Monday, October 22, 2012

When the Learning Clicks

There are times in our student affairs careers where our outlook on life and student learning are positive and full of hope. Then there are times like Justin mentioned earlier this month, when students just don’t get why tracking and documenting their learning is so important. But when the “ah-ha” moments do come, they come in such an awesome way it deserves a poem.


The hustle and bustle of each day can sometimes cause students to forget

How they learn, how they grow, what makes them tick

But life provides several moments of awe, where their brain wipes off the dust

And they open their minds to the world around them


With no bright lights or crowds of cheerleaders students step cautiously into the unknown

And they begin the dance of trial and error as they navigate challenges they face along their journey

And they dance and dance until it all makes sense

This is when the learning clicks


-Tracie Lowe

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

“waHeat” Thins to the Karate Kid: When Students Don’t Get It

“waHeat” Thins. An interesting comic relief between Baby Stewie and the dog Brian, from the Fox show, Family Guy for the troubles we see when two people do not see eye to eye on pronunciation.

However, it is easy to see the analogies we can come up with for our students

Many times as student affairs professionals we have close contact with students whether in 1:1 situations, general meetings, or exec team meetings. We tend to have these moments when students don’t get it. That “it” is sometimes defined as the big picture or the purpose, programming activities
,of a student organization, or the intent verses the impact in an opinion or belief in leading the team or student organization effectively. Sometimes no matter how hard we try, when working with SLLO, there are times we find our students not getting the concepts or how SLLO can be beneficial.

I think back to my undergraduate years when I was a resident advisor and one of my duties was being the secondary advisor to my hall council. It was tough trying to run a meeting and or trying to let the Hall President know how to effectively delegate tasks and put on hall/campus programming. For me it was a lot of trial and error that gave me the experience on how to talk with the exec team to assist (coax them) to get things done.  I also found myself not realizing what I was getting out of this position/collateral assignment that was given by my Hall Director. I more so saw this as busy work.

However, during this time, I would have meetings with my Hall Director giving her updates on what was going on with the Hall Council and also myself
,being the secondary advisor in conjunction with being a Resident Advisor/student. My Hall Director would continue to tell me that I should try this and that and be more intentional with tips and strategies to better impact my students and get more out this position. However, I found myself sticking to my own ideas, beliefs, and realizing that I could handle this. I began to give myself pressure not to fail. And fail we did, but winning happened as well near the end of the year.

In hindsight, I know I could’ve started off winning if some of the resources that SLLO offers now in terms of the rubrics were available to me back then. So now being someone in the field with experience and knowledge that believes that the SLLO rubrics do work, I find my old undergraduate self in these students. I can not tell you how many disagreements I have been in on where the “WaHeat Thins” commercial was a real life example of getting students to understand that their experiences and interpretations are important. However, the lesson that needs to be learned is that going your own way sometimes can set you up for a hard fail. Yet, when we use the SLLO rubrics in developing our student leaders, the student and the advisor can track their development and the see the “Ah-Ha!” moments come through loud and clear.

That “Ah-Ha” moment reminds me of the original “Karate Lessons” from Mr. Miyagi. Need a refresher, check this out.

It was interesting to see how frustrated Mr. Miyagi got when trying to teach Daniel that the most remedial tasks have a plan and purpose in the scheme of things. How many times do we lose our patience when teaching students that there is a purpose? Only if we had more obedient Daniels in real life where they didn’t get confused, or blow up and get frustrated to see what the purpose of the SLLO rubrics is. Documenting their progress; giving examples of how they completed the rubrics in SLLO is purposeful and can be eye opening. As we’ve talked about before when discussing SLLO, learning is not a sprint and students are not going to immediately get the reasoning behind doing the rubrics. But if you can help students persevere like Mr. Miyagi did with Daniel; that revelation can come at the end. And that end is when all of the activities, documenting, and or conversations you have done with your student leaders comes together in one fluid form allowing them to know Karate or in our case, know leadership and life skills.

- Justin Varghese

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Contracted Learning: How does it really work?

