While the rest of the working world uses summer as a time to decamp to waterfront locales, college and university officials take advantage of quieter campuses to catch up on projects and prepare for the return of students. At Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, summer activities include training student leaders. Last summer, though, the institution’s academic calendar fell in such a way that a week was eliminated, challenging WIT not only to complete training and achieve the necessary learning outcomes with seven fewer days, but also to reduce training costs while maintaining the program’s integrity.
Wentworth’s solution was to turn to a tool long used by the academic side of the house: Blackboard.
From mid-May through early August, 95 student leaders and 30 alternates - RAs, orientation leaders, tour guides, and others - completed five mandatory training modules on the online course management site, in addition to participating in on-campus sessions. The modules covered professionalism, community building, health and wellness, psychological typing, and team building. Through discussion threads, quizzes, and reflective assignments, students gained a new understanding of those core leadership areas. Perhaps more importantly, note WIT officials, the students were far more introspective and prolific in their answers than they would have been had all of the training happened on campus.
“Students were writing paragraphs of information - things we know they would not have said in the classroom,” says Jim Levesque, director of student life. “Students we know personally would not have offered such lengthy and personal comments in the classroom. There’s a certain peer pressure in the classroom that doesn’t lend itself to that type of sharing. It was wonderful.”
Placing a significant portion of student leader training on Blackboard allowed WIT to reduce the number of days the students needed to be on campus. In addition to facilitating completion of the training despite the week’s loss, the move saved the school more than $6,500 in food costs.
Wentworth is funneling those savings right back into student training, launching a professional development series for student leaders during the school year. The online training was so successful, the school plans on repeating it this summer, even though its academic calendar will have returned last year’s missing week to the schedule.
The effort was a collaborative one, overseen by a committee including representatives of seven different offices across the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. WIT’s Division of Technology Services helped with conceptualization and logistics and trained the module facilitators; each module was team-taught by two staffers.
An intangible and unexpected benefit of the new system, according to Keiko Broomhead, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs, was that it enabled the school’s recruiters, many of whom helped to build and administer the training modules, to gain a much clearer grasp of how today’s college student is educated.
“Admissions is a big part of this training, and being a part of the student leadership training committee helps from the prospective-student point of view,” she says. “It does let us know how students learn and how we could help them learn better and differently.”