Good Reads on Community Colleges

Diversifying the student body is on the academic radar when examining the student population at colleges and universities across the nation. But diversity is not just about race. It involves the whole sector of students we see on the campuses of community colleges across the nation.

These students may include ones who are first generation college students, ones who dropped out or were not encouraged to continue their education beyond high school. It includes students who come from poverty, crime-ridden urban areas, or depressed rural spaces. It may include working adults returning to school to try and improve their income potential, a stay-at-home mother who needed to develop job skills to return to the workforce, or the factory worker whose job was outsourced to China. And it also includes students whose parents may be concerned about their child’s ability to stand up on their own far from the family support system. Whatever the reason that brings a student here, community colleges provide educational opportunities for some of the most diverse learners in higher education.

With that in mind, three recent articles are worthy of your attention and are shared with you here.

Why Elite Institutions Need to Welcome Students From Community Colleges

This is an opinion piece written by Laura Huober who made the auspicious transfer from Santa Monica (Community) College to Amherst College, an elite private liberal arts college. Her story demonstrates how, with the right supports, community college transfer students not only can thrive, they can make a valuable contribution to the learning environment.

The Challenge of the First-Generation Student

In this article, the First Generation student includes many who are also first generation Americans, as well as the first in their families to go to college. The article examines the tension regarding the stories of first-generation students who reach elite institutions, and the majority who are served by community colleges.

When elite institutions like Smith, Amherst College, or Harvard University enroll significant numbers of first-generation students, their stories are often splashed across the news. But regional state universities and community colleges have been identifying and supporting these students for decades, through federal TRIO programs, a collection of outreach and student-services efforts geared toward low-income students.”

Looking Beyond the Data to Help Students Succeed

In this article, Katherine Mangan addresses one of the hottest topics at the American Association of Community Colleges annual convention held this week – predictive analytics and retention strategies. What makes this article a good read is the recognition that numbers alone don’t tell us what to do and are only part of the equation on predicting success. Examining best practices, reinventing success strategies to work with our community college student demographics, and implementing them in a thoughtful way – these all help frame data as a reference tool to inform the choices made on how to support students. Those choices may include mentoring, i.e. creating a social connection to help support the student, addressing grit and other noncognitive traits that can make or break a student’s ability to succeed. Tools such as SuccessNavigator can help identify the characteristics that can undermine a student as they manage the intricate balance of academics and life.

Advertisements

Perspectives on the role of the CTL at the Community College

Ultimately, our success in the CTL is measured by how we support those who make student success possible!

Ultimately, our success in Mott Community College’s Center for Teaching & Learning is measured by how we support those who make student success possible!

By Mara Jevera Fulmer, Ed.D., MFA

As Faculty Director for Mott Community College’s Center for Teaching & Learning, I  had a bit of a learning curve  in order to fully embrace the role the CTL has on our campus. So I thought that with this entry in our blog I would share both the general idea of CTLs and how we have utilized this center at our community college.

What IS a CTL?

This is a conversation that usually begins when someone asks me where I work. In Summer 2014, I was offered the opportunity to be reassigned to Mott’s Center for Teaching & Learning on a fulltime basis. Previously, I served as the Program Coordinator for Graphic Design and a fulltime professor for the program that I had developed over 18 years ago. It was my baby and, just like a young adult, it needed a new direction which happily came through the leadership from one of my former students – now a fulltime colleague in the department.

But to answer the question: What IS a CTL? That required MY understanding to grow as I, among many people on campus, did not fully understand the CTL’s connection to professional development. Although I occasionally attended events or offered a workshop through the CTL, I did not understand the center’s more comprehensive objectives and the role it played. I was truly ignorant of its potential utilization. Guilty as charged. What I learned was that the CTL at campuses across the USA have a variety of names, but generally focus on supporting faculty – new and experienced – in improving their teaching effectiveness in order to improve student success. It all comes under the heading of Professional Development.

Everything is framed with two main goals: to improve ALL employees’ effectiveness in doing their job, so that ALL of us can work together to improve student success.

I spent my first few months learning all about Mott’s CTL and what role I might play in its activities. Professional Development seems like such a formal and “enforced” activity rather than the organic nature in which a faculty member usually seeks to “develop” in their discipline, especially in the arts where my roots lie. But at Mott, the CTL does much more than offer PD activities for faculty. There is a concerted effort to reach out to staff from all levels across the campus for their PD needs, to provide a center for gathering for college employee conversations, and to create opportunities for enrichment that can help open up creative and innovative thinking for all of our employees, all of which will lead to improving our job effectiveness.

