Hard Conversations and Learning Moments

election_day-flintRegardless of what dot on the ballot you filled in for president, if you are in higher education, you are going to be dealing with discontent at levels not seen in many years. To say that this last presidential election cycle was divisive is an understatement. But if you are an educator in a community college, you may be looking at faces in your classroom that barely contain an underlying current of fear and anger.

Healing is on the horizon. But there is also a valid mistrust of the president-elect based upon the campaign rhetoric that permeated our 24/7 news cycles, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and seeped into daily conversations with colleagues, friends, and neighbors. The conversations, post-election, are no less difficult. In some ways, they are even harder. Mistrust, disbelief, anger, grief, fear…all are understandable responses to the apparent upset of these election results.

The college is a community leader, and we, as educators – often while processing our own emotions – are supposed to be leaders for our students. How do we move forward from here? How do we act as role models for our students, demonstrating the values we espouse – of kindness, caring, tolerance, inclusiveness, encouragement, and love?

Perhaps it will come to some of us sooner than others. If your candidate was the winner, you’re probably feeling pretty stung about the charges of racism and bigotry and hate, wondering why people seem to be “sore losers.” It is important to not invalidate people’s feelings. Just as we do it in the classroom, we should recognize that affect is reality. People’s fears are real, valid, and evidenced by the same hateful rhetoric and even behaviors they’ve seen emboldened. If you are feeling stung, perhaps the work will be yours to explain to co-workers who express their anger and fear how you were able to see past this hateful rhetoric and support this candidate. Or, perhaps you will need to really listen and learn from them.

The college should be a safe place for these kinds of discussion. This is especially true in the classroom where polarizing issues can often derail a lesson plan in seconds. Creating a calm, mindful, respectful atmosphere where learning can thrive is our challenge and our charge, even if the lessons of the day have been shifted from creating conceptual illustrations on the meanings and lessons from specific TedTalks, to more current and urgent conversations on the recent elections and what that may mean to the daily lives of our students.

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Therapy Baby to the rescue!

So I wondered…what were educators doing? In my own classroom, the students led the way by sitting down for the last hour to chat and watch satirical videos from George Carlin and then a more thoughtful commentary from Stephen Colbert. An impromptu visit from my own grown daughter with my 11-month-old grandson helped lighten the mood. As this smiling little guy wandered about the room, moving from student to student, barely hanging onto grandma’s fingertips, it seems that, in the absence of a therapy dog, this therapy baby served us just fine.

But how were these post-election conversations being handled in other classrooms across the country? Here are a few examples from an article in the Chronicle for Higher Education titled “Lesson Plans After the Shock: How Instructors Treated Trump’s Win in the Classroom”:

A planned discussion about Emily Dickinson was scrapped by an instructor at Butte College in California, and replaced with an open and honest conversation about the election results and how people in the room were dealing with that. It became apparent that even though this was an English class, the instructor felt it would become her responsibility to have even more conversations about race and racism.

Yet another instructor was quoted as saying:

“I have to discuss it because it’s the elephant in the room, but it is what teaching is,” Ms. Gueye said. “Talking about things that are uncomfortable.”

In another article found in the Cornell Sun, titled “Professors Cancel Class, Responding to ‘Shocking’ Election Results,” there were a wide range of responses.

In one example, a professor of Asian, Near Eastern and religious studies cancelled her class because she could not trust herself to remain neutral or emotionally steady while giving a lecture on shifts from master narratives to radical ideologies in her Intro to Japan and Religion class. Yet that same instructor was able to utilize the botanical gardens on her campus to provide a space where students could demonstrate care for each other amidst the natural beauty there.

For another Cornell instructor, cancelling his second class of the morning after the election seemed appropriate in order to allow students the opportunity to listen to both Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, and President Obama’s speech about a peaceful transition of power. For future classes, this instructor hopes to “engage in more critical discourse with students.”

And that’s just it. Our challenge as educator is to help put context to events, provide opportunities for safe spaces for discussion, and demonstrate the actions, qualities and values that help shape a civil society.

Even as we help our students cope with the outcomes, self-care becomes vital, as well. That’s challenging when also trying to offer authentic heartfelt support for those around you who are suffering feelings of trauma.

For the educators among us, I would like to ask you this: what strategies are YOU using in your classroom to address the seismic shift that the president-elect’s ideologies have brought?

Share your thoughts in the comments here. Comments are moderated and foul language or political rants will not be allowed. Thank you!

