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                           CHAPTER TWO

                     UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO 
                      PERSONALIZED LEARNING


     The University of Colorado takes an approach to "The
     Courage to Question" that is more descriptive than
     evaluative. Rather than ask, "What are our goals for
     student learning, and how well are we achieving them?"
     the program asks a more basic question: "From the
     standpoint of student learning, what do we actually do?"
     The report includes a history of the program's experience
     with assessment; an explanation of their descriptive
     focus and results of the process; and current and ongoing
     implications of the project. The report also places the
     project within the context of recent reports on reform in
     higher education.


The University of Colorado is located in Boulder, Colorado, with an
enrollment of 25,571 students. Its student body is primarily white
(87.5 percent), middle class, and native to Colorado. Women
constitute 46 percent of the student population. Sixty-one percent
of the undergraduate students at CU-Boulder receive some type of
financial aid. CU-Boulder employs 1,094 full-time faculty members
and is considered the leading comprehensive re- search university
in the Rocky Mountain region and among the top public universities
in the country in gaining federal research support. The campus has
several active women's organizations and clubs, although it has no
women's center. The major campus program identified with women is
the Women's Studies Program.

The Women's Studies Program was founded in the early 1970s by a
group of faculty members, students, and community members. By the
fall of 1974, a full time director had been appointed. The
curriculum reflected a national pattern. which the program has
since maintained: interdisciplinary core courses with a women's
studies rubric and courses offered by departments and cross-listed
with women's studies. In 1979, the Women's Studies Program was
subsumed with eleven other programs under the Center for
Interdisciplinary Studies, which was maintained as an umbrella unit
until Student demand for courses reflects both the expanding
scholarship and the social concerns that scholarship addresses

1985 when the center was abolished. Since 1985, women's studies has
grown considerably as an independent program, increasing the number
of majors from twenty-five in 1984 to seventy in fall of 1991 and
employing four full-time and one part-time faculty members.

The growth of the Women's Studies Program during its eighteen-year
history is the result of both national trends and local
circumstances. First, the dramatic expansion of feminist
scholarship has generated a surge of intellectual excitement in
women's studies nationally and internationally. Student demand for
courses reflects both the expanding scholarship and the social
concerns that the scholarship addresses. Concomitantly, as the new
scholarship on women generated academic attention within the
traditional disciplines, more departments sought to hire faculty
members whose scholarly or creative work focused on women or
gender. Thus, while the 1974 proposal to establish the Women's
Studies Program identified fifteen faculty members across campus
who were interested in teaching women's studies in their
departments, a 1991 survey identified forty-two core and affiliated
full-time faculty members who have actually taught these courses
during the past three semesters.

Local circumstances also have promoted the growth of women's
studies at the University of Colorado. A core faculty known for its
outstanding teaching has developed an excellent reputation among
students. Students drawn to women's studies courses are among the
most articulate and capable on campus. "Affiliated" faculty members
(that is, those who are listed in other departments and whose
courses are cross-listed with women's studies) have given
generously of their support and influence at crucial moments in the
program's history. While administrative support has been uneven
from office to office, over the years a general acceptance of and
support for women's studies prevails (for example, approval to
conduct national searches for directors at three separate times).
And finally, the Boulder community--with its numerous feminist
organizations--is a setting that supports women's studies

In 1988, with the hiring of the present director, the program moved
from a basement location to its present site in Cottage Number One,
the original women's dormitory. In addition to the director's
position, the program received four full-time, tenure-line faculty
positions. In academic year 1991-92, a full-time senior instructor
and a one-third time instructor--as well as seven part-time
instructors--round out the core teaching faculty.

Today, the Women's Studies Program does more than meet its original
aim of offering courses on the new scholarship on women. Since
1983, it has provided a major area of academic concentration for
190 undergraduates who have been awarded the major under the
American Studies designation the program also has granted a
certificate to approximately 100 students. In addition to providing
an integrated curriculum in women's studies for its major and
certificate students, the program also seeks to foster an
intellectual feminist community on campus through its numerous
programs and activities, to support the work of faculty members who
are engaging in feminist scholarship in their disciplines, to
contribute to feminist discourse through scholarly and creative
work, and to promote enlightened and responsible leadership for
women in the community.

When the Women's Studies Program at the University of Colorado was
invited in 1989 to participate in the assessment project, "The
Courage to Question," we initially regarded it as an opportunity to
refine and expand assessment procedures that we had already
developed. Our campus, like other institutions of higher education
in Colorado, had been mandated by the state to assess student
learning in all academic units beginning in 1987-88. Following the
advice of those in the Office of Academic Affairs who were
coordinating the effort, we developed a rather standard procedure.
The faculty identified the knowledge and skills goals that we
thought our students should attain and devised an instrument for
measuring them.

In the first year, the women's studies faculty selected one
knowledge goal and two skills goals to assess. Because the required
survey of feminist theory served at that time as a type of capstone
course for majors, we decided to embed the assessment of these
goals in a requirement for the course. The knowledge goal we
selected was knowledge of major paradigms of feminist thought. The
skills goals we selected were: (1) the ability to write a focused
and coherent analytical essay that is based upon and sustained by
evidence; and (2) the ability to analyze arguments and
interpretation for internal consistency and underlying assumptions.
The final examination in the course was to be assessed for these
student learning goals. After the instructor graded the examination
for the purpose of the course, three faculty members-- including an
outside evaluator from another institution--evaluated the student
exams according to the assessment goals.

