Something to think about for the next Symposium Day

Symposium Day at Augustana College has grown into something truly impressive.  The quality of the concurrent sessions hosted by both students and faculty present an amazing array of interesting approaches to the theme of the day. The invited speakers continue to draw large crowds and capture the attention of the audience. And we continue to cultivate in the Augustana culture a belief in owning one’s learning experience by hosting a day in which students choose the sessions they attend and talk to each other about their reactions to those sessions.

Ever since its inception, we’ve emphasized the value of integrating Symposium Day participation into course assignments. Last year, we tested the impact of such curricular integration and found that Symposium Day mattered for first-year student growth in a clear and statistically significant way. We also know that graduating classes have increasingly found Symposium Day to be a valuable learning opportunity. Since 2013, the average response to the statement “Symposium Day activities influenced the way I now think about real-world issues,” has risen steadily. In 2017, 46% of seniors agreed or strongly agreed with that statement.

So what more could be written about an idea that has turned out to be so successful? Well, it turns out that when an organization values integration and autonomy, sometimes those values can collide and produce challenging, albeit resolvable, tensions. This year a number of first-year advisors encountered advisees who had assignments from different classes requiring them to be at different presentations simultaneously. Not surprisingly, these students were stressing about how they were going to pull this off and were coming up with all sorts of schemes to be in two places at once.

In some cases, the students didn’t know that they might be able to see a video recording of one of the conflicting presentations (although no one was sure whether that recording would be available before their assignment was due). But in other cases, there was simply no way for the student to attend both sessions.

This presents us all with a dilemma. How do we encourage the highest possible proportion of students that have course assignments that integrate their courses with Symposium Day without creating a situation where students are required to be in two places at once or run around like chickens with their proverbial heads cut off?

One possibility might be some sort of common assignment that originates in the FYI course. Another possibility might reside in establishing some sort of guidelines for Symposium Day assignments so that students don’t end up required by two different classes to be in two different places at the same time. I don’t have a good answer, nor is it my place to come up with one (lucky me!).

But it appears that our success in making Symposium Day a meaningful educational experience for students has created a potential obstacle that we ought to avoid. One student told me that the worst part about the assignments that she had to complete wasn’t that she was frustrated that she had homework. Instead, the worst part for her was that the session she really wanted to see, “just because it looked really interesting,” was also at the same time as the two sessions she was required to attend.

It would be ironic if we managed to undercut the way that Symposium Day participation seems to foster our students’ intrinsic motivation as learners because we got so good at integrating class assignments with Symposium Day.

Something to think about before we start planning for our Winter Term event.

Make it a good day,

Mark

One thought on “Something to think about for the next Symposium Day

  1. BK says:

    My assignment focuses on comparing ways of reasoning/knowing so that any session should be appropriate for the reflective writing.

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