 

Loving the hustle and bustle of a new academic year!

Info_Channel-02I don’t know about you, but even though classes don’t officially start until next Tuesday, 9/8/15, at Mott, things are really hopping here on campus. It’s Kick-Off Week at the college, and faculty who have been away doing whatever it is faculty do (which – believe it or not – is a lot!) are converging on campus to celebrate the start of the new academic year. Although it has its moments of stress as things gear up, I love all the new energy bubbling around campus!

Our campus has been very busy with a number of initiatives over the summer, many of which have involved faculty in the development of Guided Pathways. If you’re not familiar with this topic, here’s the short version: Guided Pathways involves a multi-faceted approach to helping more students graduate, but beginning with the development of clear, semester-by-semester outlines of how to move through an occupational program or transfer discipline. To support this, other areas of student support are addressed including intake, orientation, advising, etc. It is an effort to use best practices supported by data to lay a strong foundation for success as students enter, progress, and complete their time at the community college, culminating in a degree or certificate. Some background reading can be found here and here, lead by Rob Johnstone and Davis Jenkins who are considered among the leaders in this movement.

Another big project was taken on by myself and a colleague, Jim Shurter, far outside of our regular duties, in the form of a marketing campaign for the college. “Mott. My Path to Excellence.” – The tagline and campaign aimed to reposition our college as a “first choice” in the Greater Flint area and surrounding counties, and not simply a more affordable one. We used the voice of millennials to speak for what they wanted from an education, and how they wanted to shape it for themselves. The inference here is that Mott can not only help make that happen, but by choosing Mott over, say, a “name” university, we have redefined the community college as a truly valuable option that is on par with their other choices. We are empowering these potential students to say that Mott really IS their path to excellence!

Now… for some of you, it may have occurred to you that these two initiatives are at odds with each other. Why would we create Guided Pathways that seem to “remove” choice, and then seemingly try to entice students to Mott as a way of shaping their own choices in education? Believe it or not, it makes sense when you look at how many of our students want those choices in the specific educational program they’re choosing to be determined. Today’s students, according to the research by Jenkins, et al, want a more defined path to get them to their destination. But these pathways are not rigid and inflexible. When it comes to non-CTE programs, they are simply a guide to help make the most of their brief time here before transferring to a university. The other part of the Guided Pathways Initiative depends heavily on advising and a case management system that would involve faculty and others in working with students to help guide them towards their goals. In this way, exploration is still possible for the student who wants to veer off the proscribed path.

As for the campaign itself, it seems to have touched the audience effectively. Rather than the 7% drop in Fall enrollment that was originally anticipated, we are currently hovering at around 3% above last year’s Fall numbers. I’ve run into many new students in the out-county areas where we were especially focused who – once they learned I worked at Mott – have proudly announced to me that they were starting there in the Fall. It was exciting to hear!

Now, as we launch the new academic year, I see our CTL as playing a vital role in helping our college employees help support that message that we are all here to help students make their future possible!

To our Mott employees, alumni, and students, be sure to share your story using our hashtag – #mott4me!

Here’s to a great semester for everyone!

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Community College – flipping the notion of second chances and self-worth

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Matt Reed, who blogs for Inside Higher Ed under the moniker “Confessions of a Community College Dean,” hit the nail on the head when he commented on the distinction between community colleges and four-year institutions. In “Standing Calvin on His Head” (Reed, 2/12/15), he discusses how community colleges provide opportunities for students who have often seen little respect (both external and internal) for their educational merit and personal value.

They [Community Colleges] assume that all students are worthy of respect, and that there’s enough success to go around.  They assume that you can’t tell who’s capable just by looking at them, so you have to give everyone a shot. You do that because the students are worth it. They’re worth it before they even get here. If anything, the burden is on the institution to prove itself worthy of the students.

Read the full article here.

Reed was responding to an editorial by Kristin O’Keefe (The Community College/’Real College’ Divide, 2/11/15, New York Times. O’Keefe’s editorial posed a sensitive response to an educator speaking about high school graduation criteria to parents and incoming high school freshman. She then went on to say that these were the minimums if your child would “go to real college – you know, not community college.”

Besides the absolute insensitivity to the real possibility that there were community college graduates in the room, her comments spoke to a divide that persists among attitudes towards those who make community college their choice for higher education. And a myriad of reasons – apart from being prepped for higher ed – may exist in making that choice. O’Keefe explains that community college students who succeed, or at least persist over long periods of time, have characteristics worthy of our respect.