The outcome of the assessment project was not especially
illuminating. In fact, it did not tell us much beyond what the
course instructor had discovered in the process of grading the
exams for the class: overall, the students did relatively well in
meeting these goals. This experience, however, led us to question
the approach we had taken to assessment, which eventually led us to
redefine our project for "The Courage to Question."

We were dissatisfied with the process we had developed for several
reasons. First, the state mandate created an atmosphere that
encouraged compliance rather than enthusiasm. Our selection of
knowledge and skills goals as well as the methods of assessment
emerged from a desire for efficiency. We regarded assessment as one
more bureaucratic requirement for evaluation that impinged on our
time. Like most faculty members in women's studies programs, we
were already overworked. We resented yet another requirement for
self-evaluation that interfered with our real work: teaching and
research. Thus, we formally complied with the mandate by following
campus guidelines and embedding the assessment in course
requirements. As a result, our goals and the process of assessing
them looked very much like standard academic fare: one could not
tell much difference between the women's studies assessment plan
and those of traditional arts and sciences disciplines. We were
resigned to the process; we did not "own" it, and we didn't learn
much about ourselves as teachers and learners.

Participation in the NWSA/FIPSE project gave us an opportunity to
re-examine our attitudes toward assessment. First, the situation
was dramatically different. We chose to participate in the project.
The attitude of the national assessment team (as advisors to us)
was flexible, helpful, and respectful of the educational experience
of women's studies students and faculty. We were encouraged to take
a more comprehensive look at assessment, its purposes, and its
possibilities for self-reflection. Through biannual meetings we
were given the opportunity to engage in dialogue with faculty
members from other women's studies programs as a means of
clarifying our individual cam pus approaches as well as raising the
larger question of assessing women's studies. The setting for our
process was supportive and intellectually exciting. The audience
for our reports was not a state bureaucrat but other women's
studies programs and educators interested in assessment.

In this setting, we began to question other aspects of our previous
approach to assessment. We realized that we had selected particular
goals not simply because they might be important but also because
they were convenient--that is, relatively easy to evaluate given
our resources. Moreover, we realized that even when these
understandably pragmatic motives were not operating so explicitly,
our program goals reflected certain intentions by particular
individuals at a specific time. We saw that our program could
identify a variety of combinations of goals, depending on who was
asked and when. Given this shifting context of goal identification,
we decided to push back the question from intention to the context
itself and look at what we were actually doing in our women's
studies courses. With help from our students, we started looking
for answers.

In April and May of 1990, we held a series of potluck dinners with
women's studies majors and certificate students, faculty members,
and the staff advisor. We asked the students, "What actually
happens for you as a learner in women's studies courses and as a
women's studies major/certificate student?" and "What do you learn
and how do you learn it?" The discussions were lively, intense,
thoughtful, and fun. In an interesting way they reproduced the best
of our classroom experiences: a student suggesting an idea; another
picking up on it, confirming it, elaborating on it, taking a
different slant; still another disagreeing with part of it,
clarifying both the agreement and disagreement; another student
mediating the disagreement, searching for some paradox that might
illuminate the discussion. The faculty members and staff advisor
took notes on these discussions and met to interpret them. We
concluded that while students may have taken different slants on
this theme, they were telling us that women's studies was an
exciting learning experience because they as learners were
personally, actively engaged in their learning experience.


Our students were, in effect, telling us that their education in
women's studies produced the learning experience that higher
education reformers have been advocating for the last several
years. Reports on undergraduate education have stressed the
importance of students' involvement in their learning process.
Although the specific goals varied from report to report or among
institutions, the condition best suited to achieve those
goals--active student learning--was clearly the current educational

In 1984, the Study Group on Excellence in Higher Education
sponsored by the National Institute of Education (NIE) sounded the
new emphasis for improving undergraduate education.

     There is now a good deal of research evidence to suggest
     that the more time and effort students invest in the
     learning process and the more in- tensely they engage in
     their own education, the greater will be their growth and
     achievement, their satisfaction with their educational
     experiences, and their persistence in college, and the
     more likely they are to continue their learning. -1

The NIE report specified involvement to include devoting energy to
studying working at jobs on campus (rather than at off campus
jobs), participating in student organizations, and interacting
frequently with faculty members and other students. In his 1985
study, Alexander Astin confirmed the importance of the last item:
frequent student-faculty interaction was the most influential
factor affecting students' satisfaction with their undergraduate
experience.2 Subsequent reports issuing from organizations such as
the Association of American Colleges (AAC), the Carnegie Foundation
for the Advancement of Teaching, the American Association for
Higher Education (AAHE), and the Education Commission of the States
reiterated the importance of improving active student involvement
and faculty engagement in teaching and learning.

These reports, while underscoring the ideal, identified impediments
to its realization. Involvement in learning requires time, and both
students and faculty members find themselves pressured by competing
demands. Cutbacks in federal funding require more students to work
off campus and to work more hours. A Carnegie Commission study
found students were much more engaged by their social life and jobs
outside of class than they were by academic or intellectual
interests. -3 Faculty members also feel the pressure or the lure of
competing demands. A Carnegie survey of five thousand faculty
members found that at research universities, the reward system
encourages research over teaching. -4 Prestige within a discipline
nationally also is associated with the degree to which a faculty
member engages in published research. -5 Although faculty members
and administrators frequently affirm the principle that teaching
and research need not necessarily be at odds with one another, the
higher education reports reflect a growing uneasiness with this
nostrum; they suggest or directly state that in practice the time
demands of research impinge upon faculty involvement with teaching.
The consequence of these tugs on student and faculty time,
interests, rewards, and mutual perceptions--tugs that interfere
with active involvement in teaching and learning--is the creation
of what the authors of the AAC report on general education called
the "two cultures in academia":

     On many campuses, students view faculty with the
     ambivalence of respect and resentment, admiration and
     disappointment. Depending on the institution and the
     department, relations between students and faculty can
     range from harmony and colleagueship through mutual
     avoidance to antagonism and undeclared conflict. On such
     campuses, the rhetoric about an "intellectual community"
     is belied by the reality of these two separate cultures.

