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Conference Identifies Innovative Practices for Community Colleges

Education practitioners gathered at the 2018 League for Innovation in the Community College Conference on Monday to discuss and promote innovation in teaching and learning across the community college landscape. 

Community college leaders and education stakeholders presented on pressing trends that affect community colleges and their students today, data and technology strategies that can help align institutional values with student learning outcomes and equity-minded classroom practices that can reduce the achievement gap and increase student success. 

Ken Steele of Eduvation, Inc.Ken Steele of Eduvation, Inc.

Monday’s keynote presentation began with an overview of some of the main forces influencing the spectrum of college innovation: funding for education, globalization, changing student demographics, increases in use of technology and artificial intelligence and changes in industries and labor markets. 

Ken Steele, president and chief futurist of Eduvation, Inc., warned community college leaders that they could not maintain the status quo and expect their institutions to be sustainable. 

Regarding changing student populations, Steele highlighted the increase in part-time and commuter students who need flexible delivery models of educational support. He suggested that institutions can implement strategies that engage students where they are, such as at Florida Atlantic University, where the creation of a “Drive-Up Advising” booth led to an increase in students who met with advisors more than in the previous period before the start of the initiative. 

He added that more institutions are moving toward using online courses and online workforce training programs, in addition to offering “micro-credentials.” However, Steele said that while this delivery approach may be beneficial for “very self-motivated and self-directed students,” self-paced learning is a “very challenging way to get an education,” especially for many Hispanic and African-American students. 

“The solution is actually to blend the two,” combining online and active face-to-face learning environments, Steele said. 

He also spoke about the rapidly shifting needs of the workforce and the increase of experiential learning in the classroom.

“Experiential learning has been a hallmark of college learning,” he said, adding that institutions can partner with industries to create connections for students.

Some institutions are already participating in programs that pair students with employers, who then give them a scalable online work experience. Other institutions are using virtual reality and simulations to prepare students for their work sector through programs such as Labster for STEM. 

On diversifying revenue sources and cost-cutting measures for community colleges, Steele added that leaders must keep in mind that government grants are changing, and that performance-based funding is taking a priority in some cases over enrollment-based funding. 

He called promises of free tuition at community colleges “political hot potatoes” that can constrain institutions’ ability to raise money from tuition. Prioritizing retention efforts, reevaluating program costs and structures, using zero-cost textbooks and automating services are ways to sustain funding for an institution and ultimately increase student success, he said. 

League Conference sessions also highlighted faculty-focused practices that influence student achievement and success. 

In a session titled “Move Backward to Step Forward in Assessment Design,” San Antonio College officials suggested that taking a step back to reflect on assessment methods can help institutions improve student outcomes. Presenters shared a template and data strategies used to assist faculty with increasing student awareness and mastery of marketable skills. 

Those skills — broken down into subsections — include communication, problem-solving and critical thinking, enthusiasm and attitude, networking, professionalism and teamwork. The skills also align with the projected skills that the U.S. Department of Labor said students will need for the workforce, and they can be integrated into customized institution-wide learning outcomes. 

After San Antonio transformed its assessment practices, the use of a four-column, “backward design document” helped faculty members identify desired learning outcomes and skills in various disciplines; helped faculty determine the types of assessments given to measure students’ knowledge or mastery of a skill; and helped faculty plan the learning activities that would enable students to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Faculty also began collecting and analyzing assessment and outcomes data in an online portfolio. This helped to better align classroom teaching with desired marketable skills, as well as to design earlier interventions for students who may have been struggling or failing to meet a desired learning outcome. 

The real-time analysis was effective in giving students enough time to reevaluate or remediate an area in which they needed to improve. Further, the online portfolio generated a link that allowed the institution to share a student’s outcomes with employers that demonstrated the studdent’s mastery of a marketable skill. 

On campus, Julie Razuri, coordinator of learning assessment and a faculty member at American Sign Language at San Antonio College, said that the innovative assessment design allowed faculty to be creative in their learning outcome assessments — which do not necessarily have to be tests or examinations, officials noted. 

Particularly, the design unified divisions that previously did not collaborate on student learning outcomes, she said, adding: “Disciplines, for the first time, are coming together to ask ‘Are we teaching these skills?’” 

Beyond data, Jolinda Ramsey, director of learning assessment and a faculty member in speech communication, said fostering cross-disciplinary conversations about learning outcomes and support for students is essential because “if you’re just looking at the data, then you’re not servicing your students.” 

San Antonio fostered this campus conversation by launching a campaign that answered students’ questions about marketable skills and their connections to the classroom. The institution also established a Learning Assessment Validation Committee and asked faculty to talk about marketable skills with their students. 

“Then [students] start to build those connections on their own and we help finish it out,” Ramsey said. 

In a session titled “Embedding Equity-Minded Practices in Classrooms: Educators for Equity Program,” Kristine Nikkhoo and Dani Wilson emphasized the difference between equality and equity while discussing their Educators for Equity training program at Fullerton College in California. 

“Equity is about outcomes,” said Nikkhoo, director of basic skills and support programs at Fullerton. Being equity-minded also extends to understanding how social inequalities such as race and gender or ability inequalities such as learning disabilities and mental illnesses can influence student success, presenters pointed out. 

At Fullerton, the one-day, pre-semester Educators for Equity program gives adjunct faculty time to “turn the mirrors on themselves.” Such reflection encourages mindfulness about how each faculty member can be equity-minded in course design, classroom practices and institutional engagement, Nikkhoo said. 

Participants develop a “Personal Equity Action Plan” that allows them to visualize how they will intentionally implement their equity-minded practices. They also engage with the text-based curriculum, reading literature such as Diversity and Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching in College by Dr. Margery B. Ginsberg and Dr. Raymond J. Wlodkowski and Teaching Men of Color in the Community College: A Guidebook by Drs. J. Luke Wood, Frank Harris III and Khalid White. 

Upon completion of the training, faculty members receive a certificate and conduct a post-training evaluation survey related to information they may need to share with students, such as the location of campus resources or support services. Lastly, participants are asked to attend an additional professional development workshop that is equity-focused. 

As a result of their efforts, Nikkhoo and Wilson said Fullerton is starting to recognize and eliminate institutional barriers that previously hindered success for all students. 

Viewing equity-mindedness as another lens of teaching — combined with discipline expertise and student success — the presenters added that faculty at other institutions can scale and replicate their equity training program by embedding equity into institutional values and practices already in place for student support. Further, they can have faculty members attend conferences, workshops or campus sessions on equity-minded practices. 

“We call it a community of learners,” said Dani Wilson, dean of library and learning resources and instructional support programs and services at Fullerton. “Culture shifts take a long time. It’s a long game. You just have to start.” 

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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