Trauma is part of the job for many community college instructors, writes Wick Sloane, who teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. After the Marathon bombing suspects were named, Sloane checked his e-mails: Tamerlan Tsarnaev took his College Writing I class in spring 2007, cut frequently and failed. He’d sent a few e-mails excusing his absences before he quit for good.
Sloane has no insight into Tamerlan or his brother, he writes. But he’s often felt the urge to cry since “Bloody Friday” when police shut down Boston and Cambridge. Sloane lives a mile from the shootout and explosion that killed his former student. A few years ago, he ran the Boston Marathon.
Holding instructors accountable for students’ success “is fine by me,” writes Sloane. “The solutions just need a load factor for the days that community college teachers need a good cry.”
He’s experienced “secondary trauma” by reading his students’ essays.
. . . in a few short years: murder, rape, shootings; sudden and prolonged homelessness; memories of wars in Somalia, Eritrea, El Salvador, the Congo; a father killed in the civil war in Mali; a student for whom I was buying a sandwich at 5 p.m. saying, “I guess you could tell I haven’t eaten since yesterday.” Domestic violence. Stories from veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another student in that 2007 writing class, Cedirick Steele, was shot and killed for no apparent reason. “The shooters planned to kill someone, it didn’t matter who.” Sloane testified as a character witness for the victim when the murderers were tried and convicted four years later.
Community colleges are worried about staying relevant “if massive open online courses (MOOCs) and other forms of online learning begin to offer students a high-quality, convenient, and low-cost pathway to a college degree,” writes Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Teachers’ College, Columbia, in CCRC Currents.
So far, however, community college students find it difficult to learn online, according to CCRC studies.
We found that in the majority of online courses, students had little meaningful interaction with their instructors. While the courses frequently required interaction with peers in online discussion boards or chat rooms, most students did not value this peer-to-peer interaction and said it felt both artificial and of little educational value.
Students told us that if they expected to struggle in a subject or really “wanted to learn something,” they preferred a face-to-face classroom where they had more contact with the professor. In online courses, they reported, they were more or less on their own.
Online instructors expected students to be independent learners “able to manage their time, take initiative, and generate their own
approach to mastering course material.”
In What We Know About Online Course Outcomes, the CCRC summarizes its research on community college students’ success in all-online courses, looks at how online courses can be improved and discusses how online instructors “might create a more robust presence in their courses in order to improve student engagement and retention.”
Online learning will replace residential campuses predicts Nathan Harden in The End of the University as We Know It in The American Interest. Only the elite universities will have bricks, mortar and ivy.
The future looks like this: Access to college-level education will be free for everyone; the residential college campus will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.
MOOCs or other forms of mass education can’t provide the workforce development and training sought by many community college students.
Most technical training is by nature hands-on, requiring extensive facilities and on-site instructors. (Honestly, would you want to have your hair cut by someone who learned how to do it by watching the equivalent of YouTube videos?) Many companies do not have their own training facilities and count on local community colleges to provide skilled workers. That is unlikely to change anytime soon.
It’s also unlikely that students who need remediation will succeed in a MOOC, Jenkins writes. These students need instructors.
Community colleges could outsource many of their courses to elite universities via MOOCs, writes Harden. They could serve more students with fewer faculty, lowering costs.
Community colleges have “figured out how to make online courses as personal as possible, which seems to be the key for the vast majority of students,” Jenkins writes.
. . . MOOCs and other such “innovations” . . . seem to appeal mostly to students who are already well educated.
Often those students are either professionals seeking to gain additional expertise in their fields or people looking to expand their intellectual horizons—like the engineer who takes an advanced poetry course just because she likes poetry and didn’t have an opportunity to pursue that interest in college.
In other words, these are highly motivated, extremely self-directed learners. But the vast majority of undergraduates who register for online classes are not either of those things—especially in required core courses they don’t really want to take. That’s why online faculty members at community colleges have worked so hard for years to make their courses as student-friendly as possible.