The report suggests that the two cultures in academia foster an
attitude of detachment on both sides. Students don't make demands
on faculty members in exchange for faculty members not making
demands on students. Students put in the time they think is
necessary to get the grades they want and then turn to more
exciting interests. Faculty members put in the time they think is
necessary to teach, hold office hours and attend meetings, and
then, if time permits, turn to the real work of research. Neither
side makes too many demands, yet each harbors complaints. Students
contend that faculty members are aloof and condescending; faculty
members complain that students can't write or think or analyze.
Each manages to find one or a few exceptions to what they take to
be the pattern of the other's disinterest or incompetence.

This, of course, is an exaggeration. Obviously, there are faculty
members and students who are actively engaged in intellectually
exciting teaching and learning experiences. But the concerns that
these various reports raise converge in a portrait of a university
culture that fosters isolation, resignation, and discontent on the
part of students and faculty.

The consequences are experienced not simply in the separation of
students and faculty (and, indeed, among students and among faculty
members) but in the curriculum as well. In A New Vitality in
General Education, AAC's task group on general education cites the
problem with the disorganized general education curriculum and
attributes it to the faculty's focus on their specialized research
within their discipline. "We have specialized to such a degree that
we have lost interest in and the capacity for integrating
knowledge." -7 In The Challenge of Connecting Learning, another AAC
task force finds coherence lacking even "within arts and sciences
majors." The authors call for "connected knowing"; that is, making
links among courses and ideas within the major but also encouraging
students to connect personally with the material they were
learning. -8

The reports, thus, describe a problem that did not appear in our
students' accounts of their women's studies learning experience.
While some components described in the reports were
acknowledged--for example, competing tugs on students and faculty
time demands and interests--they did not emerge as central themes.
To the contrary, students reported that faculty members were
generally accessible and responsive to their questions and concerns
and that faculty-student activities bridged the two cultures. They
reported that through taking women's studies courses, they were
challenged to carry the knowledge gained in their classes into
their social life and into their work experience, giving them a
language and a critical framework for evaluating their experience.
They described their classes as demanding and supportive
experiences that fostered connected learning. As one student
stated, "We have wonderful teachers who care about us, are telling
us something real and tangible. They validate our existence as
women, and they are great role models, something women don't have
much of."


Our students were responding to their women's studies classes in a
way that confirmed recent studies on feminist pedagogy. Grounded in
feminist scholarship and theories of knowledge that have challenged
academic disciplines feminists have questioned traditional teaching
practices. As Culley and Portuges note, "changing what we teach
means changing how we teach." -9 Traditional practices take an
approach to teaching that presumes that objective knowledge is
possible, "mastery" of universal truths is desirable, the teacher
is the uncontested expert, and students learn through competing
with one another. In contrast, feminist pedagogy assumes an
approach that views knowledge as contingent, open, and
interconnected and learning as more effective in a setting that is
non-hierarchical, student-centered, and collaborative.

Most of the writing on feminist pedagogy has documented the non-
traditional practices that feminist teachers use in the classroom.
We were interested in learning more about feminist pedagogy from
the perspective of our students. What in particular were our
students responding to when they described their learning
experiences so positively? Was it the teaching techniques? the
material? some combination? How did they interpret their active
engagement in the classroom?

To try to answer these questions, we turned to studying women's
studies classes more systematically. At the potluck dinners, the
students indicated several dimensions to their active connection
within their classes. We subsequently grouped these dimensions
under three categories: course content, course structure, and
classroom dynamics. While at times these categories may overlap and
influence one another, basically they refer to the subject matter
of the course (what students read, discuss, think about, research~;
the structure of the course (format, requirements); and classroom
dynamics or pedagogy (teaching style, student participation,
faculty-student interaction). Our research was built on these
informal student impressions and the categories we derived from
them. Specifically, we were interested in answering two questions:
( 1 ) were all three of these categories equally important in
fostering active learning or was one component more important than
the others? and (2) was the active learning experience that our
students identified with their women's studies courses unique or
could it be found in other classes ?

We decided to answer these questions from the perspective of
illuminative evaluation, an approach used in educational research
to evaluate innovative educational programs where traditional
approaches have proven inadequate. -10 Evaluation traditionally has
been inextricably linked with testing--testing to provide
quantitative data from which statistical inferences can be drawn.
However, test-oriented evaluation presents a number of problems
when conducting an evaluation of an educational innovation. It is
often difficult to articulate and specify complex goals, to account
for idiosyncratic influences, even to formulate precise research
questions--all issues which this project presented.

Illuminative evaluation offers an alternative "social anthropology"
paradigm. Whereas traditional evaluation procedures tend to operate
in isolation, illuminative evaluation attempts to incorporate the
wider context in which educational programs operate. The goal of
illuminative research is to "unravel [the complex scene
encountered]...[and to] isolate its significant features." -11
Illuminative evaluation is, in fact, a general research strategy
rather than a standard methodological package. The tactics used to
conduct the research are chosen to fit the particular subject at
hand. After making initial observations, the researcher identifies
certain phenomena, events, or opinions as topics for more intensive
inquiry: "As the investigation unfolds...problem areas become
progressively clarified and redefined."-12 This "progressive
focusing" permits unique and previously unidentified phenomena to
be examined.

