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The WAC Academy

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Incorporating the Popularity of Reality Competition to Enhance Learning

Nancy Harris

Department of Nutrition and Dietetics

 

The undergraduate nutrition and dietetics curriculum at East Carolina University includes a writing intensive course, NUTR 4600, “Dietetics Exit Seminar”. The catalog description for this two semester hour course states that the course applies continuous quality improvement to dietetic services and identifies trends and issues in dietetics. The course objectives include: (1) Apply knowledge of scientific research and practice in nutrition and dietetics through oral and written activities. (2) Review relevant trends, practices, and issues in the profession. (3) Initiate the development of a professional portfolio. (4) Complete the Exit Exam for the Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) with a minimum score of 80%. This is intended to be a capstone course that compiles a comprehensive curriculum assessment, writing intensive objectives and professional development activities.

 

For several years the instructional approach for this course has been dismal with little attention given to improving outcomes. The focus has been primarily on testing outcomes and the writing components have been busy work tasks with no apparent theme. About the time the course was assigned to me, a request for participation in the Institute in Teaching Writing Intensive Course was announced. I responded to the inquiry and was awarded an opportunity to attend. My expectations were to discover a formula or template from the instruction to apply to the reconstruction of my course. Instead, I discovered a series of faculty presentations from various disciplines and observed how their academic training, personalities, teaching styles and media utilization enhanced the empowerment of their students in both structured and creative expression through participatory learning. Kenneth Wilburn best expressed it as “writing to learn”. In the Writing Institute, we visited essays, literacy narratives, field trips, error analysis, evaluation methods, one sentence paragraphs, academic integrity, understanding audience, critical thinking and instructional web casts. The Institute was an engaging process but the independent parts were not clearly solving the equation for me. Then it occurred to me to utilize the lessons I was learning to the students I was teaching. In this way, I was able to enhance my own effectiveness as well as help the student discover new ways to communicate meaning in a variety of ways that are significant. This collaborative learning became the template for the course.

 

Seven writing assignments were constructed. These assignments involved a variety of writing skills:  interpretation of an American Dietetic Association position paper on a current nutrition issue; development a professional resume incorporating suggestions from presentations from faculty at the ECU career center; compiling a professional portfolio featuring outstanding academic, extracurricular, workplace or volunteer performance; completion of a reflective paper after participating in a professional conference; scripting a narrative that included personal and career goals with professional standards and criteria; and adapting a narrative on the same topic for different audiences. Initially students were reluctant to be expressive, but their confidence improved during the semester and they became more confident to transcend from structured writing to more personalized, expressive communications.

 

In addition to the writing expectations, students needed to successfully complete a comprehensive exam encompassing all major courses in the undergraduate curriculum. This exam assists students in reviewing the curriculum to identify areas of needed improvement prior to completing a dietetic internship which is supervised practice involving approximately 1300 hours. The exam also prepares students for successful performance on the national registration exam for dietitians at the conclusion of the internship which is a requirement to practice as a registered, licensed dietitian. It is a challenge to meet both writing intensive and comprehensive testing components in the same two semester hour course. Moreover, past student evaluations indicated the need to improve the testing outcomes. In an effort to revitalize the course and encourage student participation in the process, a number of new approaches were incorporated.

 

Once again the Institute helped stimulate some ideas. In our text, active participation was encouraged in order to result in a greater educational experience.  It stated that while there are several means of encouraging student engagement,¹ group activities are well suited for this purpose. Dunaway (2005) took this approach in a higher level setting and noted that students felt obligated to prepare beforehand for group interaction and collectively believed the experience enhanced learning. Additionally, there was a notable increase in enthusiasm among the students.² Another resource described how the game show Jeopardy had been used frequently in educational settings to enhance learning in a more entertaining manner.³

 

Based on these ideas, one new methodology  was used to engage students in a curriculum review process that encouraged individual contribution to a team oriented process. The objective of the methodology was to improve student engagement and perceptions via classroom implementation of a popular reality game shoe. Each student was assigned a topic domain from the nutrition curriculum to review and prepare a detailed content outline and to prepare ten test questions highlighting the most critical content from their domain. The class was randomly divided into two teams to compete in a contest that included both student derived and previous exam questions. Prior to the contest, all content outlines and questions were provided to the students to enhance their review in preparation for the contest and actual comprehensive exam.  A reality show theme incorporating the survival-type competition was adopted to stimulate team building activities and to improve the competitive spirit of the activity.

 

Initially, each member of the winning team was to receive 10 bonus points toward the comprehensive exam. Students requested that the bonus points be prorated between the teams so that everyone would be a winner with a proportionate advantage. This willingness to support the entire class was a pleasant response in a major that students are often very competitive individually and less supportive of other students’ success. Both teams demonstrated evidence of preparation and study prior to the game. The team scores were roughly equal (44 to 41 points) and few questions were missed overall. Students reacted favorably to the approach with active engagement in the activity and had fun with costumes, motivational team cheers and island decorations. An added bonus to learning was having fun. In the future, passing rates on the comprehensive exam from this class will be compared with other classes and used to modify teaching strategies as indicated.

 

This concept was presented as a poster presentation at the 31st International Improvement in University Teaching Conference, Extending Our Boundaries: New Solutions for Complex Problems in Higher Education in Dunedin, New Zealand in July 2006. The response from conference participants was incredibly positive and enthusiastic and fostered the sharing of instructional techniques that enhance learning in inventive and creative venues.

 

So, in reality, the Institute never produced the formula or template I had initially sought. However, I was reminded that my attitude toward learning should be receptive to new ideas and I should consistently seek inspiration to assure my growth continues. If I am successful with my own development, I will be better equipped to enhance the learning environment I offer to my students.

 

 

References

 

Weaver, R., and Qi, J. (2005). Classroom organization and participation: College students’ perceptions. The Journal of Higher Education, 76(5), 570-601.

 

Dunaway, G. (2005). Adaptation of team learning to an introductory graduate pharmacology course. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 17(1), 56-62.

 

Keutzer, C. (1993, February). Jeopardy© in abnormal psychology. Teaching in Psychology, 20(1), 45-46.

 

 

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