Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment (ISA)

Experience Based Learning: The Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment (ISA) Essay Submission Process 

The University of San Francisco recognizes that learning is a lifelong journey that can take place in a variety of settings. In support of this principle, the University has developed a process that allows Bachelor of Science in Management (BSM) students to earn up to 21 credits for learning acquired outside the traditional classroom. You may write essays for credit in any area of learning listed in Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment: Essay Submissions Handbook. A content expert will evaluate each essay to determine if you will be awarded credit for that essay.

You begin to prepare your essays during writing workshops that comprise part of the curriculum for INTD 310 “Interdisciplinary Research and Writing,” the first course you encounter in your undergraduate degree completion program. This course will assist you in preparing the experience-based learning research essays and also help you to develop the critical reasoning and writing skills you need to successfully complete your bachelor’s degree.

ISA Submission Deadlines
All Fall semester admits: August 15th
All Spring semester admits: December 15th
All submissions due no later than 5pm


What will I do in INTD 310, Interdisciplinary Research and Writing?

This course serves many purposes. It has been designed in part to give students the tools to express themselves appropriately in an academic environment. Some of the topics to be covered in this course include: how to write essays and construct arguments using a variety of writing strategies; how to research a topic and integrate that research into an essay; how to uncover and pursue a thesis for papers on a variety of subjects; and how to properly format and document research for a formal essay. Students will address many writing issues, including grammar, structure, and editing, and the use of voice as a rhetorical strategy. In addition, this course will guide students through the creation of their Interdisciplinary Studies Assessment (ISA).  The ISA is a collection of formalized accounts in essay form of experiences adult students have had throughout the course of their lives that yield knowledge equivalent to college level course work.

What is the ISA Handbook?

The ISA Handbook contains learning outcomes for a variety of academic disciplines. Students make selections based on past experience judged to be substantial enough to meet the learning outcomes of assignments in this book and to satisfy their individual degree requirements.  Experience alone does not earn credits.  The student must demonstrate the ability to explain the experience in a research-based critical essay.  

What are ISA essays and how do I prepare them?

ISA essays are collections of formalized accounts in essay form of experiences adult students have had throughout the course of their lives that yield knowledge equivalent to college level course work.  Experience -based essay credit (ISA) comes from several components.  The key elements include describing personal experience with the subject and integrating scholarly, resource material appropriate for college-level learning with that personal experience in an analytical fashion.   Essays that describe the student’s experiences but fail to analyze them will not receive credit.  Nor will students receive credit for essays that relate theory but do not apply it to the student’s own experiences.  The successful essay describes, then analyzes.  An essay must do both–credits cannot be awarded to an essay that does only one or the other.

The essays should both tell the story of personal experience and analyze that experience based on the chosen academic resources, in some cases exploring other options and opinions to provide a balanced analysis. The personal experience and analysis need to be integrated throughout the essay, with frequent reference to cited material that supports the analysis.  Essays that primarily relate personal narratives without academic analysis, or that are weak in integrating resources with the personal experience will not receive credit. Essays with no substantial personal experience with the subject or those without scholarly resources on the subject will receive no credit.

May I write on topics not offered in the ISA Handbook?

Essays may only be written in content areas identified in the ISA Handbook. Students may have many profound experiences from their life prior to being USF students but the ISA Handbook may not have course equivalents for many of these experiences. The ISA Handbook is not intended to be comprehensive of life experience, but representative of the kinds of experiences that match curriculum offerings at USF.

A thoughtful and extended look at the handbook may reveal surprising opportunities to write an essay. For example, a student who became a patient advocate after watching his parent die from cancer cannot write an essay that gives him biology or health science credit, but he can incorporate his experience as shaped by the disease, into an essay for theology/religious studies: Death and Dying. Part of the role of your instructor is to help students creatively explore the options offered in the ISA Handbook, but with the caveat that the experience must be authentic.

How is experience measured in ISA essays?

To possess sufficient experience to write an ISA essay a student is not restricted to first hand experiences. We believe that this may limit opportunities and also not be in the spirit of the ISA process. For a wider interpretation of experience, we believe that if the student has had a strong, personal, and engaged relationship with someone, then he or she may write about that person as part of an experience-based essay process.