At Mott, as I’m sure is the case at most community colleges, students, after all, are the reason we are here.

Bridging Departments & Disciplines through Hosted Meetings, Workshops & Special Events

The CTL at the community college becomes an effective tool for bridging departments and disciplines, creating peer-to-peer support, and introducing new techniques and learning theories that can help us with our most challenging students. At Mott, the CTL focuses on faculty and staff, bringing people together to share their expertise, discoveries, and insights in order to help each of us become more effective.

We also host special events coordinated with other local higher ed institutions to bring in nationally recognized leaders in teaching and learning. These events are used to tip off a year-long conversation, additional workshops, and peer-to-peer explorations. To help offset the costs of these speakers, Mott is a member of a local Quad POD with three other post-secondary institutions who share in the planning and programming of these special events.

To connect our work to students, we’ve utilized techniques such as a “Human Library” where individuals with historical and personal experience on an important topic share their stories and help bring history to life. Students attend as part of their coursework because their instructors have coordinated with the CTL to create an experience that will help bring depth and breadth to their learning.

Embracing Service & Experiential Learning

As a CTL at a community college in an urban area, we also facilitate Service and Experiential learning opportunities, including having a reassigned faculty member with leadership in this area. Not only do we offer support for faculty to incorporate S&E into their courses, we also coordinate with community organizations to involve faculty, staff, and even students for Service Saturdays. These special Saturdays can involve anything from building a home with Habitat for Humanity, to cleaning up the Flint Riverfront or Durant Park. And just because we are now into our “slower” Summer season for regular faculty activities, it doesn’t mean we have any fewer volunteer opportunities and participation. Beginning with a Volunteer Fair that occurred near the end of the Winter semester in April, we identified organizations that would fit well with the Service Saturday theme and have promoted these and other community events to encourage college staff, and the faculty still on campus, to be involved in the college’s community. In our regular 2014 Fall/Winter semesters, our Service Saturdays alone included over 900 man hours of volunteer time.

Technology & Work Productivity

Of course, the CTL at Mott offers a wide variety of workshops on technology and work productivity. We have reassigned faculty experts who are available to help their peers get the most out of our Learning Management Systems. Our staff IT experts use the CTL to share broader-based technology content, and there are occasional external experts who share their specific knowledge on a subject. As opportunities and interest arise, we connect with expertise in the community and region to offer training in everything from activities for personal enrichment, to new theoretical teaching models and their applications to improving student success. And, not to ignore health and wellness, the CTL provides a venue for workshops that improve the health and wellbeing of our campus community.

Adapting for Future Needs

The CTL at Mott is continuously updating their approach, scanning the environment for where we can best serve our audience – the faculty and staff of the college. Recently, after hosting a series of large task force meetings on student and employee experiences, we began to address those meeting outcomes in our programming plans for Summer and Fall. In addition, our college is part of the first Cohort in Michigan to implement Guided Pathways, and the CTL has risen to the challenge of providing support for that effort through workshops that help faculty and staff create and understand how to work with students using the Guided Pathways.

The exciting part of working in Mott’s Center for Teaching & Learning is that it never stays the same. We have the ability to seek out opportunities to support all members of the college community in ways that can truly have a positive impact. Yes, it can be challenging to find ways to improve attendance amidst the hugely busy schedules of our audience. But that is but one challenge among many, one that we don’t take lightly and are continuously examining ways to deliver our services to help improve access for our programs. Whether we hit it right, or fail miserably, we try and learn from it. Our goal, however, is to be the best resource possible to support our college faculty and staff so that, ultimately, our students will be the true winners. That’s the best way I can think of to measure our success.

Now Some Questions for you!

Do you ever attend programs at your college’s Center for Teaching & Learning (or it’s name variety)?

Are you involved in developing programs for a CTL?

How does your CTL attract/schedule/plan in order to achieve the best attendance and effectiveness?

Write back in the comments to share your thoughts about the questions above, or other things you’d like to share.

Thank you!

New Additions to the Offsite Conferences & Opportunities

Staff and Faculty should take advantage of local, regional and national opportunities to participate in conference and training that are of importance to their careers and the college.

Take a look at the updated list shared here.

In the meantime, hope the semester is going well for all our educators out there!

