The baking classes are second-level courses. The students arrive already knowing how to measure, read a recipe, set up mise en place, and the bare-bones basics of baking. While they are in the Baking class they improve on their mise en place, learn the importance of measuring by weight, experiment with ingredients, and gain a solid baking foundation. From there they can move on to Advanced Baking in which they repeat a lot of the same units with simply more complex recipes. It is quite repetitive in nature and needs a style refresh or a different structure.
I decided last week that applying design empathy to this problem would be a good way to get a student perspective. They were the users of the curriculum and therefore their perspective would give the best clues to how effective it was and how well it was meeting their needs. We were approaching the very end of the first semester and the Advanced Baking students were finishing up and preparing to move on to a new class. This was the perfect time to ask them to be reflective about their experience and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the program. Since I keep a very relaxed conversational tone in the classroom on a daily basis it is quite natural for me to ask the types of questions that I had in mind.
I started by giving each student a list of questions to answer and I encouraged them to be brutally honest in their responses. Not all of the students are comfortable speaking their minds aloud in a group setting and I wanted everyone to have input. They were given 24 hours to work on it because class time was really packed with our final bakeshop experience of the semester in full swing. The surveys came back surprisingly complete. While we worked side by side preparing doughs and batters during the remainder of the week I worked in lots of small group and individual conversations. I was trying to get even more information but I was careful to listen and not lead. Some students were more specific than others but everyone had useful information to share.
The students all felt that they learned a lot in Advanced Baking. They felt that some of the most positive parts of the course were the bakeshop experiences (we take orders from staff once a month and bake to fill the demand) and the freedom to be creative and create new things. Students also identified areas of the course that they felt needed improvement. One of the recurring answers was that students want more time to work on the areas of baking they identify as either their favorites or the ones they need more time to perfect. They felt that they were restricted by the need to follow the predetermined units.
I wasn’t shocked by any of the responses. I feel much the same way the students do and that is why I identified this problem, to begin with. The course could be so much more effective than it is but I want the students to be part of designing the solution. I am looking forward to the adventure ahead of us as we begin the process of designing a new and improved Advanced Baking course.