For example, if one had grandparents whom one knew well and from whom one acquired stories of World War II, then that would be acceptable experience for writing a History essay, even if the student wasn't in the war him/herself. Reading about WW II without any personal connection is not acceptable. Likewise, if one had an immediate family member, partner, or close friend who suffered disease or addiction and can document one's experience with that person's ordeal, then that is acceptable, too.

Students must document by some description the depth and quality of the relationship as sufficient to make the experience personal as opposed to personally having the experience. A close and personal relationship that influences deeply the life of a student does qualify as personal experience to which a student can apply his or her ability to explain the experience in a research-based critical essay.

What is the role of the writing instructor?

Writing instructors are responsible for leading in-class writing workshops that prepare students to compose ISA essays. In these workshops students will identify content areas likely for development, build thesis statements that combine an observation about their experience with a critical interpretation of that experience, research appropriate and helpful sources, and outline their paper plans. Writing instructors evaluate student work for their literary and stylistic content, including correct usage and documentation of sources; writing instructors do not assess essays for ISA credit. Assessing essays for their eventual success in earning credits through the evaluation process is not the purview of the writing instructor. The writing instructor is grading the essay for its success as a composition; the evaluator is determining the student’s knowledge and experience in the subject.

Furthermore, instructors are not responsible for suggesting essay topics for students. Essay topic selection is the responsibility of each individual student who alone is the best judge of his/her competence to meet learning outcomes in a specific content area. Only the student has the necessary knowledge to assess his/her experience. The responsibility to demonstrate learning lies with the student, not the writing instructor or the evaluator.

What if I need help with writing after INTD 310 has concluded?

The university has provided for the ongoing development of ISA essays (which may be submitted on a rolling basis up to a year after entering the program—see below) by making available to BSM students the services of a writing tutor. After the conclusion of INTD 310, your instructor will provide information on how to contact the tutor and how to best take advantage of this resource. The writing tutor will not advise you on essay selection or on the evaluation process itself. Like your writing instructor, the writing tutor cannot assess essays for their eventual success in earning credits through the evaluation. Nor is the writing tutor a proofreader or a copyeditor. The writing tutor can help with matters of style and grammar to insure that students are communicating effectively and deploying their prior learning experience to the best advantage to show its equivalency to traditional classroom learning.

Also, all USF students may avail themselves of the USF Learning and Writing Center for additional help. Contact the Center at:

 http://www.usfca.edu/writingcenter/

What are the style requirements for ISA essays?

Experience-based essays submitted for ISA credit must be 8-12 pages, 12-point font, and 1” margins. Papers should be composed and submitted in MS Word. Students should number the pages and put their name in a header to appear on each page. When citing sources, students should use either the MLA or APA style (both of which will be covered in INTD 310).  Which of these a student should choose for a particular discipline is indicated in the upper right hand corner of the page in question. Students are also advised to submit their papers for analysis through Turnitin to insure academic integrity. Any essay submission may be submitted to Turnitin at the discretion of an ISA evaluator. (Please see Appendix B: University Honor Code on page 119 of this handbook.) Students are required to draw on at least two substantive academic sources and to meet all the learning outcomes to receive credit.

What are considered acceptable sources?

Students requiring help finding relevant source material should consult a USF reference librarian. For all essays students are required to integrate at least two academic sources from the relevant disciplinary field into the essay. Sources may not be merely cosmetic.  They must come from and meaningfully engage relevant authorities in the field in which the essay is written.  Wikipedia, for example, is a helpful place to start your research and may point you in the general direction of appropriate academic sources to consult. But Wikipedia itself is not an acceptable source.

A rubric that evaluators use to assess your ISA essays is included in this handbook. We encourage students to consult this rubric as a final checklist to make sure they have met all the necessary requirements to receive prior learning credit. Also provided are samples of ISA evaluation forms that you will receive in the event that you did not receive credit for your essay. These forms will explain why the evaluator did not award you credit for the essay.

Must I write ISA essays?

Students who need few or no credits through the essay submission process need turn in only the number of essays that address their individual needs and the class requirements. 

Who advises me concerning issues of degree completion throughout my program?

