Chapter 11 of the 2007-2008 LNT Student / Faculty Handbook
and some extra information

INDEPENDENT STUDIES

GUIDELINES and SUGGESTIONS FOR INDEPENDENT STUDY PROPOSALS

LNT 580 and LNT 599 offer opportunities to design various types of independent studies. All are offered for variable credit, ranging from 2-12 credit hours. Credit for a course at UIS is based on the assumption that a typical 4 credit course meets 3 1/2 hours a week for 16 weeks (56 hours) and that a typical student spends 2 hours of outside preparation time for every hour in class (112 hours). 56 + 112 = 168 hours. Consult program information and your faculty sponsor to determine the appropriate course and number of credit hours for the project you have in mind.

Your faculty sponsor is chosen by you from the graduate faculty on the basis of her/his expertise in the topic of your independent study and her/his willingness to be your sponsor. You might also choose a faculty sponsor who might work best with you to stimulate your learning. For example, if you tend to procrastinate, find a sponsor who will work with you on overcoming this.

For each independent study you conduct under the LNT prefix, you must develop an independent study proposal. These forms are available in the LNT office or online at the LNT website [here is the form in Microsoft Word format and here is an optional second part for the objectives, rationale, resources, and so forth, although you can just write these yourself without using this second part of the form if you prefer]. Final forms must be completed prior to registration for the term in which the project is to be conducted.

An “Independent Study Proposal” form indicates a proposed title, topic, method of study, amount of instructor-student contact and means of evaluation, as well as the level of study and the hours of credit sought. With this proposal you will describe what you want to learn, how you intend to learn it, and how your learning will be evaluated. If the faculty member accepts the proposal, s(he) signs the form [PDF version of the Microsoft Word version provided earlier]. The form, along with your description of the independent study [you may use this Microsoft Word form to offer the description if you like] are submitted to the LNT Department Chair or LIS Program Director, and then after their approval the forms and description are given to the dean of the college in which your independent study sponsor is assigned. The dean's office in that college then reviews the proposal, and if it approves, the LNT Department Secretary is given the ability to create an independent study course in the Banner computer system used by the University of Illinois, and after doing that, they will send you an e-mail alerting you to the fact that you will be able to register.

The Independent Study Proposal Form asks you to draw on skills you have utilized in creating your degree proposal. Specifically, it directs your attention to the following questions:

  1. What do you want to learn? (Objectives)
  2. Why do you want to learn it? (Rationale)
  3. What resources are available for you to draw on? (Resources)
  4. How do you plan to use the resources to meet the objectives? (Work Plan)
  5. How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your work? How will you document your learning? (Evaluation/Documentation)
  6. When will you accomplish this learning? (Tentative Schedule)

    Consult your sponsoring faculty member to obtain assistance in clarifying these components of your study. If a resource person outside the university will be involved in your study, s/he should also participate in the planning process.

SPECIFICS: HOW TO DEVELOP A PROPOSAL

Objectives

The goal is to write objectives that are clear, understandable, and realistic. Can you state clearly and in detail what you want to learn? To formulate your learning objectives, ask yourself: Which learning needs from my LNT degree proposal can I meet in this project? What information and understanding do I want to acquire? What skills do I want to learn or improve? Why? To clarify further your objectives, continue by asking yourself: What attitudes do I want to develop or change? Why? How and where will I use this information, skill, or attitude? How much of it do I need? How will I behave differently or what will be changed when I am finished? What do I want to be able to do when the project is finished? How many learning objectives do I want to set? How much time do I really have?

Learning objectives maybe stated in a variety of ways. Some can refer to specific skills and levels of competence. Others may be more general, and exploratory, perhaps becoming clearer as you proceed. Many behavioristic approaches require that objectives be stated in terms of specific, measurable, behavioral outcomes. It may be helpful to think of learning objectives in terms of the discrepancy between where you are now and where you would like to be in the future with respect to a particular competence or ability or level of understanding. Precise outcomes may or may not be useful to you.

Objectives are often written in the form of observable activities which you will be able to do at the project’s completion. Describe what you intend to learn using verbs such as identify, distinguish, compare, contrast, solve, differentiate, write, construct, apply, describe, demonstrate, communicate, draw, role play, list, critique, etc. Not all learning needs can be described adequately in this way, as the totality of that experience is more than information, skills, and attitudes.