The illumination approach seemed best suited to the rather
open-ended nature of our questioning. In the initial discussions
our students identified the importance of their own active
engagement, and we derived the categories that might foster that
experience. We then used these categories to inform a series of
classroom observations and to analyze course syllabi. We used the
information that we gathered from these sources to create a
questionnaire (see end of file).

Because we wanted to compare learning experiences in women's
studies classes with those in classes in other departments, we
initially conducted observations in three different courses one
women's studies course, "Women and Religion," and two non-women's
studies courses (an English course "Advanced Shakespeare," and an
American Studies course entitled "American Autobiographies"). We
selected these courses through a process of purposive sampling that
allowed us to control for class level, class size, academic
discipline, and instructor evaluations.

Because we wanted students who had sufficient time as
undergraduates to enable them to reflect upon their educational
experiences, we limited the comparison classes to upper-division
courses. Because class size significantly affects classroom
atmosphere and student engagement, we selected classes with roughly
the same number of students. "Women and Religion" had thirty-two
students, "Advanced Shakespeare" had twenty-five students, and
"American Autobiographies," had twenty-one students. Academic
discipline was another area of consideration. Because content to a
large extent affects style of teaching, we selected courses from
the humanities and social sciences, academic disciplines considered
most similar to women's studies. Since the teaching ability of
women's studies instructors is rated consistently high in faculty
course evaluations, teaching excellence of the instructor also was
a criterion for selection of comparison classes.

Gender was a factor that could not be controlled because of
limitations inherent in our study. Women's studies classes are
exclusively taught by female faculty members and most often the
majority (if not all) of the students are female. This was true for
the "Women and Religion" class: it was taught by a female, and all
of the students were female. The "Advanced Shakespeare" class was
taught by a female and comprised twelve female and thirteen male
students. The "American Autobiographies" class was taught by a male
and had thirteen women and eight men. The gender profile is an
important difference, one which we recognize has significant
implications, given our eventual findings.

All three professors teaching these three courses agreed with
consider- able interest to participate in the project. On the first
day of observation, Re- search Assistant Gay Victoria introduced
herself to the students and gave them a brief description of the
project and the reasons for wanting to make the observations. She
subsequently observed three seventy-five-minute class periods in
each of the three classes during the periods of November 15-16 and
November 26-December 4, 1990. She audio taped all of the classes
with the consent of the instructor and the students.

The class observations were directed by the three components, which
students and faculty members had identified as contributing to
active learning in women's studies classes--content, structure, and
dynamics. Content was, of course, an obvious area of difference
between the women's studies and non-women's studies classes.
Although both the "Advanced Shakespeare" class and the class on
"American Autobiographies" presented multi- cultural approaches to
the course material (incorporating discussions regarding race and
class as well as gender whenever appropriate), neither of them had
women as their primary focus. In contrast, the content of the
"Women and Religion" class was focused solely on women.

All three courses contained many structural similarities: all
appeared to incorporate similar types of course requirements
(critical thinking and writing skills were stressed in all three
classes); all were generally conducted in a discussion rather than
lecture format; and all formally structured some aspects of the
class to be determined by students. Interestingly enough, the
women's studies class was conducted in a seating arrangement which
was more or less traditional: for example, rows of seated students,
with the instructor in front. The other two classes, in contrast,
were conducted in a less traditional circle arrangement.

Dynamics presented a number of interesting observations. The
pedagogy most often associated with feminist approaches--such as
student-centered or dialogic teaching--was not unique to the
women's studies class. All three instructors involved students in
discussion and responsibility for directing the class. While all
three classes had active participation rates, the average response
rates for the "Advanced Shakespeare" course (83.3 percent of the
students spoke) and the "American Autobiographies" course (70.3
percent) were somewhat higher than the average participation rate
in the "Women and Religion" course (46.6 percent). This was an
interesting finding, given students' reporting on their active
learning in women's studies classes. One way to interpret the
difference was to speculate that the slightly larger class size
affected the participation rate. Another explanation was that this
class was an anomaly and that students were, in fact, not actively
involved. Yet another interpretation suggested that active learning
is not the same as, or confined to, student responses to
professors' questions. Students may be actively involved without
necessarily verbalizing their responses in class. When we looked at
how students engaged the material, we discovered something that
supported the latter interpretation. The students in the "Women and
Religion" course related classroom material to their own lives, a
process that did not take place in the other two classes.

For example, during a discussion of the relationship between war
and ritual and war as ritual, a student of the "Women and Religion"
class observed:

     Over Thanksgiving, my dad and I got into a lot of
     conversations about the war...He tried to justify it to know, thinking that we should go to war.... I
     asked him a question, "Well, how do you think things
     would be different if there was a matriarchy instead of
     patriarchy?" The way he saw matriarchy is--and this is
     where the shock was--that, all of the sudden, men would
     follow one woman's orders. Like there would be the one
     woman on the top and then it would be exactly like it is
     right now.

Class members empathized with this student but also discussed the
reasons why someone might automatically think of that model of
matriarchy, given popular examples of women heads of state.