A University Advisor will advise you throughout the completion of your degree program. This advisor will explain what options are available to you for completing your degree requirements. The advisor for BSM students is Alyssa Soboleski. You can reach her at dcadvising@usfca.edu or 415-422-5786.

How many credits may I acquire through the essay submission process?

You may earn a maximum of twenty-one (21) credits. Students may write up to seven (7) course equivalent essays that will earn three (3) credits each for meeting course equivalent standards; otherwise students receive no credit. Essays are worth three credits based on the number of credits students can earn through a CLEP exam or transfer credit. If students write in a subject area that also satisfies the U-core requirement, the subject area requirement will be satisfied; but students still need to achieve the overall required U-core credits for graduation. Please consult your academic advisor for additional information on options to meet graduation requirements.

May I write essays on more than one topic in a given discipline?

Yes you may write essays on more than one topic in a given discipline but you may not write on the same topic twice. For example, you may write several essays in Theology or Communication. You may not, however, write more than one essay in a given topic (only one Spiritual Autobiography, for example).

When do I submit my essays?

Essays are submitted electronically. You will receive instructions for how to submit essays near the conclusion of INTD 310. Instructions also can be found on page 118 of this handbook (Appendix A: ISA Essay Submission Instructions).

How do I submit essays?

Essays are submitted electronically. Please reference Appendix A of this handbook for ISA Essay Submission Instructions. Instructions also are included on the flash drive you received at Orientation, as well as emailed to you during your INTD 310 class.

What happens to the essays after I turn them in?

Essays are evaluated by academics in relevant fields. The credits earned through your essays are entered on your USF transcript. These credits are un-graded and do not affect your USF grade point average. The earned credits may satisfy some Core Curriculum requirements or elective credits. Course Equivalents that satisfy Core Curriculum will be indicated accordingly. Otherwise, they will satisfy general electives. On average, BSM students experience an 85% success rate at having their essays evaluated as meriting 3 credits for prior learning. 

What if I receive no credit for my essay?

Students will receive an evaluation report when essays receive no credit. The student may submit a new essay on the same topic that satisfies the missing rubric standards as identified by the evaluator’s report. A student may not resubmit an essay on the same topic if the inadequacy identified by the evaluator was insufficient experience. Then there can be no resubmission because there never should have been one in the first place. Essays that receive no credit because the evaluator cited a lack of personal experience cannot be revised on the same topic. 

But if the evaluator indicates that an essay was awarded no credit because of other rubric measures that were inadequately met (page length, inadequate or insufficient sources), then the student may write an essay on the same topic. It is assumed, however, that it is new essay because it was written to meet all the rubric criteria that were absent in the first essay.

For example, Jane Doe loves the theatre and wants to write an essay on Theatre Production and Performance. The essay is returned by the evaluator with no credit because Jane had never actually participated in the production of a theatre performance. Jane, however, is a theatre aficionado and very much wants to write about her experience. So she can use some of what she produced for her original essay, describing aspects of theatre design and production and possibly her research, but this time she is writing an essay for Theatre Arts Appreciation, where her experience as a season ticket holder for 20 years at Berkeley Rep gives her the experience to write authoritatively about her knowledge and love of the theatre. This new essay, which may have elements used in the original essay, may then earn 3 credits on evaluation. Or maybe the essay still has deficiencies; Jane neglected to include two sources and wrote 20 pages instead of 12. The essay would again be returned by the evaluator with no credit, but in this case what needed to be corrected was not the valid documentation of experience but an inattention to detail and essay requirements. Jane may finally produce an essay that uses elements of the deficient essay but adds the missing elements and eventually earn 3 credits. 

Students who do not wish to develop an essay on the same topic may write on another topic for course equivalent credit.

After submitting my essays, how long until I get my results?

Generally this takes about twelve weeks.

What is the privacy policy on essays?

Only the writing instructor and the evaluator read essays. Instructors do not discuss personal material from the essays with anyone. In rare cases, if an evaluator’s decision is appealed, the Director of Interdisciplinary Studies may read the essay. This only occurs at the student’s request.

Is there a minimum grade policy in INTD 310?

You must receive a C- or higher to successfully complete INTD 310. Those who do not meet the minimum grade requirement must repeat the course and may be placed on academic probation.