Perhaps it’s just my temperament, but I love learning contracts.  To me there are few greater ways to chart out learning with students (be it in an organization, on your staff, or in a classroom) that to give them a format to decide what they want to, and are committed to working towards, learning this year.  Now, I’m the first to admit that not all of my students get quite as enthused about this process as I do, and some required downright wheedling at the beginning, but I’ve never interacted with a student who made the commitment to try a learning contract on the front end that didn’t value the experience in the end.

The Process

In my experience, the first step to effectively integrating learning contracts into your process is to consider how you can use them as the framework for learning in your group, rather than as an additional to-do list item.  If you have never used any sort of intentional learning tools or measurements before, think about what you want to achieve and/or measure with your students, and modify the template to suit your needs.  If you already have an outline of the leadership and personal development learning that you conduct with your groups, plan to incorporate this as one week’s assignment, or be intentional in how you present the rest of the semester’s leadership moments to highlight or build upon what’s already planned.  Again, I can’t emphasize this enough: incorporating learning contracts with your group really should not be something you add on, but rather something integrated into your plan.

What’s In a Name?

If, like I did, you have students who totally balk at the sound/idea/concept of a learning contract, have hope…there are a few tactical options you can explore.  The first and probably the most basic but in my experience the most successful is to consider changing the name.  Some groups call them Leadership Learning Contracts.  Others call them just plan Learning Contracts.  My groups hated the term contract, so I represented the same material under the new moniker: Intentional Learning Plan.  It was the exact same content, and really all I did was go through the guidelines template and replace LLC with ILP, but there was so much angst and push back against the idea of students having to enter into a contract about learning with me, and for some reason designing a learning plan just wasn’t as scary.  And, to be sure, I’m not mocking my students with this story.  The history of Higher Education is riddled with examples of ideas that when first presented were shot down unilaterally.  However, when the same idea came back with a new set of words describing exceedingly similar behavioral requirements, people jumped on the band wagon without looking back.

Another option you can consider if groups are really resistant is to use one meeting to write a contract for the whole exec team, or for the organization, rather than for any individuals.  Then, you’re really using it as more of a guide to strategic learning throughout the year, rather than anyone feeling any singular pressure.  If you can make that sell and help students see how beneficial and user-friendly the learning contracts can be, then you’ll be in a much better position to consider moving the team to accepting the option of completing them as individuals in the following year.

A Cautionary Tale

One final warning and one I learned the hard way:  Remember that if you actually do succeed in motivating the individuals in your group to write up learning contracts, you have now created the responsibility for yourself to read, edit, and help them rewrite their contracts into actual working plans.  Much like the teacher who approaches her first classroom with the belief that students just don’t write enough in school to develop those skills and thus plans to assign weekly papers, that seems like a great approach until the mountains of grading block out the sun.  This caution shouldn’t deter you from encouraging your groups to do them, but I would strongly suggest having a deadline for each draft, and blocking out sections on your calendar ahead of time to reserve for reading and editing.  It’s not required, but you’ll thank me if you do :-)

Written by: Sarah Edwards

Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview with Darby Roberts: Learning Is Not A Sprint

Welcome back to another Fall school semester! As you're getting started on a new semester, we'd like to share a great new resource that has been recently published.
Learning is Not a Sprint: Assessing and Documenting Student Leader Learning in Cocurricular Involvement offers multiple perspectives and a framework to establish and document student learning in the cocurricular environment, with a specific focus on student leaders and student employees. It provides student affairs professionals with a theory base on student learning and student leadership, but also addresses the realities of the current state of higher education.

This book has proven to be a very interesting read, and we asked Editor Darby Roberts to give us the inside scoop on the book.

Can you give me a brief overview of the book and why a book was written on this subject?

The book begins with an overview of the current context of higher education and why student affairs should be concerned with student learning, then describes the theoretical foundation of leadership. The book continues on with what employers expect from graduates, the role of advisors and supervisors in student learning and change, and methods to assess student learning in the co-curricular. The book finishes with the challenges of creating change in organizations, assessing projects like SLLO and aggregating student learning, and where we see this topic going in the future.