Students in the "American Autobiographies" and the "Advanced
Shakespeare" class did not engage in this type of dynamic.
Admittedly, the subject matter of these two classes may have
offered fewer opportunities to make personal connections with the
course material than "Women and Religion" did. However, even when
opportunities did present themselves in these other classes,
students (male or female) did not make the connections--for
whatever reason. It was unclear at this point why this dynamic was
present only in the women's studies class. One possible explanation
could have been the fact that the professor in this class actually
"modeled" the integration of the personal with the intellectual by
using examples from her own religious upbringing and those of
family members to illustrate various points about the influence of

Yet "modeling" did occur during observations of one of the other
classes. The female professor in "Advanced Shakespeare" made at
least two attempts to encourage students to connect the themes of
war in Henry V (the play under discussion) to the Gulf War (which
had escalated at the time). She herself volunteered that she had a
difficult time reading the play without thinking about contemporary
parallels. Each time she encouraged students to reflect on a
connection (without directing them how to reflect), the students
quickly returned to a discussion of the text itself. Thus, although
the professor herself modeled making contemporary connections to
the material, the class resisted. There may be many reasons for
this resistance: for example, students (with friends or loved ones
at risk) may have felt too closely affected by the Gulf War to
discuss it. Nevertheless, only the students in the women's studies
class volunteered connections between the material, themselves, and
their present contexts.

The observations of the three classes suggested some interesting
initial answers to our questions. Pedagogy alone did not foster a
personal connection to the material. Indeed, those techniques most
often associated with feminist pedagogy--that is, student-centered
learning, discussion emphasis, a democratization of
responsibility--occurred more frequently in the two classes which
were not the women's studies course. However, although these
pedagogical techniques fostered active student learning in the
classroom, student engagement was not "personal" in the way that it
was for women's studies students. This distinction required our
clarifying the difference between "active" engagement and
"personal" engagement. It also required our exploring more fully
what "personal" connection meant in the classroom. Surely the
students actively involved in "Advanced Shakespeare" and "American
Autobiographies" were learning in a way that could hardly be called
"impersonal." They obviously were intellectually excited by the
mate- rial and the class discussions. They were not detached; they
were "turned on" by learning. This description was true also of the
women's studies students. Yet for them, something additional was
happening. They were connecting the content of the material with
their lives, and they were connecting themselves with the content
of the material.

We thus concluded that content was more important to fostering
personalized learning than pedagogy alone. It was not enough that
a professor modeled a personal connection to the material or that
she fostered student involvement through discussion. The students
in the women's studies class were also actively involved because
the material touched them deeply. They read about the history of
women in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and they wanted to know
historically what it was like for women to be excluded from certain
religious practices. They read theological tracts and reflected on
their own spirituality. They read about women's involvement in
contemporary religious cults and spoke with concern about women
they knew who were involved in these organizations. Content itself,
it would seem, sparked the personal connection.

We decided to test our speculation about the centrality of content
through observing additional classes. We selected five courses for
this second phase of the project: two women's studies courses
("Feminist Theory" and "Fathers and Daughters"); two English
classes ("American Women Writers" and "Readings in American
Poetry"); and a course from the Religious Studies Department on
"Sufism." The same criteria used in the first phase of the project
(upper division, teaching excellence, size, and academic
discipline) were used in selecting classes for the second phase.
The second phase, however, included an additional consideration not
included in the first. Because we speculated that content was one
aspect of women's studies courses that uniquely informed student
engagement in learning (through personalizing knowledge), we
included "American Women Writers," a course with a content focus on
women but not offered through the Women's Studies Program. Although
some students from other departments were enrolled in the course,
most were English majors. Therefore, this course enabled us to
compare the responses of women's studies students to those of
non-women's studies students in a course focusing exclusively on

Three of the classes were taught by female faculty members
("American Women Writers," "Feminist Theory," and "Fathers and
Daughters") and two by male faculty members ("Readings in American
Poetry" and "Sufism"). The students in the two women's studies
classes were once again either exclusively or predominantly female
(the "Feminist Theory" class had two male students). The three
non-women's studies classes had a mixture of male and female
students. All five classes were upper-division classes with
anywhere from seventeen to twenty-six students. Three separate
observations consisting of one class period (either fifty or
seventy-five minutes) were carried out in each of these five
classes during the period from March 5 to April 10, 1991, using the
same procedure as in the first phases.

With regard to structure (requirements, skills, classroom format),
all five classes in phase two had similar course requirements and
were conducted either through discussion or a combination
discussion/lecture format. All five of the classes placed a great
deal of emphasis on critical thinking and writing skills. All were
conducted in a circular seating arrangement. In terms of pedagogy
or dynamics, all but one of the five classes formally incorporated
students into various aspects of designing and/or running of the
class. The class that was most traditionally structured (designed
and led by the faculty) was a women's studies course, "Feminist
Theory." Again, the two English classes--"American Women Writers"
and "Readings in American Poetry"--were the most highly
student-centered, delegating much of the responsibility for
designing questions and leading class discussion to the students.
This pattern did not surprise us. Influenced by one of its faculty
members, the English Department has been known on campus for
innovation in fostering student-centered learning. -13 

The most interesting findings concerned the personalization of
knowing. Again, students reproduced the earlier pattern of
personalizing learning in their women's studies classes. And,
again, for the most part, students resisted personalizing learning
in the three courses that were not women's studies. However, two
exceptions to the earlier pattern proved to be especially
illuminating. The first anomaly was a lengthy and intense
personalized discussion in one class period of the religious
studies class, "Sufism." The professor had just returned student
papers and, to the class as a whole, made a personal response to
material in one of the student'.s papers, a response validating a
point the student made. Several other students--first a male, then
a fe- male--followed by also connecting personally to the point the
professor made. The discussion continued to weave in and out of
academic and personal reflections on love and piety.

