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Learning at WISR

*The following requirements, learning methods and grading approach apply to students enrolling on, or after, February 1, 2015.  Students enrolled prior to February 1, 2015 are encouraged to follow these new requirements and guidelines, but they have been grandparented into the requirements and learning methods at the time of their admissions.    The old requirements may be found in our previous catalog: May 2014.

The new curriculum continues with WISR’s emphasis on providing personalized education, and now does so, by using courses with faculty-developed syllabi to aid student learning.

WISR’s Individualized Approach to Learning and Grading

Basic format of most courses at WISR:

1) Each of the courses in all WISR degree programs, except for a certain number of units that can be taken for practica/internships, independent study and the culminating thesis, has required readings, content and assignments in course syllabi developed by WISR faculty.  In addition to some required readings, there are recommended  reading options that can be chosen from a list of readings developed by WISR faculty for each course, and in consultation with one’s faculty advisor(s). These readings and assignments are designed to enable the student to learn about key ideas and issues relevant to the course’s learning objectives. Building on the core content and assignments for the course . . .

2) each student will then do a faculty-supervised and individually-designed  action and/or research internship and project, subject to faculty approval, that culminates in a paper and enables the student to: a) meet course learning objectives; b) progress toward degree program learning goals; and c) develop in the key meta-competencies that are goals for all WISR learners. The student will write a paper growing out of the project, and submit a detailed, reflective personalized post-course evaluation   [to get the student self-assessment form in an older Word file format (.doc)–click here] –that describes and self-assesses their activities and learning in the course. 

In this way, approximately at least half of the student’s activities in the course are personalized–to enable students to meet WISR’s learning and course objectives, while also supporting each student’s pursuit of their own learning interests and purposes, and being mindful of the student’s learning needs (their strengths and challenges).

Each WISR course has some expectations and requirements regarding students interacting with other students, in addition to their regular dialogue and one-on-one meetings with WISR faculty. There are four or more seminars offered each month, accessible to students from a distance and on site. These seminars give students opportunities to give and receive feedback on their studies–from fellow students and faculty. Faculty also facilitate students’ efforts to create study groups and to work on collaborative learning projects together. More information: on WISR seminars. MFT students must participate in a total of 48 seminar sessions during their studies at WISR, including participating in at least one per month while they are doing their practicum.

Students are expected, if at all possible, to participate in most of the twice per year All School Gatherings and Annual Conferences, which are also available by phone and video conference over the internet, so that they may come to know other WISR students and become acquainted with their backgrounds and research interests.

In other words, WISR’s teaching and learning methods emphasize regular, intensive, one-to-one contacts between student and faculty members, and small-group seminars and other forms of student collaboration in which everyone is expected to contribute to the shared learning. These methods were more traditional throughout Western history, from Classical Greece to Oxford and Cambridge Universities, than they are in modern U.S. universities, where the prevalent patterns of impersonal, course-based instruction are inventions of comparatively recent times.

Evaluations of student work are made by each person’s primary faculty advisers through: frequent individual, faculty-student consultations, and the faculty member’s review of the student’s written papers and completed course assignments, and student submission of the detailed end-of-course self-assessment . A strong effort is made to engage each student in habitually evaluating her or his own efforts. Open, candid discussions of a student’s strengths, progress, and areas needing attention are part of many faculty-student consultations. At the same time, students are encouraged to do repeated revisions and rewrites of their papers and self-assessments, until they have been brought to a level of quality acceptable to both the student and the teacher. WISR faculty members try to separate the process of evaluating students’ work from the penalties and insults to students’ pride that are considered necessary parts of traditional, summary grading systems.

WISR relies not on graded, written, question-answer examinations but on students’ abilities to write clearly about subjects that they develop, and to respond articulately to questions about what and how they have learned. Qualitative written and verbal evaluations are used instead of single-letter or number grades, and faculty members making assessments are expected to know how any individual student’s work-product is related to: course and degree program learning objectives, WISR’s meta-competencies, and the student’s previous efforts and professional and personal educational objectives. Over time, each student’s learning portfolio develops a very substantial body of evidence about the student’s learning and progress, including for each course:  the WISR faculty-developed course syllabus, the student’s paper for the course, the student’s self-assessment, and the faculty assessment of the student’s learning.

At the end of each course, the faculty member articulates on the form, FACULTY EVALUATION OF STUDENT LEARNING AND CREDIT EARNED [to get the form in an older Word file format .doc–click here],  the evidence and reasons used in making the determination that the student has met the requirements of the course earned the designated number of credit units required for that course. In evaluating student work faculty consider, among other matters, the quantity and quality of student reading and reflection, the effort and thoroughness with which a student writes and re-writes drafts of their papers, the extent of their community and practical involvement, the extent and quality of their action-oriented inquiries (such as interviews and other kinds of data gathering), and where appropriate the labor-intensive use of multimedia (such as video and film-making, or website production), in addition to their writing.

WISR faculty only award credit if the student’s work indicates learning and competency accomplishments comparable to what students would typically receive for that number of semester units (typically 5 semester units, at WISR) in an accredited program performing at a grade of “B” or higher.

Besides building on each student’s own intellectual and professional interests, each course must result in the student meeting the course’s learning objectives, in progressing toward the learning objectives for the degree program in which they are enrolled.  This includes becoming proficient and demonstrating competence in a range of theories and practices within their major field, and in making progress in the meta-competencies embraced by WISR’s approach to learning, and in particular, in two broad, core areas of study: Methods of Social Action Research and Theories of Social Analysis and Change.

The final phase of study focuses on the student’s thesis–a major action-research project–the undergraduate, senior culminating project, the Master’s thesis, or the Doctoral dissertation. This effort involves a serious, in-depth study of a subject of strong interest to the student and, usually, of benefit to others and/or with some relevant practical, action-oriented implications. This culminating project, thesis or dissertation provides the student with an opportunity to use this significant endeavor to build a bridge for themselves to the next major thing(s) they want to do in their lives. This phase typically requires three to six months at the undergraduate level, six to nine months for Master’s students, and a year or more at the Doctoral level.

Some Outcomes for Our Learners

There are a number of themes that quite often characterize the learning outcomes for WISR students. Several are:
• “One thing leads to another” –as students realize one accomplishment or learning breakthrough, then that, in turn, often opens new doors for the learner and for the people in their lives—in their jobs, communities and in their circle of friends and relatives.
• WISR learners often find their own voice, in written and oral communication.
• Learners at WISR often come to see knowledge-building as something in which most everyone is involved.
• As a consequence of conscious efforts on the part of WISR faculty, many students design and pursue learning activities—action projects, research, and writings—that help to build bridges to the student’s desired career path, and/or to the next significant and meaningful things that they want to do with their lives, making use of the professional knowledge and competencies they have developed. Read more.

To read about further topics on “Learning at WISR” . . . go to:

Learning the WISR Way
Seminars and Campus Events
WISR Learners Speak
Cooperation Between Students
Community Involvement
Distance Learning
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