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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have been grandparented into the requirements and learning methods at the time of their admissions, unless they have withdrawn for more than a year.  Those students must re-enroll by September 1, 2015, in order to complete their studies under the previous requirements and guidelines.  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.

For information about specific degree program requirements, go to:  Degree Programs

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.  Generally 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 an individually-designed  action and/or research project, subject to faculty approval, that culminates in a paper and enables the student to: 1) meet course learning objectives; 2) progress toward degree program learning goals; and 3) 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 two-thirds 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).

3) In addition, all WISR students are required to participate in two seminars each month, for the minimum period of time required of students in their degree program. Students learning at a distance are required to participate in two seminars each month by audio or video conference, and on site once each year.  There are a number of options available, both on site and by telephone conference call.  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.

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 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 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 minimum number of credit units required for that course. In rare instances, faculty may award students more credit when their learning and work in the course are quantitatively and qualitatively much more than required.  In these cases, faculty must document and explain their reasons for awarding extra credit.  Such examples might include when the student does: more reading, more reflection, more rewriting of draft, more community or practical involvement, more interviews or other kinds of data gathering, and/or labor intensive use of multimedia, in addition to their writing.

With courses that are offered for variable credit (mostly only independent study courses and internship/practica), the faculty member awards credit based on the following:  1) 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. 2) As a further frame of reference, for example, a student earning 5 semester units of EdD program credit, must demonstrate that they have completed 1/12 (5/60ths) of WISR’s EdD program.

Besides building on each student’s own intellectual and professional interests, each course must result in the student’s 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. 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
Distance Learning