Rationale:

When you have completed the objectives section, ask yourself, “Why do I want to learn this?” Your answer should place the objectives within the larger context of your educational goals. How do your objectives relate to your overall degree plan? Refer to your Autobiography, Goals, and Learning Needs from your LNT degree proposal.

Which Learning Needs are you meeting within the framework of this independent study? Why do you need to acquire this information/skill/attitude? How is your Independent Study Proposal congruent with some component of the larger picture presented in your degree proposal?

Resources:

What relevant resources (people, books, films, laboratories, agencies, etc.) do you have available? You may find it helpful (a) to identify some of these resources by thinking of specific activities you will engage in to accomplish your learning and then (b) to ask what resources each activity makes use of. Attach lists of relevant materials (bibliography, film lists, etc.) to your Proposal.

Work Plan and Tentative Schedule:

How do you plan to use the resources and facilities to meet your learning objectives? Each learning objective should be addressed by one or more learning activities. Each activity should correspond to one or more of your stated learning objectives. Traditional approaches include attending lectures, participating in small group discussions, reading and expressing your reactions on paper or in discussion groups, examination, laboratory experiments, painting, photography, etc. Non-traditional approaches might include travel and discussion, film or videotape production, “hands-on” experience, writing a book or manual, building or creating something, keeping a journal, organizing a conference, etc.

When you have a tentative plan, consider a time frame. Try to stay within the framework of the university semester. Under “Tentative Schedule” indicate when the various activities of your plans will take place and when you will complete work on the concrete components of the plan. Schedule may be daily, weekly, and/or monthly task completion dates and/or specific deadline or performance dates. Include the frequency of contact with your faculty sponsor and the proposed completion dates for various stages of the project.

The work plan should reflect your thinking about how you are actually going to carry out your learning project. What logical sequence will you follow? What step-by-step procedure will you develop to complete your study?

Evaluation/Documentation:

What evidence will you produce to demonstrate to yourself and others that you have achieved your objectives? Documentation will largely consist of the products you have created as a result of your learning activities. These products may include research papers, copies of surveys, transcripts of interviews, video or audio tapes, maps, reports, letters sent and received, samples of work, products of artistic activity, records of experiments, performances, journals, etc. Discuss documentation methods with your faculty sponsor.

What criteria will be used to evaluate each piece of evidence? Criteria may differ for each learning objective and for each piece of evidence. Some criteria traditionally used in evaluating academic work include scholarliness and comprehensiveness of a written work, frequency and substance of journal entries, relevance of research completed, correctness of grammar or math, presence or absence of specified qualities in a performance, number of survey forms completed, usefulness of study, notes, etc.

If you experience difficulty in selecting criteria, ask yourself what aspects, traits, or characteristics of this piece of evidence are most important or meaningful and are most likely to clearly demonstrate that you achieved your learning objective?

Having selected criteria, what standards will you apply as you look at them? Standards imply judgment in terms of the criteria along a scale of values in order to determine the quality of that which is being judged. To set standards, ask what quantity or what degree of the specified criteria must be present (or absent) in the evidence in order to determine attainment of the learning objective. Ask: what level, how close to the ideal, how many, how few, how frequent, how fast, how clear, how graceful, how much, how long, etc.? Confer with your project evaluators about criteria and standards early in your study.

Your faculty sponsor usually will be the person to evaluate the evidence of your learning. You may also choose an external resource person (non-UIS faculty, or UIS faculty who isn't a graduate faculty, such as adjunct faculty) with an expertise in your area of interest. In that case, the external resource person would be involved in the planning and would communicate with your UIS faculty sponsor. Usually, your LNT faculty advisor or another LNT faculty would agree to do this for you. Note that there is a signature space on the form for an external resource person should you be using one. It is helpful to include information about your external resource person’s expertise and contact information with your proposal. Grading for independent studies and explorations is usually CR/NC, although you have the option of doing the independent study for a letter grade. Your faculty sponsor will take your criteria and documentation into consideration in order to assign a grade for the course.