Reflecting on the Continuing Challenges of Teaching at Community Colleges

mott-DSC_0003

As we take this time to look back upon 2014, those of us who teach and work at community colleges may consider how much our work has reached the attention of the nation. The challenges posed in educating our students are not completely lost on observers and critics. But when focusing upon the statistics often featured at the center of official reports and white papers, it is easy to miss the narratives of the main stakeholders, the students and educators.

A recent New York Times article highlights some of these challenges as told through the story of Dr. Eduardo Vianna, a psychology professor at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, arguably one of the most diverse community colleges in the nation. The article, “Raising Ambitions: The Challenge in Teaching at Community Colleges” by Ginia Bellafante and published December 19, 2014, reminds us of the important role our institutions play in educating nearly half of all undergraduates nationally. Even more so, community colleges see the majority of our students coming from the “lower half of the income distribution.” Along with this come many challenges in terms of the lack of preparation for college, including poor analytical and critical thinking skills. Yet those skills are vital to meeting the demands of economic mobility and growth.

To create a world of young people skilled at analysis, you first need to create a world of young people receptive to complexity, and many of Dr. Vianna’s students, he said ‘cringe at complexity.’
– G. Bellafante, NY Times, 12/19/14

Many of us who teach at these institutions will recognize elements of the story from our own classroom experiences. Vianna shares how his students found it difficult to assess evidence from data posed to them that conflicted with their own assumptions. By way of example, he shares how he gave his students an assignment based on the work of psychologist Edward C. Tolman. The graph they were reviewing showed that rats could learn to navigate a maze without extrinsic rewards, yet the students could not see this and came to the opposite conclusions.

“Often learning requires changing one’s position toward some issue and they resist this.”
– Dr. Eduardo Vianna

To help prepare incoming students to meet the expectations of critical and conceptual thinking, many community colleges have begun requiring students to take a first year seminar course. The courses also connect students to faculty in their majors, another important aspect in student engagement, according to much of the published research. Community college educators are also leading the way towards facilitating learning rather than simply lecturing facts, involving students in more active learning and collaboration, and offering continuous forms of low-stakes assessment. These are all parts of the arsenal of techniques meant to improve student engagement. These and other pedagogical approaches are addressed in a forthcoming book “Taking Teaching Seriously: Why Pedagogy Matters! that includes contributions by Dr. Gail O. Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College.

At Columbia’s Community College Research Center, assistant director Melinda Karp suggests that in order to engage our students in academic discourse, a more constructivist approach may be necessary, one that involves more active and collaborative learning. These techniques have already been embraced by many community college educators. Bringing it mainstream requires sharing it college-wide.

As we reflect upon the needs of our students, at the Center for Teaching & Learning at Mott Community College, as with similar centers at community colleges around the country, we understand the role of professional development opportunities in addressing the issues raised in the NY Times article. Just as with the students we teach, sharing among our colleagues about successes gained, while working through the challenges, can help community college educators – faculty and staff alike – meet the challenges of raising the ambitions – and ultimately the success – of the students we serve.

With warm wishes for the holidays and beyond!

Measuring Faculty Attitudes towards Technology & Online Learning

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 2.24.57 PM

Only about 9% of faculty surveyed in a recent Gallup study published by Inside Higher Ed said they would “strongly agree” that online courses have similar achievement levels for student learning outcomes compared to face-to-face courses. Titled The 2014 Inside Higher Ed Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology, the survey reveals an apparent disconnect between the attitudes of technology officers and faculty on how well online courses address 8 quality factors for online learning.

The authors of the study identified quality factors for online courses for their survey:

1) Ability to deliver the necessary content to meet learning objectives.

2) Ability to answer student questions.

3) Interaction with students during class.

4) Interaction with students outside of class.

5) Grading and communicating about grading.

6) Communication with the college about logistical and other issues.

7) Ability to reach “at risk” students.

8) Ability to reach “exceptional” students.

In general, the authors reported that the majority of Technology officers rated these factors as being equivalent or better than in-person courses. Faculty were a bit more ambivalent indicating that only four of those quality factors might be equivalent for online courses to in-person courses. For instance, 50% indicated that online courses had the ability to meet learning outcomes that were the same for both formats. And 72% of faculty said online was the same or better than in-person for grading or communicating about grades.

