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Why Reinvent the Wheel? Using the CAS Learning Domains and Dimensions as a Framework for Fraternity and Sorority Advising Program Learning Outcomes

It is important for those who work with fraternities and sororities to consider in the development of their educational workshops and retreats how knowledge acquisition, integration, construction, and application might occur. An example of a fraternal movement initiative that reflects the connection between fraternity/sorority membership and cognitive development is the residential learning model adopted by Sigma Phi Epsilon, which emphasizes faculty interactions with students in the fraternity facility.

By Dan Bureau, Ph.D.

Cognitive Complexity


The second domain focuses on students wrestling with exploring diverse perspectives on common issues. Cognitive complexity emerges when students are forced to examine various perspectives and determine an opinion or stance on an issue (Evans, Forney, DeBrito, Renn, & Patton, 2010). Issues examined are often in concert with others and explorations about one’s final opinion often emerges through discourse. Dimensions of this domain are critical thinking, reflective thinking, effective reasoning, and creativity (CAS, 2009).

uch has been written about the need to assess, both indirectly and directly, student learning within student affairs programs (Bresciani, Zelna, & Anderson, 2004; Keeling, 2004; Upcraft, 2003). If student affairs is broadly concerned with assessment of learning outcomes, so should those who administer fraternity/sorority life programs on campuses and at the international staff and volunteer level (Perlow, 2007; Strayhorn & Colvin, 2006). Measuring learning outcomes can help demonstrate that student affairs programs, including those in fraternity/sorority life, are in line with priorities of an institution, support holistic student development, and contribute to the broad goals of higher education (Bresciani et al., 2004; Council for the Advancement of Standards, 2009). Over the years, I have seen professionals ask the question “what should students who are members of fraternities and sororities learn?” Within divisions of student affairs and across fraternal organizations, we often work in silos trying to identify what matters to student learning; however, the fraternity/sorority experience is only one context in which students experience college. Higher education has a collective responsibility to promote learning across all students’ experiences (Keeling, 2004; Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh, Whitt, & Associates, 2005). To demonstrate how functions across student affairs can accomplish shared learning outcomes, the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) has developed six learning domains. These domains consist of dimensions that provide opportunities to further demonstrate important aspects of student learning, growth, and development. This article provides an overview of these domains and dimensions and offers ideas as to how they might be applied in a fraternity/sorority advising program (FSAP). It will also provide recommendations for how fraternity/sorority staff and volunteers might use these domains. Additionally, I will offer some advice on writing learning outcomes using the domains and dimensions:

Knowledge Acquisition, Integration, Construction, and Application The first domain focuses on aspects of students gaining and using knowledge. Often articulated as the primary goal of participation in curricular activities, it has long been heralded that student affairs functions, including fraternity/sorority membership can encourage knowledge acquisition, integration, construction, and application (Roper, 2003). Dimensions of this domain are understanding knowledge from a range of disciplines; connecting knowledge to other knowledge, ideas, and experiences; constructing knowledge; and relating knowledge to daily life (CAS, 2009).


Perspectives / Summer 2011

Students in fraternities and sororities likely experience conditions that force them to examine diverse perspectives every day. These conditions may be with other members of their organization or through interactions with others such as non-affiliated students. Because of the expanding global society, it is vital that fraternities and sororities expand students’ perceptions about issues (Asel, Seifert, & Pascarella, 2009). Conversations that fraternity/sorority professionals have with student leaders can advance students’ thoughts about issues and expand their cognitive complexity. Creating conditions that permit students to reflect and reason, such as what might come from serving on a judicial or standards board or through participating in a national program such as the Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute (UIFI) or Leadershape™, is pivotal to ensure students leave the proverbial walls of their college and chapter, and understand how to explore diverse approaches to common situations.

Intrapersonal development Know thyself – a basic condition of leadership. Once you know who you are, then you are best able to lead others. The intrapersonal development domain has become particularly important given the research on self-authorship (Baxter Magolda, 2008), which is the movement from being externally defined to developing an accurate inner sense of self, which can serve as a foundation to make decisions. Many theories on student development focus on the growing sense of self a student develops as they progress through their time in college (Evans et al., 2010). Such development is focused on developing intrapersonal competence. Dimensions in this domain are realistic selfappraisal, self-understanding, self-respect, identity development, commitment to ethics and integrity, and spiritual awareness (CAS, 2009). Specific to the experience in fraternities and sororities, those working with FSAP and at the international and volunteer levels might add the dimension of values development. As fraternities and sororities are values-based organizations, considering the extent to which students develop, refine, and demonstrate their

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Perspectives Summer 2011  

AFA Perspectives Summer 2011

Perspectives Summer 2011  

AFA Perspectives Summer 2011

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