As you progress in your learning, you may wish to make changes in your Independent Study Proposal. Very often our ideas change as we work on a project. Simply consult with your faculty sponsor (and any other key resource persons) when you need to modify your description of the work you intend. Substantial departures from your original proposal must be negotiated with all parties involved. Amended proposals may have to be submitted.

HELPFUL HINTS

LNT faculty strongly recommend that you and your faculty sponsor schedule a series of conferences to pace your reading or research, to set deadlines, and to commit yourself to a time frame.

Be realistic about how many hours you have to spend on your project. What other demands on your time are there? Are you trying to do more than you have time or energy for? How much can you reasonably accomplish in the time available? Students planning an independent study for the first time often try to do too much. Determine what is central to your goals and what, however relevant, is peripheral and focus your initial efforts on the central. Then, if time permits and it still seems appropriate, you can turn to some of your less important concerns. Of course, you will want to avoid the other extreme of making your project so narrow that it achieves only part of what you most wanted to do.

Then, too, your project need not be overly conventional. You may find it helpful to engage in fantasy as a means of stimulating thoughts and ideas:

The more fully we are conscious of dreams, daydreams,
fantasies – i.e., free associations – the more likely we are
to be in touch with what our total organism desires ….
Potent action arises when the organism is in touch with
fullness of its desire, has explored in imagination and
fantasy the probable results of alternative acts, and has
taken the risk of decision and commitment to one among
many possibilities.
(Sam Keen, To a Dancing God)

Independent study should be a learning experience in which you challenge yourself, grow, and develop new skills and ideas. Then, too, while your resource people will be concerned to keep you mindful of appropriate standards, you can generally count on them as wanting most of all to be helpful and supportive. Do not be afraid to be adventuresome.


ADMINISTRATIVE STEPS TO REGISTER FOR LIS INDEPENDENT STUDY

  1. Before proceeding make sure you have an approved LNT degree proposal. This independent study should be listed in the degree plan that your LNT committee approved. If not, you need to touch bases with your committee and explain what you are doing and why.
  2. Draft an initial outline using categories from the LNT Independent Study Proposal. It's helpful at this time to have specific books, articles, and assignments in mind. Specify page lengths, and perhaps do a time use budget to show how you'll be using the 168 hours for a 4-unit independent study (or whatever unit-length you'll be doing).
  3. Identify a faculty sponsor for your project who has expertise in your content area. Identifying an external resource may also be appropriate. Contact your faculty sponsor using the draft outline as a starting point. You might contact other faculty who would not sponsor your independent study, but who would give you useful suggestions for readings and contacts you could follow in your independent study.
  4. When you and your sponsor have agreed on the nature of your project, complete the final version of the proposal and have the sponsor sign the LNT Independent Study Proposal form (also known as the Blue Form).
  5. Be sure also to include a detailed description of your independent study with the proposal form. The detailed description has the objectives, rationale, resoruces, work plan, evaluation/documentation, and tentative schedule. We have a Microsoft Word form you may use for this, or you can just write one up on your own to go along with the Blue Form. If you're doing this as an online student, you can ask the LNT Program secretary to help you initiate the process to have signatures collected so you can get your permission to begin the registration process. Sometimes a student worker or the LNT Graduate Assistant can go knock on some doors or leave a form in a faculty member’s mailbox.
  6. While your faculty sponsor is signing the LNT Independent Study Proposal form there is a second form you and they will need to sign. This second form is the one used to have the Registrar put a name (of 30-characters or fewer) in your transcript, so that your independent study or thesis or project or guided study will have short descriptive name.
  7. Your faculty sponsor (or the program secretary, or program graduate assistant) will forward the two forms to the LNT Director. You and your sponsor may each want to keep a copy of the proposal for your records. In fact, please do that, in case the forms you submit are mislaid and lost (it happens sometimes).
  8. The LNT director will forward the two forms and any other supporting materials to the Dean of the college of your faculty sponsor for this project. The Dean’s office will sign off on the Permission for Individualized Instruction form and return the forms to the LNT Program Office where the course can then be entered in the computer system to the Office of Admissions and Records.
  9. You will be notified of the reference number of your independent study in order so that you may register for the course.
  10. Plan ahead. It is not easy to get all of these signatures at the last minute. Begin to work on your proposal in the semester before you plan to actually register.