The second exception involved the lack of modeling of, or formal
requirement for, engaging in personalized learning during our
observation of the "Feminist Theory" course. Although it is
possible that the professor modeled personalized learning in other
class sessions, it did not occur during our observations. Yet, even
in this class which was also the most traditionally structured,
students made personal connections to the material. This finding
was especially interesting when compared to our observations of
student engagement in the English Department's "American Women
Writers" class. Despite modeling on the part of the female
instructor, in this class the students resisted connecting the
material to their personal lives. In contrast, despite the absence
of the professor's modeling in the women's studies "Feminist
Theory" class, students repeatedly made connections between their
lives and the material under discussion. It seemed as though these
junior- and senior-level students, most of whom were women's
studies majors, had developed an approach to their women's studies
courses in which they expected personal connections to be made,
even when such connections were not formally encouraged.

These findings suggested further comparisons. The professor in the
religious studies class was especially skillful in eliciting
students' personal responses. Not only did he model it himself but
he did so in a way that was directed to specific issues that
encouraged particular students to respond. He appeared to know his
students well and directed his questioning to them personally. For
example, through his questioning of a student musician, the student
was led to reflect on a parallel between his experience of playing
the violin and stages of spiritual growth. In the session we
observed, however, students in the religious studies class did not
volunteer personal connections on their own. Unlike the women's
studies students, they did not initiate personalized learning but
waited until the professor gave them permission to do so or
explicitly requested it.

As we reflected on these differences, we were struck by what
appeared to be a unique atmosphere among students in the women's
studies courses. Many of these students--especially majors--knew
one another; they met for events and activities outside of the
classroom, and they had taken other classes together. This core
(sometimes consisting of only three or four students ) created an
atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. There also were the ones
who took a leadership role in initiating discussions about their
personal responses to the material. They helped to create, in
effect, a student culture. It was this student culture that
appeared to function whether or not men were present (there were
two men in the "Feminist Theory" class) and whether or not students
received formal faculty encouragement for personalized learning.
Our gradual unravelling of our questions, therefore, led us to the
conclusion that the women's studies students themselves played a
major role in creating their classroom experience.

The patterns we discovered in class observations were confirmed by
our initial analysis of the questionnaires administered to the
students in all five classes. Given our observations of the
salience of the personalized connection to the course content, we
were especially interested in student responses to the questions
addressing this issue: 

* How often does course content relate to you personally? 
* How often in the classroom does it feel acceptable to relate
course mater al to your personal life? 
* How often do you feel "encouraged" by the instructor to relate
course material to your personal life? 
* How often in the classroom do you verbally express a personal
connection to course content ? 
* How often does course content actually affect you or your life in
some significant way? 

Applying a simple t-test, we found that students in the women's
studies classes scored significantly higher than students in the
other classes on all of these questions. Moreover, we found that
students in the English Department course "American Women Writers"
scored significantly higher than students in the other non-women's
studies classes but lower than students in the women's studies
classes. This appeared to confirm our supposition that both content
and student culture contributed to the personal connection, but we
are looking forward to conducting a more elaborate statistical
analysis of the questionnaire before drawing conclusions from these

Nevertheless, the students' written responses to the open-ended
questions certainly confirmed the patterns of the initial class
observations and the answers to the questions on personal
connection to the material. When asked how the course content
affected their lives, students in the English Ind religious studies
classes responded generally by referring to what they learned, "It
gave me a new perspective on American literature and life." "It
gave me a broader perspective on literature." "It has helped me to
understand a religion and culture different from my own." Very few
students from these classes stated that the course helped them to
think differently about or reevaluate their lives (the majority of
these comments came from women students in "American Women
Writers"). And one male student responded angrily to the question
itself, "Although courses in religious studies (including this one)
touch me deeply, I have little or no interest in sharing my
'personal life' (in regards to religion) with my classmates.
Spirituality and academia do not go together very well. The mind
often cannot relate to the heart. I don't really want to talk about
it here."

In contrast, the responses from many of the students in the women's
studies class indicated an ease with and desire for making a
personal connection to the material, "This course will stay with me
for the rest of the summer." "I apply everything I learn in women's
studies classes to my life." "My women's studies courses have
strengthened me." "I tend to read theories and think about how they
apply to my life." "This class pushes me to self- examination and
reevaluation and opens new avenues of thought." A political science
major who had taken numerous women's studies classes noted,
"Without women's studies classes half of my sanity would be missing
in my educational experience. I think my education was extremely
enhanced through taking women's studies classes."

The comments on the questionnaires helped us to clarify more fully
the difference that we had noted earlier between students' active
and personal engagement in their classes. When the students in the
non-women's studies classes were intellectually involved with the
material, they were excited by the ideas and enjoyed the learning
process itself. We noticed this same pro- cess with the women's
studies students, but they also expressed another dimension that
could best be described as ethical. The women's studies students
were concerned with drawing the implications of their learning for
Our students become excited by this material not only because it is
intellectually innovative and compelling but especially because it
explains their own experiences guiding their own actions in the
world. They wanted to learn about the world: its history; its
political, economic, and social structures; its cultural forms; its
irrationalities and its positive possibilities. They also wanted to
learn about themselves in relationship to the world in order to
help them make judgments about making choices and interacting with

The ethical concerns that our students bring to their women's
studies classes reflect the conditions that bring them to these
classes in the first place--an experience of the world in which the
traditional expectations for women and men are challenged. They
want to understand the traditions and the challenges, not in order
to discover some new "politically correct" mode of behavior, but to
explore the possibilities for change and to revalue parts of their
own past.


