The community college Completion Agenda aims to double the number of students who complete a one-year certificate or an associate degree or who transfer to complete a credential, writes Terry O’Banion in Community College Times. College leaders have focused on orientation, advising, placement, financial aid — everything but teaching and learning.
Key leaders involved in the Completion Agenda recognize the need to focus more attention on teaching and learning and classroom instruction. Jamie Merisotis, president of Lumina Foundation has noted: “Oddly enough, the concept of learning—a subject that seems critical to every discussion about higher education—is often overlooked in the modern era. For us, learning doesn’t just matter. It matters most of all. It’s the learning, stupid.”
. . . Kay McClenney and her colleagues at the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) also weigh in on this conversation: “Student success matters. College completion matters. And teaching and learning—the heart of student success—matter.”
When students are “actively engaged,” they’re more likely to learn, persist and reach their goals, according to CCCSE research.
Improving classroom success in the first year is critical, especially for low-income students, says Vincent Tinto.
When students read e-textbooks, e-books will be reading students, reports The Chronicle of Higher Education. CourseSmart, which sells digital textbooks, will provide “a new tool to help professors and others measure students’ engagement with electronic course materials.”
Say a student uses an introductory psychology e-textbook. The book will be integrated into the college’s course-management system. It will track students’ behavior: how much time they spend reading, how many pages they view, and how many notes and highlights they make. That data will get crunched into an engagement score for each student.
The idea is that faculty members can reach out to students showing low engagement, says Sean Devine, chief executive of CourseSmart. And colleges can evaluate the return they are getting on investments in digital materials.
Students will be able to opt out if they don’t want Big Teacher monitoring their reading habits, Devine said at the Educause conference. “We do understand the Big Brother aspects of it.”
The Real Trouble With Online Education is that its critics won’t give it a chance, writes Geoff Cain, director of distance education at College of the Redwoods (California), in Brainstorm. He takes down Mark Edmundson’s The Trouble with Online Education in the New York Times, which charges online courses aren’t “education of the very best sort.”
Edmundson describes face-to-face classes as places where there is engagement, dialogue and the inadvertent creation of academic community . . . I have taken face-to-face classes at colleges (U.C. Berkeley, for instance) where the professor had no time for undergrads, directed all questions to the tutors, and did nothing to foster community. Conversely, I took an online course in 2008 from the University of Manitoba (George Siemens and Stephen Downes MOOC “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge”) and I am still in touch with students I met there — in fact, we are basically continuing what we learned in online communities.
. . . In the “very best sort” of online classes, this community and engagement is deliberately built into the courses, and the research says that student engagement is the number one factor in the success of online courses.
Online education isn’t “a one-size-fits-all endeavor,” as Edmundson claims, writes Cain. Some courses include Skype sessions with teachers and tutors, others mix classroom and online learning, still others are self-directed. Then there are MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), which some see as the “single most important experiment in higher education.”
Edmundson thinks online classes are “a monologue and not a real dialogue.” That’s true only of filmed, canned classes, which are not the norm, responds Cain.
Most online classes include discussion forums and students now are using social media and networks such as Twitter and Facebook to engage with one another, with their instructors and experts in their field of study.
Michael Horn agrees that what matters is how a course is taught, not whether it’s in-person or online.
In my years of research on online learning, what I’ve found fascinating is that a vast majority of online learning teachers report that they get to know their students better than they did in their traditional face-to-face classes, and they say they can address students’ questions more effectively. Of course, just because a course is online does not mean it will be good, just as not every traditional lecture or classroom experience is good or bad.
Online education delivers “value that in-person instruction simply cannot (and succeeds marvelously and ever better),” writes Steven Spear. For many people, the alternative to online education is no education at all, he adds.
“Nessie” — the National Survey of Student Engagement, not the Scottish monster — reports on college students’ interactions with professors and classmates and their classroom and out-of-class experiences. But some scholar question whether NSSE-defined engagement leads to retention and graduation, reports Inside Higher Ed. Two critical studies were released at the American Educational Research Association meeting last week.
One study — by two Auburn University education professors, David DiRamio and David Shannon — found no relationship between total NSSE scores in the various subcategories of the survey and either grade-point averages or graduation rates. It did find positive outcomes in these areas associated with a few NSSE questions.
A second study — by Amy Korzekwa and Scott C. Marley of the University of New Mexico — examined the relationship between NSSE sub-scores and found them only “minimally predictive” of first-year grades and “not at all predictive” of third-semester retention.
Engagement in campus extracurriculars may “take away from the ‘time on task’ that a student would normally devote to coursework and studying,” the Auburn researchers suggest.
A 2009 study questioned whether students understand the survey questions well enough to provide meaningful answers. However, other studies, have found links between the qualities NSSE measures and academic success, Inside Higher Ed reports.
Academic rigor predicts student learning, argues the influential new book, Academically Adrift. Engagement does not.
Inigral‘s Schools App, which promises to create a virtual college community, received a $2 million investment from the Gates Foundation last week. It’s the first time the foundation has invested in a for-profit company.
Eleven colleges and universities use the app, including Maricopa Community Colleges in Arizona.
Can social media keep students in college? NPR asks. The Schools App, which uses the Facebook platform, helps new college students quickly build a network of friends with similar interests — and perhaps the same courses — says Michael Staton, the CEO of Inigral.
Only students can gain entry to these sites, and they’re invited in the moment they are accepted to a school. The feel is supposed to be small and intimate, unlike schools’ fan sites on Facebook, which are open to everyone and don’t inspire much networking.
Colleges pay a small fee to Inigral to build the site with hopes the app will engage students and reduce attrition rate.
“We have some indication that first-time freshmen who opted to participate in the application were highly more likely to be retained for the next semester,” says Kari Barlow, an online administrator who spearheaded Arizona State University’s experiment with Inigral’s Schools App.
Peer support and a sense of community help students persist in college, but it’s not clear that social media can make a difference. Students who reach out to classmates online may be those who reach out in person too. But if social media does help build community, that could be especially helpful at two-year colleges with few campus-wide activities to link students.
Does it matter where you go to college? In a New York Times’ Room for Debate discussion, Kevin Carey, policy director for Education Sector, argues that most students should skip the admissions game and start their higher education at a high-quality community college. After all, only the top students have any chance of attending an elite college, Carey points out. Four out of five students attend colleges that are easy to get into and not well resourced. Some do a much better job than others of teaching students and getting them to a degree.
The good news is that a lot of information has become available over the last 10 years that sheds new light on the quality of non-elite colleges. The Community College Survey of Student Engagement, for example, identifies public two-year institutions that are unusually good at employing the teaching practices that research show lead to learning and graduation. Most community colleges participate and you can look up the results at www.ccsse.org.
It turns out that the best community colleges do a better job than the average elite research university at teaching freshman and sophomores.
To a great extent, success or failure in college depends on the student’s academic preparation, motivation and ability to make college a priority. College-ready, full-time students are likely to do well. Poorly prepared students, especially those with job and family responsibilities, are not. I think the risk of failure is higher at community college, but the costs are much lower.