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July 26, 2023

Co-curriculars and collaboration set the stage for student and faculty success

by Kate White

As faculty gear up for fall semester 2023, it’s a great time to focus on co-curricular learning. A co-curricular experience can amplify and expand educational opportunities, helping students build transferrable skills and get ready for careers and life after college. MSU defines co-curricular as an intentional learning experience with stated learning outcomes and feedback strategy. The Spartan Experience Record (SER) is a collaborative tool that captures a comprehensive view of student learning.

The SER provides an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to collect, document, and verify all of the experiences that shape education, from research opportunities to leadership positions to on-campus employment. Data captured by the SER includes 29 learning outcome statements designed to help students communicate with employers about their achievements at MSU. The SER supports faculty and staff by recording student engagement, student accomplishments, volunteerism and community engagement, gains in learning, and their effect on students.

Customizable data for units and colleges
The SER creates a new database of student learning which is searchable and is of great value to students seeking opportunities. The SER offers brand-new data for administrators, faculty, and staff. This fall, the SER will begin using data visualization software to show colleges what their students engage in within the college. By tracking the participation of students, leaders can learn their interests and understand how the experience dovetails with student success at MSU and in the workforce.

Colleges, departments, or units can request a consultation with the SER team, led by Sarah Schultz, director of the SER. “In just three years we have captured 800 experiences in the SER, representing 10,000 undergraduate Spartans. This is groundbreaking data that changes the co-curricular landscape. It's a brand-new dataset – bringing together colleges and divisions. The information and stories we are starting to collect are very rich and valuable to institutional, college, and departmental goals, especially surrounding student success. We are focused on expansive growth, and we hope to add 500 more experiences this academic year,” says Schultz. “We can provide granular detail about co-curricular student engagement and learning outcomes. We’re a powerful and valuable new resource for faculty and staff,” Schultz confirms.

SER dashboards are coming soon
“SER dashboards will be helpful for faculty. They’ll be able to track trends over time, student participation in research or other projects, and the reach of experiences. SER can help measure initiatives designed to promote DEI, civility, and culture by tying them to outcomes. It can fill an important data gap,” says Ann Hoffman, senior academic specialist, College of Communication Arts and Sciences. “The SER allows us to document co-curricular experiences that differentiate MSU from other universities and makes the case for residential college life. Co-curriculars are made more tangible and data helps us tell the story of what it means to have a Michigan State University education,” Hoffman shares.

“When alumni talk about their time at MSU, they mention their classes, but the things they did outside the classroom are often the thing they share first and in greater depth. Co-curriculars are a big part of the Spartan journey,” concludes Hoffman.

Dr. Ken Horne, director for Undergraduate Student Engagement for the Broad College of Business was an early adopter of the SER. “Around the same time that the record came out, we had started an initiative to expand student engagement opportunities within the college. The work that we were doing in the college aligned with the SER, which started as My Spartan Story. We joined in. Anytime that you can be in alignment, take the opportunity to do so,” advises Horne.

“One of the things that I like about the SER is that it helps to make the experience intentional. One of our partners, the Multicultural Business Programs (MBP), did a phenomenal job of getting their student leaders into the platform. I think the SER provides a check where the student and the faculty advisor have a very clear understanding of what they are getting out of that experience. There’s a clear expectation of what they can expect in that role,” shares Horne.

Broad’s experience with the SER was positive and under Horne’s leadership, rolled the SER initiative out across the college. “I think five years from now, I see the benefit of the SER being that students will be able to talk about their experiences and how they translate into specific skills development,” explains Horne.

For some examples, we can look to the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Street Teams. Participants learn transferable skills like:

  • Practice critical thinking and inquiry.
  • Use context appropriate leadership strategies.
  • Use knowledge and skills in professional settings.
  • Utilize multiple media to communicate.

In the International Studies & Programs Office for Education Abroad’s Peer Advisor program, participants:

  • Demonstrate effective interpersonal communication.
  • Effectively collaborate and build relationships.
  • Facilitate peer to peer learning.

Faculty and staff collaboration is critical
“Empowering students with a formal record of their learning accomplishments beyond the classroom is our immediate goal. Doing that takes intentional partnerships and collaboration with faculty and staff all throughout the institution,” says Schultz. As activity creators, leaders, facilitators and assessors of co-curricular learning and engagement, faculty and staff play an imperative role in the submission and validation process to recognize the co-curricular involvement and learning of undergraduate Spartans.

These joint efforts support MSU 2030 strategic plan goals and objectives around student success. “As a campus-wide initiative, we collectively have a powerful opportunity to directly impact transformational student learning and institutional goals surrounding student success,” Schultz confirms.

“Faculty and staff can use the SER as a resource to gather data, spark student engagement, and document their impact on students and student learning. The data is useful for demonstrating student accomplishments outside the classroom and describing the contributions co-curriculars make to their learning and development,” explains Schultz. “Students benefit from viewing their experiences to determine gaps in skill development,” comments Korine Wawrzynski, assistant dean for academic initiatives and director for undergraduate research in the provost’s office. “It’s a win-win for students and faculty.”

Resources for faculty and staff
The SER team makes it easy to get started. The next introductory workshop for faculty and staff is August 8. You can also request a customized workshop for your college, department, or unit. The SER team has flyers, sample announcements for department or college newsletters, and other resources. For additional questions contact the SER.