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Keuka College News

‘Making a Good Thing Better’

Anita Chirco

For majors such as education and occupational therapy, measuring how well the major meets external standards is as easy as looking at how students perform on licensing examinations.

It’s not so easy assessing the organizational communication major, which has no licensing requirements.

That’s why Professor of Communication Studies Anita Chirco took a spring 2009 sabbatical to continue to develop a framework for assessing the major. She began that work during the fall 2008 semester by writing and administering outcomes surveys for COM courses (Public Speaking, Interpersonal and Group Communication Skills, and Business and Professional Writing).

“We are assessing how well the courses meet the outcomes for the major,” said Chirco. “Engaging the students in understanding why they are taking the courses, getting us to look at the courses and student success helps us to make changes and fine tune—keep making a good thing better.”

In January, outcomes surveys were administered for the communication Field Period, and in the spring, surveys were administered for Introduction to Communication, Media Writing, and Senior Practicum in Communication.

The surveys are not only helpful to the organizational communication faculty in obtaining feedback on how they might improve a course, but they’re also resources for the students “to see where their learning was the best, how they grew over time, and identify areas of strength of which the student might not have been aware,” said Chirco.

Additional assessment of the program came in the form of an alumni survey. Chrico’s goal was to contact every graduate from 1997 (the first group of students to graduate with the major) to 2009. That meant searching for those people whose contact information was not up-to-date.

“It was fun,” said Chrico. “I got back in touch with a number of grads with whom I haven’t been in touch in years.”

With help from Val Webster in the Center for Experiential Learning, Chirco utilized Class Climate software to write the survey and consulted with Director of Institutional Research Mark Palmieri and Dean of the Center for Experiential Learning Anne Marie Guthrie to get their opinions on some of the questions.

“Then-chair of the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts Anne Weed (vice president of academic affairs) made a lot of helpful suggestions,” added Chirco.

“We wanted to know what our students are doing now, their first job after Keuka, whether they went to graduate school, where they were working now, and the kinds of jobs they held,” said Chirco. “We also asked them about various aspects of the major to indentify its strengths and weaknesses.

“We had a remarkable response rate for survey research,” said Chirco. “Out of 73 students to whom we sent the mailing, we received 34 responses, a 46.6 response rate. That speaks to students’ dedication to Keuka College and the major.”

Some highlights from the alumni survey:

The well-rounded aspect resonates with Chirco.

“That has been a goal from the beginning,” said Chirco. “Not to just have people who are trained in skills, but well-rounded people.”

Graduates were also asked what three words they would use to describe the major. Among the responses were fun, practical, and challenging.

Said Chirco: “We’re going to continue getting feedback from the entire group of graduates to continue this analysis.”

Since she was still team-teaching Senior Practicum in Communication with Associate Professor of Organizational Communication and English Amanda Harris during the spring, Chirco also spent some time preparing to help students create electronic portfolios. She learned about folio21—a tool for building an electronic portfolio that is part of Storm Tracker—from Coordinator of Field Period and Internships Sally Ann Swartley and Director of Educational Technology Jeff Snow, and piloted its use with her students last semester.

According to Chirco, students have always been required to produce a portfolio as part of their senior practicum, but the electronic portfolio is new.

“The portfolio is a way for graduates to market themselves to employees,” said Chirco. “They are showing what they can do. They shouldn’t claim to have any skills on their resume that aren’t backed up with a concrete piece of evidence [in the portfolio].

“With the electronic portfolio, they can show what they can do very quickly,” added Chirco. “It’s more effective to show an actual Web page one created than to show a picture of a Web page.”

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