Our two major discoveries--the importance of course content in
promoting activity, personalized learning and the culture of
women's studies that assumes personal/intellectual
connections--raise for us many additional issues and questions. The
influence of content (over either course structure or teaching
dynamics) in creating a personally and intellectually exciting
learning experience cannot be overemphasized. It suggests the
powerful influence of simply exposing students to works on women's
history and literature, to analyses of the economic, social~ and
political structures influencing women's lives, to feminist theory,
to the psychology of women, to women's art and music and theater.
Our students' positive responses to the content of women's studies
remind us of our own personal and intellectual excitement in
"discovering" the works that eventually came to define women's
studies as a new field. It also suggests the importance of the
efforts of the past ten years to create curricular reform. The
current backlash against that reform reflects the power that the
new scholarship wields. Women's studies is a new perspective that
challenges traditional structures and beliefs. Our students become
excited by this material not only because it is intellectually
innovative and compelling but especially because it explains their
own experiences. These are the "aha" moments when students
understand their personal lives in the context of wider,
overlapping, and interlocking fields.

We suspect that the culture of personalized learning created by
women's studies students is grounded in this compelling connection.
In the absence of a dominant cultural discourse that would validate
their lives, and in the context of prevailing cultural forms that
undermine them, our students often seek out their first women's
studies classes as avenues to self-understanding. The desire for
the intellectual is deeply rooted in the personal. When they do
encounter the material that helps them to make sense of their
lives--and those issues and problems that were hitherto
"nameless"--they establish an expectation that women's studies
course content will pertain to women's lives in general and to
their lives in particular. We suspect that the student culture of
personalized learning emerges from this shared expectation for the
intellectual to explain the personal. It appears, also, that the
expectation is reinforced not only by course content and faculty
support and modeling but also by students' mutually supportive

We would like to learn more about this student culture. Ideally, we
would like to follow a cohort of student majors longitudinally from
their first introductory women's studies course through graduation.
We would want to learn why of all the students enrolled in
"Introduction to Women's Studies"--some choose to become majors. We
would want to follow their initial encounter with the material--and
with the struggle with it that Lee Knefelkamp identifies as the
tension between support and challenged. By observing middle-range
classes, we would want to learn how individual expectations for
personalized learning develop into a student culture that fosters
it. Are there certain student-teacher interactions that support it?
Are there other components to this student culture? other
activities that promote it? What is the influence of an all-female
class in promoting a culture of personalized learning? We would
also want to know more about the culture it- elf. Are certain
voices and perspectives privileged? Are some groups silenced or
intimidated? Are there assumptions about what constitutes a
personal connection that are culturally limiting? Is there a
tension between what Belenky et al. have called connected knowing
and separate (for example, analytical) knowing? What happens when
students encounter material that is difficult or "inconvenient" to
know? These are the questions that we are starting to ask in phase
three, which extends our work from "The Courage to Question." We
have begun to study "Introduction to Women's Studies," using
classroom observation, student journals, questionnaires, and

Meanwhile, we still are required by the state to conduct a yearly
assessment of student learning. Our experience with "The Courage to
Question" has led us to abandon our previous approach and to adopt
a portfolio method. Our approach rejects a method whereby faculty
members alone measure student learning and proceeds from the
assumption of an equal partnership between students and faculty in
assessing student learning. 

Our portfolio process is embedded in a new capstone course for
majors and certificates. A major requirement for the course is a
ten-page paper, a reconstructive narrative of the student's journey
as a women's studies major. To help prepare to write the narrative,
students are asked to pull together materials from their women's
studies courses (in the future, newly declared majors will be asked
to keep a portfolio of these materials). As another building block,
students are asked to write short memoirs of their individual
courses, addressing questions such as, "Why did I take this course?
What did I learn? How? Was I challenged? How? Was I supported? How?
How would I change the class? What questions did I have going into
the class? Were they answered? Were any left unanswered?" Building
from these class memoirs and portfolio items, the students write
narratives that make sense of their learning experience as women's
studies majors and certificates. By sifting through memories,
papers, exams, and personal journals, students must remember
themselves as they were before they became women's studies majors
and reconstruct their development. In doing so, students are
required to recognize the interplay between personal connections
and intellectual experience.

The second capstone course requirement involves students' extending
their narratives to a project, the "next step." The definition of
the project is flexible. It might be an artistic expression that
interprets their learning experience, an analytical paper that
pursues an unanswered question, an investigation of an intended
career, a short story. When students present their narratives and
"next step" projects, they may invite other faculty members and
students to the class. Through her presentation and dialogue with
those present, each student will be encouraged to reflect on her
learning (both product and process) and to link her learning
experience to her future plans. The assessment report will draw
from these presentations, narratives, and portfolios. Authored by
a subcommittee of faculty and student participants, the report will
be submitted as the Women's Studies Program's yearly assessment of
student learning.

Creating an assessment method that is more informative and useful
to students and faculty members is only one of the benefits of our
participation in "The Courage to Question." The process itself has
encouraged us to reflect more fully on our classroom experiences.
It has helped us with redefining our requirements for the major (to
include new courses on critical thinking and a capstone course~. We
also have revitalized connections with faculty outside of women's
studies. Other faculty members who participated in the project have
expressed an interest in our focus on personalized learning. We, on
the other hand, have learned from them useful techniques to foster
student-centered learning. Our participation also has introduced us
to new scholarship on assessment, student learning, and curricular
reform, enabling us to assume some leadership in recent campus
efforts to revitalize undergraduate education.

