My last set of after-action reviews (AARs) have been with the Peer Catalyst (PC) and Peer Catalyst Mentor (PCM) family. I had ten attendees on Thursday evening, and five on Friday afternoon for a combined three hour discussion.
Like the earlier faculty focused AAR, I posed four starter questions:
- What were we asked to do?
- Did the semester unfold as planned?
- How did you adapt?
- What changed should we adopt program-wide?
Follow-up questions included:
- Can you identify – as experts in FYS – the relevant cues and expectancies that you watch for (or note are missing) in a seminar room that we can use to train novice Instructors and PCs?
- What are the indicators that a seminar has learned to trust (its own members and the professor)?
Their recommendations were quite good, and their insights were invaluable.
Having professors who are too nice and allow students to take advantage of them are as bad as professors who are too rigid.
Students can tell when a professor cares more for them than s/he does for the content. Each type will end with the same basic products, but the former scenario will result in student autonomy, improved intellectual engagement, and interactive learning (PC program goals).
Students are often reluctant to discuss controversial issues for fear of backlash (immediate and from trolls).
Communication between PCs and Faculty is essential. PCs must know a professor’s intent and purpose behind each assignment so they can more easily support the objective. Pointedly they described a faculty-PC relationship that enables the sort of flexibility and judgment noted by the participants in the faculty AAR.
Professors that are confident enough to invite the PC into their confidence and treat them as an equal partner in the seminar’s facilitation do far better than the professors who plow ahead with their own plan regardless of PC input. (I wholeheartedly agree.)
A key marker of success in FYS is when students begin to talk about how they’re using FYS related concepts in other areas of their life at QU (or beyond). I agree – and the better professors are always looking for ways to enhance transferability.
With respect to follow-up question number one – what are the indicators an expert looks for in the seminar room? – they identified five:
- Students move to a growth mindset and stop asking, “is this okay?”
- Students initiate conversations – they don’t wait to be prompted
- Students reach out to the PC for help
- Students chat before and after class (as opposed to burying their noses in their phones).
- Non-verbal communications (ie: posture) suggest attentiveness and interest.
While communications are good for “on-high”, they are seen as one-way dictates. Create a web-site that includes the course-leader’s blog and weekly emails, but also has a section for PC/PCM input, FAQs, and most importantly, student questions and comments. This is easy to do…I will put together a committee to see how this can be sustained.
As noted, communication between PCs and Faculty is essential. They asked that language be added to the contract specifying the need for PC meetings.
We need to improve our training around the role of the PC in the seminar room. Some faculty simply do not know how to use their PC. I say “improve” because roles and functions are discussed in the current program. What the PCs suggested was role playing, or simulations, to better teach empathy to faculty. We’ll study this.
Improve our training program to prepare faculty to ask questions that better invite conversation. (We do focus on asking questions – but clearly this is a skill we can improve upon.)
Although they had no specific recommendations related to a student’s fear of reprisals both Lenn and I agree that this needs immediate attention and are already discussing ways to mitigate the problem.