If you plan to do an independent study in the spring semester, use late September or early October to contact faculty to ask about the possibility of working with them. Use October to refine and revise your proposal. In November, get the forms turned in so you can register for the spring semester independent study. If you haven’t approached any faculty about an indpendent study before Thanksgiving, you can pretty much forget about getting an independent study for the spring. If you want an independent study in the summer or fall semester, start reaching out to faculty in February or March. Get the independent study proposal finished and gather signatures by early April, so that you will be able to register for the course in late April. If you wait until early April to approach faculty it’s very unlikely you will be able to schedule a summer independent study, but a fall independent study may be possible. Don’t count on being able to reach any faculty member between May 15 and August 15, as faculty are usually on a nine-month contract, and many of them stop checking e-mail and university phone messages during the three months when they are off contract (and not paid).

 

Five general types of independent studies:

When should you take independent studies, and what sort of independent studies are most useful? Generally speaking, there are five types of independent studies, and three times to take them.

  1. Introductory comprehensive courses of your self-created discipline. Early or toward the middle of your studies.
  2. Experiential learning in your specific area of focus. Middle or late in your studies.
  3. Independent study to cover undergraduate (non-graduate) course, possibly as a teaching skill development course. Early, middle, or late in your studies.
  4. Preparation for your master’s thesis or project. Late in your studies.
  5. Course that is simply a passionate interest of yours, possibly a course at UIS you can’t take because of logistics. Early, middle, or late in your studies.

One type is a graduate-level survey course of your self-designed discipline or focus of mastery. You may need an independent study like this because there is no course in the UIS catalogue that integrates the fields of knowledge or pre-existing disciplines into a new interdisciplinary discipline such as the one you have created. A full-time graduate student might take this in their first semester following the one in which they took the Graduate Colloquium. Or, you might wait and take courses in the traditional disciplines that contribute to your interdisciplinary (or more highly specialized focus) area during-and-immediately-after Graduate Colloquium, and then do a broad independent study following those postgraduate introductions to the established disciplines.

A second type of independent study is some sort of applied, experiential learning specific to your focus area. Such courses may give you practical experiences in the methods and skills used in scholarship or professional practice in the area you are entering. Such courses might be taken at any time following the Graduate Colloquium.

A third type of independent study involves working with courses at UIS with non-graduate-level designations. One possibility is to create a type of independent study in which you help an instructor with some teaching duties related to a 300-level or 200-level course. You might do all the readings in the undergraduate course, but then do many supplementary readings. You might create model examples of good assignments for students to see how they could do assignments. You might create new assignments and grading rubrics for those assignments. You might create tests or grade tests. Certainly you might prepare lecture notes and give some lectures, lead some small group exercises, or otherwise engage in work that supplements the instructors work as an educator. Another way to do this sort of independent study is to simply take an existing 300-level or 200-level course and add assignments and readings to the undergraduate syllabus so you can do an independent study based on the existing course, but reaching a graduate-level degree of work quality and quantity.

A fourth type of independent study involves preparing for your master’s thesis. This might be an independent study you do in the summer or semester preceding the semester you take Liberal and Integrative Studies (LNT-521, our department’s 3-credit-hour capstone course). You might even do this independent study in the same semester that you take the capstone course. At any rate, this would be an independent study in which you put together everything you need to do in order to have a successful thesis or project as your completion exercise (LNT-550 master’s project or LNT-560 master’s thesis). This could be background work, or doing a survey to collect data, or doing a comprehensive literature review to prepare for your thesis/project.

The final general category of independent study is one in which you simply study something that interests you, that you are passionate about, but something for which there is no existing course at UIS, or the existing course will not be taught at a time or in a way that you will be able to take it.

Two damselflies

Trilobite

Dimentrodon

Farmland

Brookens Hall (Library)

Clowns at Capitol

Critical Mass

Allerton Park

Otter

Sangamon River

Shells

Scholars in library

Washington Park

Conservatory

Carillon

Old Illinois Factory

Brewhaus

Students in Taiwan

Children playing at the City Museum

Hay wagon

Agriculture

Medicine

Hoe Corn

Justice