We thought that this was an important topic because student affairs is now expected to engage in the student learning process, assess programs and learning, and demonstrate effectiveness in those areas. Although there are other books about leadership, student learning in the curricular, and assessment, there was not a book that addressed the unique learning opportunity that student leaders have in the co-curricular.

How long did it take to compose the book?

It took a little over a year or so from the initial proposal to NASPA until the final version to be approved. Once we got the concept approved by NASPA, we had a fairly aggressive timeline to ensure the book would be ready for the 2012 NASPA Assessment and Persistence Conference.

How were the chapter subjects chosen?

Kathy and I brainstormed what topics we thought would provide context for the project, in addition to more tangible information that student affairs professionals could use in their daily lives. We knew that we needed to expand on the current literature and broaden the perspective from the Texas A&M SLLO project to student learning in the co-curricular at a variety of institution types.

Technology was mentioned in the book as a pivotal part of student learning. How do you see it influencing student learning and the student affairs profession?

Technology influences how we communicate with students, how students experience college and learning, and how we can document student learning. It will only become more ingrained in what we do. We see the potential for students to use technology to document their learning, record their reflections, and access resources. Think about how smartphones can be used for interacting with websites, taking videos and pictures, tweeting, and blogging. Students who are expected to participate in electronic portfolios can upload examples of their leadership and learning outcomes.

What is the most important preparation a student affairs professional can do to contribute to the goals of student learning (providing proof of impact)?

I would say that student affairs professionals need to keep current about the priorities of higher education in general and their institution in particular. In addition, they need to be knowledgeable about the concepts of learning outcomes, assessment, advising/supervising, and other areas that appropriate to their responsibilities. Really, student learning is everyone’s responsibility, so it is important that we know what we are doing.

What would you recommend as the first steps for student affairs professionals to begin to integrate these tools?

As Nike use to say, “Just Do It.” In reality, advisors/supervisors should understand the culture of the students/organization they work with to tailor their approach. Not all students appreciate the value of a rubric, but may like the individual approach of a learning contract. Others get excited about the creativity of photography, while others really like to reflect in the form of a journal entry. From the beginning of the relationship, the advisor/supervisor can be more intentional about their conversations with the student workers/leaders. For example, instead of asking students what they did this weekend, they could ask students what they learned in class last week that they could apply to their leadership position/work environment. Advisors/supervisors should start where they are comfortable to build their own confidence. And, if one approach does not work, they should have the freedom to try something different.

How can staff/faculty utilize these concepts in the academic environment?

Some of the tools we talk about in the book actually come from the academic environment. Some students are familiar with rubrics because they have seen them in their courses. Examples such as one-minute papers come from a book about classroom assessment techniques. The classroom lends itself to direct measures of knowledge through tests, papers, and projects during a set period of time with a cohort of students; student leadership is not that structured.

Is there a benefit to students reading this book?

I think that would be a great idea. The book is written in a tone that would appeal to students. It would also give them insight into what the institution, employers, and advisors expect from them.  During the recent SLLO Orientation and Retreat, it struck me that we should give the book to the Student Body President.

What is your favorite SLLO tool and why?

That’s a good question. They all have their advantages. The organization I advise is a little different that the traditional organization, so I’m still adapting. We have used rubrics for self-assessment and group discussion, but this year we will be trying learning contracts. I do appreciate that they give me opportunities at their executive meetings and general meetings to talk about leadership and their learning.

If there was one take away message you wanted folks to gain from reading this book, what would it be?

It’s time to engage students in their learning. You don’t have to know everything and do everything exactly right the first time, but you have to start somewhere. There are lots of tools, people, and other resources available to help you.

Purchase your copy of the book at the NASPA Bookstore!

Friday, August 3, 2012


Assessment… the word often makes people cringe on the inside and sometimes visible sweat may start to form around parts of the temple and forehead area. But as the years have passed, for me personally, I have learned that assessing is not as scary as people can make is seem. (This statement also does not count the fact that I worked a whole summer as a grad practicum in an assessment office!)