On the flip side, 77% of faculty responded that they felt online teaching had a much lower potential to reach at-risk students compared to in-person. For institutions such as Mott, measures have been taken to make sure that students who are identified as at-risk (i.e. lower GPA, attendance, placement test results indicating remediation) cannot register for online-only courses before addressing these issues.

The results are not all negative, however. According to the study’s authors:

More than 8 in 10 instructors say they have converted a face-to-face course to a hybrid course.

This may be in part because a large portion (78%) already use learning management systems to share some basic information such as syllabi, grades, and general communications. Just over half (51%) of faculty agree that more active learning – or what José Antonio Bowen referred to as Teaching Naked – can be done with the flipped classroom approach of blended or hybrid courses.

In reviewing the data shared in the report, it is interesting to note a few elements that were not highlighted by the authors in their summary. For instance, 56% of the respondents fell between the ages of 50-69 with another 6% aged 70 and older. Among faculty, 49% were tenured while 31% were not on any tenure track. Among disciplines represented by faculty, a larger portion – 29% – identified their field with the Humanities, compared to 17% in Social Sciences, 19% in Engineering/Physical Science/Biological Sciences, and only 5% in Computer and Information Sciences. Among faculty 78% who responded were fulltime.

Asked of the technology officers, they indicated that 85% of their institutions offered some blended or hybrid courses, and 73% offered online degree programs. The institutions that were represented in the survey represented a variety, including community colleges (26%), public four-year (26%), private four-year (43%) and for-profit (2%). There were no private two-year institutions represented in the survey respondents.

While the results seem to portray a system that does not have full consensus, there is at least one area where the majority of faculty agree, early warning systems for students at risk of dropping out of their courses do help students. Based on other responses in the survey, and consistent with other research, the early warning system triggers a team response that serves to reach out to the student and provide some kind of intervention before they fail.

Want to read more from this study? It offers some interesting insights into the role of online learning, faculty and technology officer perceptions, and learning outcomes. Download the full study here.

The Quest for Critical Thinking – Essays on one of education’s greatest challenges

critical_thinking

It isn’t enough that we train students to put widget A into slot B so they can fulfill the old-fashioned notion of the manufacturing jobs of the past. Employers nowadays are asking for highly skilled graduates to fill their growing number of positions in the post-recession job market. And among the most commonly-stated job skills are really soft skills that revolve around critical thinking.

What IS critical thinking? It is the notion that we can make reasoned decisions, judgements that are based on analysis of a particular situation, that we can synthesize information, context, and experience and reflect upon it in order to guide our actions.

The authors of the essays in a recent publication – The Quest for Critical Thinking – released by Inside Higher Ed, are flexing the very same intellectual muscles in order to examine how to build that capacity into student learning in higher education. For community colleges, we generally have two-year programs that are designed with two outcomes in mind – occupational preparation for entry-level work in a field upon completion of an Associates degree program, or transfer into a four-year program at a university. Many vocational faculty may bristle at the idea that they must include “general education” – liberal arts courses – into their programs while trying to cram in all of the latest greatest training for in-demand skill-sets. Yet liberal arts faculty have difficulty articulating how their courses can help build those critical thinking skills that can expand the longterm employability of graduates.

Author Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan University and one of the compilation contributors, wrote in his essay “A World Without Liberal Learning,” about the history of American liberal education beginning with Thomas Jefferson and the University of Virginia. Describing Jefferson’s intentions for having students study a broad range of subjects, Roth said that this built a culture of “free inquiry” that would “help build a citizenry of independent thinkers who took responsibility for their actions in the context of their communities and the new Republic.” Roth argues that we must move beyond the concept of “utilitarian training” warning that if we did not, we would be creating graduates who would be unprepared for a fast-changing world and whose skill-sets would become obsolete before too long.

Asking what America would look like if we were to give up on liberal education in favor of purely vocational training, Roth claims  we would be disempowering students, removing stimulation of lifelong learning and inquiry.

We would become a cultural and economic backwater, competing with various regions for the privilege of operationalizing somebody else’s new ideas. (Michael Roth)

In another essay, Patricia Okker, professor of English and interim deputy provost at the University of Missouri at Columbia, argues that the faculty have an important role to play in making the liberal arts relevant. Titled “It’s the Faculty’s Job, too”, Okker describes how she created a course on career exploration that challenges students to start tying their studies together. Students from many disciplines are asked to do much self-reflection on the transferability of skills gained in their liberal arts courses. Elements of constructive criticism, for instance, provides a skill that builds the ability to provide valuable feedback to employees.

