Category Archives: Course Planning & Design

SITE Stories: TA for a Day

At SITE, we’re always interested in innovative teaching practices. So when a couple of people mentioned Jennifer Chang Coupland’s “TA for a Day” activity, we wanted to learn more. Below is a description of the activity and its pedagogical benefits, written by Professor Chang Coupland, a clinical associate professor of marketing.
I have found over the years that students can often provide outstanding insights when it comes to teaching material. I teach marketing, which is a topic that has definite theories, frameworks and strategies, but the content is dynamic. Every semester (or minute!) consumer preferences change, buying habits alter, the economy shifts, brands and media move through trends and macro forces in the environment. When I started teaching 15 years ago, the examples I used were fairly relatable to students as we were close enough in age and marketing-related interests. As I’ve aged and my students haven’t, I find myself grasping for relatable, timely examples. 
In my honors marketing seminar a couple years ago, I had students volunteer to “teach” the class for 10 minutes at the end of the semester. They could choose any topic covered in the course but discuss the topic in their own way with their own examples. I found that this provided me with many great ideas for future semesters.   
I wondered if I could take this “teacher” concept to my large Principles of Marketing course in the Forum, which seats 350 students. I like the idea that students are at once “students” who learn the basic course content, “consumers” who know about the real-world of brands and media and what it’s like to sit in the large classroom setting, and “teachers” who can marry these concepts together.   
So, after consulting with my TAs and some undergraduates, I came up with a concept called “TA for a Day,” which is an optional extra credit assignment due at the end of the semester. Students can earn up to 1% extra credit to their final course grade. Below are the instructions:  
“You may submit your own original ideas for in-class activities (include title, materials needed, specific procedures, instructions, expected results, relevant textbook page # or course topic), multiple choice exam questions (be sure to include the correct answer, textbook page #, relevant image), or lesson plan ideas for MKTG 301 in the Angel dropbox, ‘TA for a Day Extra Credit.’ You may submit this form of extra credit at any time before ___.”  
As a result of the submissions, I’ve obtained a wealth of new content, some very innovative. For example, Jon Slomka came up with an in-class game for a lecture on product quality, entitled “Real of Fake? Test Your Product Wits” in which students try to use product quality lecture objectives to determine which products are real or fake. Greg Newman came up with an elaborate in-class activity to illustrate the personal selling process and a key stage known as “prospecting and qualifying.” And many additional students have come up with other great ways to help their classmates learn.
What I like about these activities is that the student has clearly thought not just “about” the lecture material but thought “through” it. Not only do I learn from the students, but they themselves learn by doing. They come up with their own specific examples and creatively apply the content. I believe students are more likely to fundamentally remember marketing in a useful way through this exercise. Future students also benefit from a novel, relatable idea.      