To all those who had a college experience like mine: Imagine adding a full-time job, financial worries and family obligations to your mix of classes? Imagine if your bus is late or your babysitter didn’t show up? I know this: Any student who is able to juggle a multitude of responsibilities and earn a degree is impressive. Wouldn’t that be a person you’d want to hire?

Read the article in the New York Times by O’Keefe that precipitated Reed’s blog.

Liberal Education, Effective Citizenry and “Democracy’s College” Graduate

2014 Diversity & Democracy

You can’t be involved in Community College education without running into the external scrutiny that often comes with a new proposed solution to the challenges of teaching such a diverse group of students crossing the thresholds of our campuses. No sooner have we developed our latest version of General Education requirements when a new approach is before us, one that promises to move more of our students from struggling receptors of knowledge to gleaming graduates.

Whether it is a focus on General Education, Disruptive Advising, Learning Outcomes, or Guided Pathways, the elements of creating a successful graduate are complex and highly variable. All of them contain merit and are worthy of our attention and consideration, especially when blended together in a thoughtful way, with input from all stakeholders and implemented in a balanced approach that still allows for flexible applications within individual student circumstances. The goal, after all, is not to eliminate variability. And it is not to eliminate the liberal arts in favor of more vocational work-preparation skills. The goal, at least as described by one college, was to create a series of outcomes that “modeled the core values of communication, critical thinking, and respect for diverse opinions” (Rodicio, 2014) which are hallmarks of good citizenship. Rodicio, who is provost for Academic and Student affairs at Miami Dade College (MDC), and president of the Association for General and Liberal Studies, shares the story of their college’s transition in an article titled Modeling Democratic Practices through General Education Reform: A Developmental Journey.

At MDC, the nation’s largest community college, faculty, staff and leadership have taken on this challenge. They’ve applied a  very democratically designed approach in reexamining their general education requirements into a series of College Learning Outcomes. Responding to pressures to be more accountable for learning results, they began by defining the question: “What learning outcomes must our students achieve in order to become effective citizens an lifelong learners?” Their resulting goal as “democracy’s college” is both admirable and achievable.

“…for every graduate to become a well-informed citizen who can effectively – and actively – participate in civic and economic life within a diverse and globally connected environment.”

As they moved through a multi-year process that began with college-wide conversations across seven campuses and outreach centers, a series of events were held in such a way as to ensure involvement with faculty, staff, and students. They moved from developing a set of General Education Outcomes, eventually renamed College Learning Outcomes, and developing Learning Outcomes Assessments. Annual campus dialogues are held by faculty to review results and examine the implications they may have on student learning. In 2007, the college community “reaffirmed the importance of liberal learning in developing a well-informed citizenry in a global community” through a covenant which was signed by members of the college community, including representatives from students, faculty, college leaders, and the local community (Rodicio, 2014, Padron, 2008).

Recognizing that different initiatives can be interconnected, Miami Dade College has more recently begun to implement guided pathways which they called a “Roadmap to Completion” in a pilot program that involved bringing together some existing resources into a more comprehensive support system. They believe that the framework that a more defined pathway not only may lead to more graduates, but it can also improve attainment of the broader college learning outcomes.

Read the complete article that tells the full story, and find the full list of Miami Dade’s Learning Outcomes here.

Measuring Faculty Attitudes towards Technology & Online Learning

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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 difference between a degree… and an education

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In a poignant essay titled “Office Hours” by Preston Hutcherson, he goes out to seek whether the price of tuition at a private university where he is a student means a better education than that at a nearby community college. The story he tells serves as a tribute to two professors, one at each institution who reached out and made a deep connection.

When we talk about student success at community colleges, we often debate how to define it. Is it retention from one semester or year to the next? Is it completing a class? Or is earning a degree or credential the ultimate definition of success?

In young Mr. Hutcherson’s essay, he makes the distinction about that kind of success through the connections he made, by sitting down in the offices of each of his professors – one at the expensive private university, and the other at the community college. To him, they each made all the difference between earning a degree… and receiving an education.

This is not only a feel-good story about what we do at community colleges, it is a reminder that we, who choose to work and teach here, are committed to offering the best education possible, regardless of what tuition the student pays.

This one is really worth the read.

https://www.insidehighered.com/views/2014/09/29/essay-finding-great-teaching-expensive-university-and-community-college