next in the playlist). Consider roles for students interested in continuing to participate in the course; for example, by returning as learning assistants to mentor teams of enrolled students, or encouraging local partners to create internships or job opportunities.

▶️Attracting students to the course

  • Recruiting students to a new course is a challenge. Incorporate and prioritize your recruitment strategies as early as possible in your course planning.
  • If your course will be co-listed in multiple departments, one model for a Studio is “bring your own students”: each faculty member promotes the course in their department and “brings” their own set of students (for example, 4 instructors each bring 15 students from their own discipline). This works for classes where a larger number of students still fits the scope of the project(s).
  • Another option is to use interdepartmental listings. Any potential to list as a general education requirement (IAH, ISB, ISS) should be taken advantage of, as you can reach a larger pool of interested students. Be aware that obtaining approval for a new gen ed requirement can take up to a year. 

🔧Advisors of participating departments/majors should be made aware of the course offering and can be valuable assets in advertising the course. A compelling course description and interesting project are important draw factors as well. Ask your advisors to share the course description with the campus-wide advisor network to reach interested students in other departments. 

▶️Create Learning ObjectivesConsider whether these will be uniform or vary for students in different majors, and what goals the disciplines may share together. Learning objectives can be explicitly flexible (i.e. "gain a skill specific to your own career goals"). Other learning objectives can relate to working on interdisciplinary teams or manage relationships with community partners. Experiential courses can include content learning objectives; if these are uniform, they should be achievable by all students, regardless of their major.

🔧Bloom’s taxonomy is a well-known framework for describing educational goals. It’s a great resource for writing learning objectives. 

Bloom's taxonomy, Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

▶️Planning Iterative SprintsProject-based learning benefits from phases of iterative design. One model for Studios courses, described in (Heinrich et al. 2020) is to divide the semester into a content delivery phase followed by applied project work broken up into iterative production weeks, known as sprints, with student reflections. At each completed phase of the sprint, student teams present their prototypes and receive feedback from classmates, instructors, and/or community partners.

🔧Course schedule template for Spartan Studios courses including orientation (burn-in), project training, sequential sprints, and final reflection phases.

Weeks 1-4

Week 5

Weeks 6-8

Weeks 9-11

Weeks 12-14

Week 15

Orientation, content delivery (burn-in)

How to run a project in project-based learning

Sprint 1: Project plan, execution, reflection 

Sprint 2: Apply lessons to project, execution, reflection

Sprint 3: Apply lessons to project, execution, reflection

Submit final project, reflect on course experience

▶️Setting expectations for studentsSetting course expectations for students should start at the course listing/department advising and continue with the syllabus, the first few class periods, and periodically throughout the course. The experiential framework of the course and the method of assessment may be jarring for students - they have been trained in traditional education styles for nearly their entire lives. 

  • Mention in the course description that this is an experiential course.
  • Clearly explain the experiential approach and assessment style to your students.

▶️Consider an online Studios experienceThink about how these in-person, collaborative experiences can be translated into an online format during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have supported one online Studios course so far, which included synchronous sessions and independent student work. Students can benefit from work on interdisciplinary experiential projects regardless of the modality in which the course is delivered; additional work is required to design what student-faculty and student-student engagements look like for an online course.

🔧Resources from ASPIRE, MSU’s self-paced asynchronous professional development for online teaching

🔧Online platforms can facilitate student brainstorming. Students can contribute to collaborative documents (Google Docs), slides (Google Slides) or whiteboards (i.e. Mural or Jamboard). These and other tools can support student teams’ virtual design processes and work sessions can be visible to faculty in real-time.

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Posted by:
Ellie Louson #iteachmsu