Students still need to identify skills specific to their individual experiences and affinities, and they need lots of practice articulating these strengths to potential employers. (Patricia Okker)

Okker argues that faculty in particular disciplines must become willing partners in the career counseling for students in order to help them recognize and understand the transferability of their skills to the workplace.

Other essays in the compilation address the issue of critical thinking from a wide range of perspectives. Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University, for instance, argues that that this is “A False Choice” in her essay. Her institution conducted a survey of stakeholders that found that employers were “sending mixed messages” that a blend of hard and soft skills were still the most highly desirable from business. The confusion lies in that business leaders would often put soft skills at the top of the list while their actions showed that industry-specific skills helped candidates get the job.

Larson encourages the development of courses that “fuse liberal arts and professional skills” combined with experiential learning opportunities that help reinforce the value of these skills. By way of example, she describes a course called “Ethics of Entrepreneurship” which combines critical thinking, writing, and a semester-long project. Another example of fusion is a management course on Interpersonal relations that she says is combined with an English course on women in film that explores how “women are perceived in film and how this can affect management styles.” She indicates that all of this must be combined with an experiential learning opportunity in order to effectively connect the esoteric to hard-skills and that business and industry should be encouraged to play a part in this active-learning.

In yet another essay by Lee Burdette Williams, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, the argument is made that personal maturity plays an important role in education. He breaks this down into four overall equations that exemplify his thinking:

1) A marketable (STEM or other professional focused) major + good interpersonal skills = very likely professional success

2) A liberal arts major +  good interpersonal skills = possible professional success

3) A marketable major without interpersonal skills = possible professional success (some skills, he says, are valuable enough to overlook the lack of interpersonal skills)

4) A liberal arts major without interpersonal skills = not much chance of professional success

His advice to many undecided students:

Major in something you enjoy and do it well. (Lee Burdette Williams)

In everything one does as a student, one should do it well. The campus can be “real world” complete with hassles, disappointments, deadlines, consequences, etc. Williams argues that the discussion needs to shift from an “obsession with the obvious value of a liberal arts education and instead focus on the values of personal maturity, accountability, a sense of proportion and perspective.”

There are many more essays in this publication, all of which are worth the read and tackle the topic of critical thinking from a variety of perspectives. Be sure to download and read the entire compilation here.

Determining the Completion Arch for Community College Students

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.00.44 PM

Over 500 sources of data are now being brought together to create a new educational tool to follow the completion of community college students on national and statewide levels. The Chronicle for Higher Education recently reported about this new tool, called The Completion Arch, being offered by RTI International. Asking “What really happens at Community Colleges?” the new tool is intended to track community college students along five stages of their educational progress: Enrollment, Developmental Education Placement, Progress, Transfer and Completion, and Employment Outcomes. To make the tools more useful, the designers have made every attempt to use the latest data sources. For instance, I was able to pull the Fall 2014 data for the state of Michigan on some basic enrollment characteristics.

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.09.58 PM

 

In addition, when I pulled up transfer and completion for Michigan, it gave me graduation rates for first-time, full-time students. The data showed that among full-time degree or certificate seeking students in Michigan who started in 2009, about 15% graduated within 150% of normal time (2 yrs for Associates degree).

As an aside from me: 15% is a low rate. But for those who work at community colleges, we know that full-time students who are “first-time” in higher education comprise a fairly low percentage of the overall enrollment. A larger portion are returning adults who stop in and out of higher ed, are attending part-time while balancing families and jobs. Their completion rates would be better considered over a 200 or even 300% of “normal” time (100% = 2 years for an Associates degree).

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 2.23.32 PM

The narrative provided beneath each of the charts provides further details in order to understand the data.

Data Challenges

This data tool is an extremely ambitious project and there is strong need for this kind of compilation across the myriad of sources that can influence the direction of community college curriculum, policies and actions. But there are some weaknesses, especially at the state-level information which is either missing all together or incomplete, according to the Chronicle’s author, Max Lewontin, in the article from October 22, 2014.

Although the tool was originally launched in 2012, it has been expanded and the future vision includes possibly allowing community colleges to add their own data to the system. There is a lot of potential to this tool if the data can be compiled with more depth. It is definitely worth looking at, and could even be an interesting tool to discuss with your students on the use of data in decision-making.

You can find The Completion Arch here:

And the Chronicle article here.