UCO STLR Recognized for Stellar Accomplishments

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities recognized the University of Central Oklahoma as a 2018 Excellence and Innovation Award winner for the success of the university’s Student Transformative Learning Record in addressing student success and retention.

Now in its fifth year, the AASCU award program recognizes outstanding work among its more than 400 member institutions in areas such as international education, teacher education and student success and college completion. For STLR, UCO earned recognition for student success and college completion, a distinction it has accomplished two years in a row, according to UCO President Don Betz.

“We are honored by AASCU’s recognition of UCO’s sustained commitment to transformative learning and the encouraging success of the Student Transformative Learning Record,” Betz said. “The STLR team’s dedication has impacted faculty development and student persistence across the university, and Central’s STLR approach to student success has attracted robust interest from institutions in the USA and beyond.”

Recognition for STLR primarily came as a result of increased retention and grade point averages for participating students. Those who were first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students returning for their sophomore year, according to Jeff King, UCO’s executive director of the Center for Excellence in Transformative Teaching & Learning.

King said retention for fall 2015 freshmen returning as sophomores in these categories was 13 percent higher and that their GPA was 0.56 grade points higher than average. He said the same population for fall 2016 saw a 25 percent higher retention with a GPA that was 0.52 points higher than average.

“STLR gives students the opportunity to consider their own development and growth as humans who expand their understandings about how to relate to others, the community and the environment, even how to relate to themselves,” King said.

While UCO has included the concept of transformative learning within its mission statement since 2008, the STLR model of student transformative learning was not introduced on campus until 2014.

Work on the project began in 2012 as a way to implement transformative learning within curricular and co-curricular activities. The university applied for a U.S. Department of Education grant to help bring the project to life and, while UCO was denied the first time, the project was approved on the second attempt, according to King.

A campus-wide initiative, the program works by providing a way for students to track their transformative learning experiences and demonstrate workplace readiness to potential employers within UCO’s Central Six tenets: Global and Cultural Competencies; Health and Wellness; Leadership; Research, Creative and Scholarly Activities; and Service Learning and Civic Engagement.

How much a student actually experiences transformative learning in these areas is evaluated through reflections and project completion, with students achieving Exposure level, Integration level or Transformative level progress, according to King.

Students engage with STLR primarily through reflective STLR-tagged class assignments, attending a STLR-tagged event associated with a Central Six tenet and swiping their student ID card, participating in student organizations that are STLR-tagged or by participating in out-of-class transformative learning projects associated with a Central Six tenet.

“We are in early stages with a fifth kind of STLR-tagged activity based on swipe-in at various campus locations,” King said. “Going to the Melton Gallery, for instance, will eventually be a STLR-tagged swipe-in location that will earn Exposure level in one or more of the tenets.”

Progress in these areas are recorded through an online dashboard called the STLR Snapshot, which functions similarly to an activity transcript utilized at other universities.

The benefit of this transcript is that students not only demonstrate academic knowledge that comes with a degree, but also the soft skills, initiative and career-readiness that can help students in the workforce, according to Elizabeth Enck, director of UCO’s Career Development Center.

“By participating in STLR events, assignments and services, students are gaining skills that employers are looking for,” Enck said. “The STLR Snapshot is the record of this learning, and is a great tool that students can use to help marketing their transformative learning to future employers or graduate programs.”

While STLR now exists as a cornerstone of the student learning experience at UCO, King said that the program originally faced skepticism from various departments across campus as the university attempted to integrate it within the programming of every department from Academic Affairs and Student Affairs to Housing and Dining and IT Services.

“For something like STLR, which exists pretty much in every nook and cranny at UCO, it takes widespread buy in, and humans are naturally, and rightly, skeptical about new initiatives,” King said. “We had to convince people STLR would work, was worth the effort to do it and would help improve student success.”

Despite the enormous scope of the program, STLR is primarily funded through the grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education and King said that by improving student success, the program is self-sufficient by ensuring students return.

“Bottom line, though, is that better retention means UCO recoups revenue that would otherwise be lost, so STLR pays for itself in this regard,” King said.

Progress on improving STLR and its work with student success is the primary goal of King and his team, but King said that they are also looking to help expand the program to other universities within the U.S. and abroad.

“We help them every way we can, providing guidance, [and] information about how to make STLR work in whatever learning management system they use,” King said.

STLR or some version of it has already been integrated by institutions such as Western Carolina University in North Carolina, as well as international institutions like the Collège La Cité in Ottawa, Canada and Massey University in New Zealand.

Work is currently underway at Tarleton State University and the University of Houston in Texas, University of Northern British Columbia in Canada and the Institute of Technology-Blanchardstown in Dublin, Ireland, according to King.

“We’re really proud of the work so many people at UCO have done for so many years to create and implement STLR because we know it’s helping our students in really important ways that go beyond simply what’s learned in the classroom regarding the content of the class,” King said.

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