by Hilary Jandricic
Welcome back to part 2! I hope you’ve had some time to reflect and think a little bit more about student learning and what knowledge can be gained from a Student Conduct Program (SCP). In this week’s post, I’m going to walk through a little bit of the research I found pertaining to learning in SCPs as a general concept and then get to some of the specifics regarding what sanctions are being used to facilitate learning. Something I learned as I was collecting artifacts is that, SURPRISE, there is not a lot of research out there. The research I did find only led me to ask more questions since topics were very generalized and vague. Spoiler alert: we’ve got some work to do.
Let’s pause for a brief moment and reflect on how far SCPs have come in the recent years. Research on education has started playing a more predominant role when it comes to the development of SCPs (Boyd & Consolvo, 2013). Learning is a complex, holistic, multi-centric activity (Taylor & Varner, 2009) and there has been a focus on the effects and outcomes of what students are learning when involved in SCPs (Howell, 2005; Waryold & Lancaster, 2008). So, what’s the most common way to give students an opportunity to learn from their actions? Sanctions.
Much support can be found for the implementation of sanctions including posters, written reflections, mentorship programs, videos, community service or attending educational workshops (Carleton University, 2016; Kuh, 2003; Tinto, 2003; University of Guelph, 2016). Most of you are probably well versed in the more common ways to coach students through self-reflection but did you know that sanctions mirror ways in which students typically learn? A few examples include, peer learning, collaboration, cooperative learning, social interactions (Havnes, 2008), student engagement (Kuh, 2003), experiential learning (Pavela, 2008), reflection (Nelson, Martella, & Marchand-Martella, 2002) and service learning (Kuh, 2003; Tinto, 2003). Whoa, that’s a lot, and no not every single sanction is going to include all of these but it’s good to know that we are already incorporating proven techniques into sanctions. If you are curious as to which ones were more popular than others I’ve got you covered.
Peer-based learning (Havnes, 2008) and reflective practices (Nelson et al., 2002) were the two themes that came up quite a bit in my initial environmental scan. There is evidence that when conversations among peers are grounded in educational approaches (Blimling, 2015), and occur within the disciplinary hearing, this can be the optimum method for redirecting behaviour (Zdziarski & Wood, 2008). Critical reflection (Rashid, 2009) was also perceived as being one of the primary vehicles driving transformational learning and positive change in behaviour (Calleja, 2014). Therefore, if you have a sanction incorporated into your SCP that includes a peer-based critical reflection then you are off to a great start! Sanctions are grounded in educational practices but the challenges came about when I tried to find evidence that demonstrated that student learning does in fact happen. What I was able to find were some topics that students could learn depending on the type of SCP they engage with. Remember how I mentioned topics were very generalized and vague? Ya, so it’s about to get a little generalized and vague up in here.
There is an abundance of evidence to support that SCPs are ripe with opportunities to learn (Waryold & Lancaster, 2008). In a general context, the most prominent topics that students learned in an SCP included Restorative Justice (RJ) practices and communication skills (Howell, 2005; Karp & Sacks, 2014). What I gathered from this is that if your SCP is grounded in RJ, students will walk away from their meeting knowing a little bit more about RJ then when they walked in. Students will also need to talk about the incident they were involved in, explain their perspective, and engage in a conversation with the Student Conduct Administrator. Thus, the conclusion that they learn and have a chance to practice some communication skills. It is not earth shattering but hey, I will take it. Oh, by the way, I did find evidence to support that students did not learn anything at all as a result of participating in a SCP (Howell, 2005)… cue the crying emoji face. I also found more research that highlighted topics in which conduct administrators hoped that students learned. Among these included: moral development, empathy; mainly for the harmed party involved, conflict resolution (Himbeault Taylor & Thomas Varner, 2009), knowledge about their own personal values and ethics (Warters, 2009), mediation skills (Blimling, 2015), and community engagement (Pavela, 2008). My hope is that we can do a little less hoping and little more proving in the future.
But what about sanctions? Are they helpful? Or are they just a waste of time as some of the students I’ve met with have told me? Well, I was able to find four types of “sanctions” that were proven to be effective in facilitating student learning in conduct programs. I intentionally used quotes around the term sanction since things are again just a tad vague. The most predominant “sanction” was facilitated dialogue (Howell, 2005; Karp & Sacks, 2014; Robinson, 2009), and by predominant I really mean it appeared in the research a total of three times where the other three “sanctions” only appeared once. What is still unclear for me is whether or not a facilitated dialogue has to take place between a student and a Conduct Administrator or if the dialogue can take place in a peer-to-peer conversation. As previously mentioned, peer-based learning is a great way for students to learn, so why would these conversations be more effective than with a conduct administrator?
Although it doesn’t have to do with the sanction itself, something interesting I came across was that when sanctions were agreed upon promptly and in a timely fashion (close in time to when the incident took place), students took note and appreciated having the opportunity to resolve the situation (Howell, 2015; Karp & Sacks, 2014; Robinson, 2009). Something to consider when you’re trying to have a quick turnaround time with cases.
I don’t know about you, but I still have questions. Lots of questions. Like, how much will the timing of the sanction impact the potential for learning? How can we foster a facilitated dialogue that encourages learning while creating a safe space for students to do so? Are there ways we can coach students to think critically about their actions in a peer-to-peer context? Are we really fostering communication skills in conduct meetings? It is okay to question the research that is out there and to seek new information. Like I said, I have many questions and I did this research for nine months straight. Now I’d like to hear from you! Share your thoughts, suggestions, ideas, articles or what you are doing at your institution. Continue the conversation on Twitter @SA_exchange #SAcdn #ConductAssessment and stay tuned for next week when we uncover the techniques used to assess the learning in SCPs.
Hilary Jandricic is the Coordinator, Leadership Development at Centennial College in Toronto Ontario. She completed her masters in Higher Education Administration and Leadership at Royal Roads University. When she’s not learning about student conduct or trying out new assessment techniques you can find her playing beach volleyball or reading the latest murder mystery novel as she commutes on the TTC.
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