Curriculum Unit Plan Assignment:
International Student Orientation Program (ISOP)

For this assignment, I decided to supplement, or add on to, our current curriculum for the International Student Orientation Program (ISOP) at the university I work for in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario.  ISOP is a three-day workshop offered at the start of every semester (Spring, Fall & Winter) to help newly arriving students transition to Canadian culture and academic life.   

What does our current curriculum look like?

2015 Spring/Summer International Student Orientation Program Schedule

Please click on the play button below and zoom in and out to view our current ISOP Schedule.  Please look for examples of both key approaches mentioned in the above video "Resources" and "Connectedness":

As you can see our ISOP schedule is very "knowledge" driven and students move from one teacher centered workshop to another.  On the ISOP schedule, you will also notice a few activities/events designed to help students "connect" with their peers such as the International Welcome Dinner and the Algoma University Social Mixer.   

How can I improve our ISOP?

New Curriculum for ISOP

Based on the information I gathered about current International Student Orientation Programs across Canada and the research I've completed on Positive Psychology, I decided that I would like to develop 3 additional workshops (one focusing on "Capability", one on "Resourcefulness" and the last on "Purpose") to be delivered to our newly arriving International student after our 3-day Orientation spread over their first semester.  I decided not to change our 3-day ISOP schedule because the key approaches of "resources" and "connectedness"  are a very important 1st step to helping students transition to Algoma University.

Before revealing my new curriculum, as far as these three new workshops, I would like to consider some of the situation factors which impacted my decisions heading into it's design as well as how I used the three stages of the Backwards Design Process to develop my curriculum.

Situational Factors to Consider

Specific Context of the Teaching/Learning Situation

How many students are in the class?

For our Winter and Spring Orientations, we usually have between 10-20 students for our Fall Orientation, we usually have between 35-50 students. Most of the students are between the ages of 18-21 but we also see mature students who travel overseas for profession development opportunities and/or a second degree.

Is the course lower division, upper division, or graduate level?

ISOP is intended for first year International Students, regardless of age, who are entering part-term/full-time degree programs as well as students who are entering our English for Academic Purposes Program (EAPP). 

How long and frequent are the class meetings?

We normally host a 3-day Orientation Program but with my new curriculum, we would like to extend it throughout the whole first semester by adding 3 additional workshops.

How will the course be delivered: live in a classroom, online?

Outside of the 3 day ISOP, we would like to host 3 additional workshops  throughout the first semester. These sessions will each last one hour and  will be delivered in class.

Expectations That Others Have for the Course

What learning expectations are placed on this course or curriculum by:

  • Society?
  • The University, College and/or the Department?
  • The Profession?

The learning expectations of these workshops is to help our International student body transition or adjust to studying at Algoma University. The University's expectation is that these workshops will increase our International student retention rates especially after their first year.   

Nature of the Subject

Is this subject primarily theoretical, practical, or some combination?

The subjects/topics presented during ISOP mostly present practical tips and helpful advice for newcomers to Canada. The additional workshops based on Positive Psychology (Lizzio, 2006) have theoretical underpinnings which are not make overt to the students.

Is the subject primarily convergent or divergent?

The 3-day ISOP and the 3 additional workshops are convergent in nature. We try to bring the information together in order to synthesize/summarize it so that it is digestible for the students.

Are there important changes or controversies occurring within this field of study?

As mentioned earlier in the presentation, there are very exciting developments in the field of Positive Psychology which revolve around how we are to encourage our students to be agents when it comes to their own orientation and how they navigate new spaces.

Characteristics of the Learners

What is the life situation of the learners (e.g., working, family, professional goals)?

All the students are from overseas and bring with them diverse backgrounds and contexts.

What prior knowledge, experiences, and initial feelings do the students have with this subject?

For most of the students, this will be their first time traveling and/or studying overseas. However, some of our students have lived in/ traveled to/ or studied in other countries or including Canada.

What are their learning goals, expectations, and preferred learning styles?

The group of incoming International students is too diverse to answer this question. Depending on their country of origin, these students bring very different learning styles and expectations for their studies in Canada.

Characteristics of the Teacher(s)

What beliefs and values does the teacher have about teaching and learning?

Both my colleague and I, who are responsible for hosting ISOP, have lived and taught overseas. My colleague instructed ESL to elementary age children in Japan for about 5 years whereas I worked at 3 different universities in Korea teaching EAP. Both of us agree that learning should be very student-centered and that the student should have an active role in developing their own capability, resourcefulness and purpose during their International studies.

What is his/her attitude toward: the subject, students?

Both my colleague and I are very supportive of our International student body and we share a very positive attitude, and willingness to help, when it comes to guiding them through the challenges they face as they adjust to life in Canada.

What are his/her teaching skills? What level of knowledge or familiarity does he/she have with this subject?

As mentioned previously, my colleague has about 5 years of experience teaching ESL in Japan. I have 15 years of experience teaching ESL in Korea, a Masters in Linguistics Degree (specialization in TESL) as well as being certified by TESL Canada, Level 3. I’m also a qualified teacher at the Intermediate/Senior Level in the Province of Ontario.

Backwards Design

Stage 1:  Identify Desired Results

My research into positive psychology identified the 3 key focus areas of 1) capability 2) resourcefulness and 3) purpose which gives me an accurate understanding of what we want our International students to know, understand and be able to do within their chosen fields

This can be broken down as follows (as discussed in the above video)

Workshop #1:  Capability

Students are able to:

  • be active participants
  • know what's expected from them
  • understand the difference between Growth vs. Fixed Mindsets

Workshop #2: Resourcefulness

Student are able to:

  • draw upon prior experiences and knowledge
  • engage their identities in meaningful ways in their new space.

Workshop #3: Purpose

  • develop their own self identity in their chosen field
  • be empowered to make informed decisions and have permission to try, fail and try again

Stage 2: Determine Acceptable Evidence

How do I know the students achieve the desired results?  These workshops are each very short, each lasting one hour and they are not meant to be highly structured or complex.  Instead, they are meant to raise awareness of what it means to be engaged in their learning.  They are meant to promote conversation and get students to enjoy the process of inquiry into their own experiences and learning as their navigate new space.  

Because each of the above workshops are of short duration, it is hard to access whether or not the objectives are fulfilled during, or shortly after  the workshop.  It will take constant monitoring, on my part, as the International Student Support Officer, throughout the semester to determine if the workshops achieved the above objectives.  At the end of the semester, I will send out an online self-evaluation form to gather feedback from the students, interview individual students as well have circle discussions with groups of students which will require them to think critically, not just recall knowledge, and will involve analysis, synthesis and evaluation.  

In contrast, our current 3-day ISOP is much easier to evaluate because the students' knowledge can be evaluated more formally through quizzes and test items.  However, the 3-day workshop is not the focus of my new curriculum.  

Stage 3:  Plan Learning Experiences and Instruction

After identifying the desired results in Step 1 and the assessments, in Step 2, I felt ready to address the specifics of instruction planning, the choices about teaching method, sequence of lessons, and resource materials and understand the teaching is a means to the end.  I will now present my 3 workshops.  

My New Curriculum

Please click on the play button and zoom in and out to view my three new  workshops that are to be planned to be hosted at an interval of one workshop per week following the 3-day ISOP hosted at the start of each semester. I designed my new curriculum based on a Freirean Approach, with encompasses a lot of intentional activities based on dialogue and reflection.

Curriculum Design: My Critical Reflection