                If you examine the word assessment you will find the root word assess, which according to, means to estimate or judge the value, worth or importance of something. Who wouldn’t want to know the value of something in which they have invested time or effort, especially if it affects what they do on a daily basis? Well in the field of student affairs what we do on a daily basis involves students and most importantly, student learning. Each time we interact with a student our mission should be to facilitate an environment for learning that enriches the value of their overall experience in higher education. But we can’t know if we’ve achieved this goal without assessment!

                Our students often tell us directly or indirectly the skills and knowledge they are looking to gain from the responsibilities they take on as leaders, student workers, or organization members. They look to us to help them structure their journey to achieve these goals. And most of them want lots of feedback to know how they are progressing along the way. So instead of running the other direction when you realize this may require you to break out your handy dandy Assessing Student Learning book by Linda Suskie, take a minute to stop and relax instead. There are several tools out there that can help both you and the students your serve.

                Suppose your student wants to improve their communication skills. Both of you can take a look at the Interpersonal Communication Rubric that’s located on the Student Leader Learning Outcome Website ( There are several categories such as listening, eye contact, and voice that the student can reflect over using the rubric. And each category in the rubric is specifically outlined with detailed descriptions to help a student recognize where they are (novice through expert) in relation to their skills in each area. So you don’t have to create anything. It’s already done! Woo hoo! Taking the time to go through this activity with the student may seem daunting at first, but the best way to get over that fear is to just do it. We’re all constantly learning new things.

                So have no fear, SLLO is here! And we want you to just take a leap as you work to show the value of the learning that takes place with your students every day. No matter how big or small, every bit matters. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Summer SLLO Set Up Sampler

As the great poet and prophet, The Fresh Prince aka Will Smith, once said, “Summer, summer, summertime. Time to sit back and unwind.” While the summer is a great time to relax, recover from the crazy semester, and regroup, it is also the perfect time to set you up for success in the upcoming school year.
With that in mind, take this summer to commit to encouraging and assessing student learning in your work with students, and let SLLO help you. This post will give you a few basic items and ways you can get involved when the weather gets hot and the blockbuster movies get cool.
  • Visit the SLLO website ( and look around. This may seem like an easy step, but have you ever just spent some time looking the website over? There are sections for advisors, for students, for rubrics and for activities. This is the first place you can look for SLLO resources, and the more you become familiar with it, the easier it will be to make it a part of your day-to-day work.
  • Attend the SLLO Orientation. Not only will you learn the history of SLLO, you will also get to meet with other people starting off their SLLO journey. Being able to bounce ideas off of others is vital for using SLLO.
  • Pick one aspect of the program and commit to trying it with your students. Whether it is using a particular rubric at the beginning of the semester, or learning contracts, or one-minute papers, just try something. Maybe it will work better than you ever imagined, or maybe it won’t, but you have to start somewhere.
  • Set manageable goals when using SLLO. It may not make sense for you to vow to use learning contracts for every student you advise, pull out learning outcomes for every meeting, and re-writing job descriptions. If you set a goal for using one resource for a handful of students, incorporating it into a larger group with more resources will become easier.
  • Talk about how your department or team is going to use SLLO in the upcoming year. Meeting agendas in the summer tend to have more room for discussion, so suggest to your supervisor a portion of your meeting to talk about student learning. If your colleagues are using the resources, chances are you will be more likely to use them as well.
  • Communicate with your student leaders and find out what they want to get out of their experience. Not only is your schedule freer in the summer, your students will have more time as well. Asking them what they want to get out of their experience will help you decide what areas to focus on in SLLO. If they want to improve their public speaking, use that rubric. Project management? There’s a resource for that. Ask them to think about their future careers and what they need to be successful in that.
Try these things over the summer, and before you know it, you will be amazed at how quickly it becomes a part of your everyday thinking.