Although our approach to "The Courage to Question" looks more like
research than assessment, we are pleased that we have taken this
direction. It has allowed us to gain some perspective on classroom
learning in women's studies that will enable us to clarify our
goals both individually and collectively. Our discovery of the
personalization of knowledge is not exactly new. Women's studies
from the beginning has made the connection between the personal and
the intellectual. What is new for us is to begin to consider what
t:his connection means specifically for teaching and learning.

1. Involvement in Learning: Realizing the Potential of Amencan
Higher Education (Washington, D.C.: National Institutes of
Education, 1984), 17.

2. A. W. Astin. Achieving Educational Exceuence: A Critical
Assessment of Priorities and Practices in Higher Education (San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985). 

3. Campus Life: In Search of Community (Princeton: The Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990). 

4. The Condition of the Professoriate: Attitudes and Trends
(Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching, 1989). 

5. E. L. Boyer, College: The Undergraduate Expenence in America
(New York: Harper and Row 1987). 

6. A New Vitality in General Education (Washington, D.C .:
Association of American Colleges, 1988) 42. 

7. A New Vitality, 23. 

8. The Challenge of Connecting Learning, Liberal Learning and the
Arts and Sciences Major. Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: Association of
American Colleges, 1991). 

9. M. Culley and C. Portuges, eds., Gendered Subjects: The Dynamics
of Feminist Teaching (Boston Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985), 2. 

10. M. Parlett and G. Dearden, eds., Introduction to Illuminative
Evaluation: Studies in Higher Education (Cardiff-by-Sea, Calif:
Pacific Sounding Press, 1977); M. Parlett and D. Hamilton
"Evaluation as Illumination: A New Approach to the Study of
Innovative Programs," in Beyond the Numbers Game, D. Hamilton. et
al., eds., (London: Macmillan, 1978), 6-22; J. P. Shapiro and B.
Reed, "Illuminative Evaluation Meeting the Special Needs of
Feminist Projects," in Humanity and Society (November 1984) 432-41;
M. A. Trow, "Methodological Problems in the Evaluation of
Innovation," in M. C. Wittrock and E. E. Wiley. eds., The
Evaluation of Instruction (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston,
1970), 289-305. 

11. M. Parlett and D. Hamilton. "Evaluation as Illumination: A New
Approach to the Study of Innovative Programs," in D. Hamilton et
al, eds., Beyond the Numbers Game (London: Macmillan, 1978) 6-22,

12. Ibid, 18. 

13. Martin Bickman, "Active Learning in the University: An Inquiry
into Inquiry," in Mary Ann Shea, ed., On Teaching, Vol. I (Boulder:
The University of Colorado Faculty Teaching Excellence Program,
1987): 31 66. I 4. L. Lee Knefelkamp, Developmental Instruction:
Fostering Intellectual and Personal Growth of Students (Doctoral
dissertation, University of Minnesota, 1974). 

15. M. F. Belenky, B. M. Clinchy, N. R. Goldberger, and J. M.
Tarule, Women's Ways of Knowing (New York: Basic Books, 1986).


Provide three responses to each question below: 
A. answer in regard to courses from your major area of study 
B. answer in regard to courses from outside your major area of
C. answer in regard to this course

1 . On the average, how often do you miss class sessions ? 
     Never    Rarely    Occasionally    Frequently    Always 
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

2. What is the usual reason for missing class?

3. How many fellow students do you usually know by name? 
      None    A Few     About Half          Most      All
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

4. How often do you meet with fellow students outside of class?   
     Always   Never       Rarely       Occasionally  Frequently 
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

5. What is the usual purpose of meeting with students outside of

6. How many fellow students would you say you have friendships
     None     A Few      About Half        Most       All
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

7. How often do you think about or "mull over" course or course
related material out-side of class (other than for class
preparation or for class assignments)? 
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

8. How often do you discuss aspects of the course material with
someone outside of class? 
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

9. With whom do you generally have these discussions? (e.g.,
friends, mother, roommate. etc.)?

10. How often does course content motivate you to do additional
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

11. How often do you find yourself getting "interested" in the
course material? 
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

12. How often do you find yourself getting "absorbed" in the course
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

13. How often does course content relate to you personally?
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

14. How often in the classroom does it feel acceptable to relate
course material to your personal life? 
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

15. How often do yoU feel "encouraged" by the instructor to relate
course material to yourpersanal life?
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

16. How often in the classroom do you verbally express a personal
connection to course content?
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

17. How often does course content actually affect you or your life
in some significant way? 
     Never   Rarely     Occasionally    Frequently   Always
A.     1        2            3               4         5 
B.     1        2            3               4         5 
C.     1        2            3               4         5

18. Describe how course content has affected you or your life?

19. In the space below or on the back, write any additional
comments you might have regarding any of the question(s) in this

20. Age:

21. sex: Female/Male

22. Which one of the following race groups do you identify with and
feel you belong to? 
1. American Indian 
2. Black (or Afro American) 
3. Hispanic (or Mexican American/Chicano, etc.) 
4. Asian (or Oriental) 
5. Anglo (or Caucasian)

23. How much education was completed by your parent who went to
school longer? 
1. junior high 
2. high school vocational/technical 
4. college (4 year degree)
5. graduatc school (doctor, lawyer, Ph.D., etc.)

24. In which social class would you say that your family is
1. lower class 
2. working class 
3. middle class
4. upper middle class 
5. upper class

25. Your current student classification: 
1. Freshman 
2. Sophomore 
3. Junior 
4. Senior 
5. Unclassified

26. Your academic major:
    Second major/certificate:

27. If you would be willing to participate in further discussion
regarding your learning experiences at the University of Colorado,
please list your name, current address, and permanent address