Monday, March 2, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning and Portfolio Assessment

picture: SPAN 332 students, Liz and Alex.
My "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students had to write their first reflective essay before many of them had actually begun to work in the community. So I asked them to reflect on the information in this post and the report it linked to. Specifically, I asked them to answer these two questions:

  1. ¿Qué opinas del informe? ¿Crees que tu preparación coincide con lo que buscan los empresarios y gerentes?

  2. ¿Cómo (no) coincide esta clase con los temas presentados en el informe?

Student responses were very interesting. They were happy to see that employers value experiential learning (including community service learning) more than other types of rote learning. Some students, however, were surprised by finding #3: "Most employers indicate that college transcripts are not particularly useful in helping evaluate job applicants’ potential to succeed at their company." Those students felt that within their university environment, GPA was emphasized as very important; to find out that employers value that less than demonstrations of integrative learning led some students to express what I would describe as almost feeling "tricked." (Of course, I'm not saying that GPA isn't important!)

I was most struck by one student's reaction to finding #4 "Few employers believe that multiple-choice tests of general content knowledge are very effective in ensuring student achievement. Instead, employers have the most confidence in assessments that demonstrate graduates’ ability to apply their college learning to complex, real-world challenges, as well as projects or tests that integrate problem-solving, writing, and analytical reasoning skills."

Almost all students saw that the content of SPAN 332 and the community service learning component included the abilities that employers want to see--applying their learning to complex, real-world challenges and projects and test that integrate problem-solving, writing and analytical reasoning skills. However, one student said (I'm paraphrasing):

Yes, we do these things in SPAN 332, but how will employers know about it?

Towards the end of the course I do ask students to write parts of their resume and cover letter to reflect their accomplishments in the course. I have also blogged here about how other students have talked about their SPAN 332 team project in job interviews. So in a way, it's students' responsibility to convey their experiences to their potential employers.

But in a way, it's also my responsibility. Finding #5 states that "[Employers] anticipate that faculty-assessed internships, community-based projects, and senior projects would be the most useful in gauging graduates’ readiness for the workplace." Faculty-assessed. I give my students grades on all their work for my course, but how helpful is a final grade on a transcript to those potential employers? Not very, as the report itself states.

So what kind of assessment can I do that will communicate students' learning in ways that employers appreciate and that at the same time does not over-burden me?


I haven't thought this through yet. I have many questions. What should go in the portfolio? Should it be digital, material or both? How can I find the time to provide a thorough assessment? How can non-Spanish-speaking employers evaluate my students' work in Spanish?

I have more questions than answers, but I'll be relying on these resources to help me think this through:

The NCLRC's Portfolio Asessment website

Information on Digital Portfolios

The Carnegie Foundation

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