“Help, I need to keep track of my students’ internship hours.”
“Our program requires X hours of service learning prior to graduation, but students keep misplacing their paper logs or missing incremental check-ins.”
“We have three faculty who can approve participation hours, but we don’t have an easy, shared way for them to do this.”
“Our students need a way to see if their individual activities are counting towards the graduation practicum hours requirement.”
“I need to track required hours for students during the time they are in the program but separating this into a series of semester course shells doesn’t give a good sense of the running total. Using a Google Doc or posting a list allows students to see a running total, but it doesn’t preserve student privacy. Help!”

We often hear requests similar to this. In some instances, the issue is that the students need a greater ability to reflect or attach other artifacts (such as signed site logs, reflections, images of site projects, or observation notes). In other cases, perhaps a departmental committee needs to review the student reflections to verify that time in the field is meeting the program’s learning outcomes. Last, if students are working toward a particular hours-requirement, it makes sense that students should be able to track their own progress toward this goal.

An ideal solution to this problem would integrate with existing information systems on campus and reflect best practices for teaching and learning, including the provision of rapid feedback, the warehousing of student learning artifacts, and the ability for students to view only their own results on an ongoing basis.

With a few adjustments to the term parameters and some initial set-up steps, a dedicated TCU Online course shell provides an efficient and easy way to track student internship, clinical, observation, service learning, or volunteer hours. A single course shell can be configured to allow submissions over multiple semesters, providing an easy way for faculty to give feedback and award credit or hours while letting the students view only their own incremental progress toward the stated goal.

The challenge is to find a tool within the course shell that allows students to privately share work or evidence of their progress with the faculty supervisor or committee,
let this entity approve hours, and track this progress toward a set goal (the “out of” score). Rather than using the Assignments tool, our preferred solution relies on the Discussions tool. In particular, the discussion is set up with single-user groups, thereby keeping the students’ threads and associated submissions private. The discussion is then configured to allow the assessment of individual posts, permitting the faculty supervisor or committee to award differing increments of hours to each student’s attempt. A gradebook item is used to track the running total; the “out of” score is the total number of hours required.

To petition for hours, students will start a thread: they can attach a standardized form you have created, write a reflection in the text area, upload an image that represents the work done in the field (examples might include: a lesson plan, a materials list, the supervisor’s signature, or photograph of the student doing the work, or the completed or in-progress project), or use the audio/video note option to post a short 3-minute commentary on the experience. In their submission, students should clearly identify the number of hours for which they are requesting credit.

The faculty supervisor or committee member should access the student work in the Discussions tool rather than Grades because discussion viewing statistics are only gathered by TCU Online when discussion posts are read via the Discussions tool. Within Discussions, a chat bubble icon displays beside each student name if a student has responded and a blue star is added to this icon if there are new posts by a student. When grading, the grade details window for each student shows the post and any student attachments, as well as offering the reviewer the opportunity to add their own attachments or submit an audio or video note. Each of the student’s posts has a dedicated scoring box, with the sum of post scores calculating at the top of the window.

To review student progress, both the student and the faculty member can view the running total in Grades. This provides a quick check-in regarding progress toward the goal. Students and faculty can also review the hours awarded to each submission (post) and see any feedback files the faculty member attached—such as a signed verification, suggestions for follow-up work, or revisions required to receive full credit—by going to Class Progress. This view provides the scoring details for each post, thereby creating an artifact of incremental progress and avoiding concerns that certain submissions were not scored or may have been scored twice by two different reviewers.

Shows how tracking hours are displayed in TCU Online.

It works in theory, but does it work in practice? The case study below showcases how this solution is being adopted in TCU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

Dr. Kenneth Lowrance writes:

Within the last year, I identified a significant logistical issue which adversely affected workflow and efficiency regarding students in the Doctor
of Nursing Practice (DNP) program. One of the requirements of the DNP students is that they
must acquire 1,000 hours of faculty supervised clinical-type experiences above and beyond their baccalaureate degrees. Depending on the number of verified clinical hours or internship hours acquired in their Master’s programs, DNP students may be awarded up to 500 hours of the required 1,000 hours upon admission to the program. The remaining hours must be acquired through various experiential learning activities that relate to the eight Doctoral Essentials published by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN). These activities must be documented, reviewed by faculty for approval, and archived to assure appropriateness for program requirements and accreditation purposes.

Tracking of these student-acquired hours was inefficient and labor intensive. Students would acquire hours, document them, and submit to the Program Director for review and approval. Since there was no existing mechanism to archive these hours, once approved, the documentation was signed off and returned to the student to hold until his/her last two semesters in the program at which time the student was to resubmit the already-approved hours to his/her capstone project Chair who then had the responsibility to upload/archive not only the already-approved hours, but also to review and archive any additional hours acquired during the last two semesters. This process was labor intensive for faculty and did not provide real-time status of students regarding their progress in reaching the 1,000 required hours. Likewise, concerns regarding the accuracy of tracking these hours arose. The process was both cumbersome and burdensome for all involved.

I presented the inefficiencies and difficulties of the process to the Koehler Center Staff in hopes that with the new TCU Online platform an innovative solution could be developed. As always, the Koehler Staff met the challenge with enthusiasm and developed an innovative solution that solved the problematic issues.
As a result of the new solution, the process has been streamlined and made user-friendly for students and faculty. Students can now upload documentation of their experiential learning activities for review, approval, and archiving by the Program Director within TCU Online, thereby providing a real-time snapshot of student progress. The new process has been extraordinarily well accepted by students and faculty. It is a process that is generalizable to other disciplines where acquisition and tracking of hours is necessary to document successful achievement of program requirements. Kudos to the Koehler Center Staff for their creativity in simplifying a previously complex process.

As an aside, this process is not only generalizable to other disciplines where hours tracking is required, but also to assignments or projects for which the total number of points is known, but which also have an unknown number of steps for which students can earn a variable number of points. While most projects or assignments have more clearly defined supporting activities with articulated point values, a course focused on project development or a course set up with gamified elements in which students select challenges of varied point values within a given assignment might find this grading set-up useful.

If you would like to learn more about this efficient, elegant, and error-reducing method of tracking hours, the Koehler Center has knowledge base articles about tracking hours for internships, practicums, or projects, setting up the discussion tool for hours tracking, and grading discussions used for hours tracking. In addition, our office is more than happy to help you get started with tracking hours in this manner.

This article was written by Kate Marshall, Director of Distance Learning in the Koehler Center, and Kerrie Meister, Manager of eLearning in the Koehler Center, for the Fall 2018 Issue of Insights.