Authors Note: From this post on, I will be taking SLLO on the road and writing away from the Texas A&M campus as I pursue other opportunities in my career. I still plan to contribute to the blog, so if you have any ideas for topics, please message me on Facebook (Tom L. Fritz) or follow me on Twitter (@TomLFritz). Thank you to the SLLO Leadership Team for allowing me to stay a part of this great resource even from across the country, and a pre-emptive shout-out to the Create and Share team for keeping me in the loop on the progress.

SLLO Interviews: Rhonda Rahn

On of the ways SLLO endeavors to provide resources is to connect you with other SLLO users. One of the founding members of SLLO is Mrs. Rhonda Rahn, Health Education Coordinator for the Student Health Services. She graciously answered a few questions about her experiances with SLLO.


1. How did you get involved in SLLO?

I was on the committee as a representative of Student Health Services in the beginning about 6 years ago and helped in creating some of the rubrics. After a time off, I was invited to be on the Leadership Team and began investing more in the project. 

2. What is the very first thing you’ve used SLLO tools for, and what was it?

Exit interviews. I began conducting exit interviews with my student workers after they leave.

3. Have you had an “a-ha” moment using SLLO?

Yes. The learning contracts I have now implemented with my student workers have caused me to be increasingly excited about the opportunities we can provide them outside the classroom; opportunities that are directly related to what they are learning in class.

4. If you had one sentence to describe SLLO to someone, what would it be?

It’s a project that can aid you in ensuring your students are learning what they are supposed to learn and will become better leaders because of it.

5. Can you share one activity or resource you’ve used that someone else might benefit from?

Learning styles quiz. I use it in my class I teach in the health and kinesiology department and it enables me to see the variety of learning styles in the class. I can then tailor my lectures to the different learning styles to ensure optimum learning.


Do you have more questions for Rhonda? Contact her at:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Welcome to the SLLO Blog

By: Tom Fritz

In the beginning, there were diaries. Short stout books, adorned with stickers and cheap locks that we hid with our most trusted secrets where nobody would find them, unless they spent more than ten seconds looking for it. Then we decided that others may want to read what we had written, surely we were funny enough in our own minds, and others would think the same. So we flooded the internet; LiveJournal, Blogger, GeoCities, all of these were the recipient of our writing, and just like that, online blogs were born.

What began as a way to talk about everyday life concerns and issues, over time, changed into a medium that was powerful and informative in its own right. Major news outlets began quoting authors, famous bloggers were given their own shows on TV, and landing book deals. Blogs began reporting on major news events before anyone else, and the comments became news on their own. Blogging was changing the way American’s searched for information. They became a tool to reach new audiences and bring knowledge to every computer in America.

With this digital discourse in mind, the Student Leader Learning Outcomes Create and Share Team is bringing you the SLLO blog ( Our hope is that through regular reading, you will be able to keep SLLO in the forefront of your mind and receive little bits of information for your daily consumption. Think of it as the student learning Tapas to the daily meal of your job.

What can you expect from this blog? Well, we are glad you asked:
• Ways to utilize the SLLO resources in your job. There are times of the year where many of us are doing similar tasks, and SLLO has resources that can help you make sure your students are learning through them. These resources include ways to help with recruitment, selection, running meetings, community service, and many others.
• Interviews with your colleagues across the division using SLLO in their jobs. Sometimes it can seem like you are the only person struggling with how to introduce SLLO into your students’ lives. These interviews can talk to you about what worked, and sometimes more importantly, what didn’t.
• Relevant news stories on higher education, and how they are impacting student learning. We will talk about different legislation or stories from around the country and how they can affect our jobs. If there are resources that may be helpful in adapting to this new reality, we will provide those to you.
• Whatever else you can think of. The authors of this blog are your colleagues, and may be sitting in meetings with you every day. If there is something you would like to see covered, let us know, or send us an e-mail at with the subject line “Blog Idea”, and we may cover it in a future post.

Bottom line, we hope that this will be useful for you as you help us help you bring SLLO to all of our students. If we can all make a commitment to encourage and enhance student learning outside of the classroom, we will make Texas A&M University the premier place were students come to learn.
So how about it, what do you hope to see from this blog in the future?