SITE Stories: Internships the focus of Schreyer teaching grant

This SITE Story is shared by Nicholas Rowland ( and Thomas Shaffer ( If you are interested in learning more about their project or have specific questions, please contact them directly.
Nicholas Rowland, Penn State Altoona Assistant Professor of Sociology, and Thomas Shaffer, Academic Internship Coordinator, have received funding and associated support from the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence (SITE) for their proposal, “Enhancing Student Learning in Internships.”  They will work with SITE Instructional Consultant Crystal Ramsay to revise an internship preparatory course, INTSP 370, to focus on helping students to reimagine the internship as an academic learning experience.
The current project is part of a larger effort by Rowland and Shaffer to recapture and clarify the learning half of the “workplace learning” equation for higher education. Current reform trends tend to emphasize the academy’s need to get students thinking about “the world of work”–and the earlier, the better. This workforce development mentality, however, may undercut the institutional supports needed to integrate internships and other work-related learning opportunities more comfortably into traditional academic culture. While some reformers argue that a culture shift is precisely what is needed in higher education, Rowland and Shaffer focus on strengthening these institutional supports to encourage a convergence of interests among students, faculty members, colleges and universities, and employers.
The findings of the 2011 University Senate Task Force on Internships strengthen the argument for an academically-grounded approach to internships. Challenges identified in the Task Force  survey include a lack of resources to facilitate internships; insufficient support, recognition, or reward for faculty members overseeing internships; and a “concern that comprehensive student guidelines, standards for judging student performance, and mechanisms for tracking students and assessing the impact of internships are often lacking.” 
Rowland and Shaffer contend that resources, support for faculty, guidelines, and evaluative standards will follow only if internships can be shown to be a credible academic pursuit with an identifiable role for faculty that leads to recognizable growth in students’ abilities to think and act.  Presently, students almost universally, and most faculty members, tend to think of internships as a career-oriented endeavor to which the academy adds little if any value. Witness the Task Force’s finding that it is commonplace for student grades in academic internships to be determined largely by host site supervisors’ evaluation of an intern’s performance in the workplace; or the unambiguously ambiguous language we use to talk about the faculty’s role in internships (faculty members “oversee” or “supervise” internships–they do not teach internship courses); or our overwhelmingly passive approach to defining what constitutes a “good” internship (internships are presented to students and faculty most often as job descriptions, as a fait accompli that is external to a student’s or a faculty member’s influence).
Rowland and Shaffer suggest that targeting students’ academic preparation for internships can, with time, address each of these concerns. Their project moves in this direction by creating a “conversational space” (INTSP 370) for students to consider together, with faculty guidance, the learning possibilities attached to a mix of internship opportunities. Their goal is to explore and clarify for students and for faculty what academic learning means in the context of workplace learning. With this expanded understanding of workplace learning, students and faculty can become active participants, together with a host site, in determining the content–and therefore the value–of an internship.
A critical component of the project is assessment. Rowland and Shaffer are involving undergraduates enrolled in Penn State Altoona’s Integrative Social Sciences Research Lab in the design of a survey instrument that will tap (1) students’ role identity (worker/employee v. student), (2) students’ use of academic/disciplinary language to describe what they intend to learn as well as what they learned during the internship, and (3) the process students followed during the internship to gain the information, skills, or perspectives they believe to be most valuable to them. Surveys will be administered to students enrolled in INTSP 370 and to students pursuing internships but not enrolled in the class, both before and at the conclusion of their internships.
The success of Rowland and Shaffer’s project hinges on a gradual expansion of faculty buy-in to their approach.  In effect, they are betting that the assessment data, together with a student cohort more attuned to academic learning in internships, will prompt a gradual increase in individual faculty members requiring students to enroll in the course as a condition of their acting as a student’s faculty internship supervisor. This buy-in should be further assisted by a course design that enables students to enroll in the course either prior to an internship experience or concurrent with it, thereby accommodating students who receive last-minute internship offers.
Rowland and Shaffer anticipate that these changes will significantly increase course enrollment within 3-4 semesters. Short-term objectives include building and maintaining course enrollments sufficient for INTSP 370 to be a regular semester course offering.  Long-term objectives include a heightened and more consistent set of expectations than currently exists among Penn State students and faculty members regarding what undergraduate internships can and should entail.

“Syllabus” a new resource that may help with “grade inflation” investigations

A recent article in the Chronicle, A New Journal Brings Peer Review to the College Syllabus tells us about a journal called Syllabus.  Not only are the example syllabi a good source of ideas, the journal has the potential to be an excellent resource for faculty who want to calibrate their syllabi with others’. 

Why would you want to calibrate your syllabi?  I sometimes recommend this course of action to faculty and administrators concerned about “grade inflation.”  Accusations of grade inflation are typically based solely on the preponderance of A-grades.  While skepticism is understandable, rarely do critics provide substantive evidence that those A-grades are undeserved. 

Two common assumptions underlying claims of grade inflation are:

  1. Grading standards are not high enough
  2. Students are not being asked to do enough work for an A-grade

Comparing syllabi is one way to investigate both of these concerns.  If a faculty member is told her course is “too easy” by colleagues, she can investigate whether faculty teaching similar courses at other institutions use a similar scale.  If this faculty member is using 80% as the boundary between an A and a B, but everyone else is using 90%, then she might indeed be viewed as being too lenient.  However, if that faculty member’s standards for 80% are equivalent to another faculty member’s expectations for a 90%, then she may be able to justify her grade distribution and student work may provide supporting evidence that her grades are not inflated.