Most online students “will seek out the smaller ‘classrooms’ and more personalized online experience offered by community colleges, rather than the faceless crowds of MOOCs,” Jenkins predicts.
MOOCs let students take courses taught by famous professors from Stanford or MIT. But these famous professors aren’t necessarily great teachers, writes Jenkins. Great teachers “can be found disproportionately at community colleges.” And there won’t be 10,000 students in the class.
While many four-year colleges and universities require students to borrow heavily, community colleges are ”a great value,” Jenkins concludes.
In my state, tuition and fees for a full-time student at a two-year college are about a third of what students pay at one of the state’s large research institutions, and about half of what they pay at the smaller, regional universities. Many of our students also live at home, which reduces their expenses even more.
. . . As long as students are looking for inexpensive courses that transfer easily, with excellent teaching, a supportive environment, and a variety of options—both online and face-to-face—community colleges will continue to thrive.
I think Jenkins is right about the survival of community colleges — and Harden is right about the demise of non-elite residential colleges and universities.
If I were an entrepreneur, I’d develop “college experience” apartment complexes for 18- to 24-year-olds. There’d be keggers, pizza parties, frisbee contests and a designated football and basketball team to root for. There’d be T-shirts and sweatshirts with the complex’s name and tastefully designed logo. Residents who wanted a degree could study online; others could enjoy the experience without paying tuition.
Lois Roma-Delley, who teaches writing and women’s studies at Paradise Valley Community College (PVCC) in Arizona, was named the 2012 Outstanding Community College Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
Roma-Deeley pairs student writers and artists, who create visual art and write about it, a process known as ekphrasis, reports Community College Times.
Roma-Deely, who has a doctorate in interdisciplinary studies with a focus in poetry, designed and administers a lauded visiting writer and scholar lecture series on her campus and coordinates a popular annual creative writing competition for students.
. . . (She) was noted for her attention to students, who begin her courses with a writing exercise to assess their “learning readiness,” as well as to evaluate their mastery of skills needed to successfully complete her course. At the end of the courses, students self-evaluate their learning and set academic goals.
Also honored as state professors of the year are: John Hamman, professor and chair of the math department, Montgomery College (Maryland); Rees Shad, coordinator of media design programs, Hostos Community College (New York), Greg Sherman, physics professor, Collin College (Texas).
When a student is trying, but failing, what can a teacher do? Siobhan Curious,who teaches English in Quebec’s version of community college, writes about regret in Classroom as Microcosm.
She knows “Michael” has a troubled home life and severe difficulties with schoolwork.
Last week, Michael did his oral presentation, and he got a zero. He spoke for barely a minute (for a 5-7 minute talk) and nothing he said bore any relationship to his topic or made any sense. I was unable to give him points or feedback in any of the categories he was being graded on.
She told that there’s no way for him to pass the course, despite his hard work.
How to tactfully explain that because he is demonstrating absolutely no progress from assignment to assignment, and is not in possession of the most fundamental skills required to pass, he’ll probably never complete college? How to say, “It makes no sense that you ever graduated from high school”? How to say, “This is the wrong path for you”?
. . . I’ve talked to other teachers and tutors who know Michael, and they confirm what I’ve seen: he works very, very hard, and he makes no progress. None. It breaks my heart that he continues to waste his time, when he could be investing himself in something that brings him enjoyment and maybe even an income. For some reason, he’s been continually given false expectations of what he is capable of. Someone, somewhere – maybe many someones – has to help him understand that he needs to stop banging his head against this wall.
I asked, “Have you ever spoken to someone in counselling about your bigger plans? About what you want to do with your life, and where college fits in? I can see that school is a big struggle for you, and it’s causing you a lot of anxiety.”
Michael thanks her and leaves. Should she personally escort him to a counselor? Just keep failing him?
At residential colleges and universities, students are expected to figure out which classes to take and do most of their academic work independently, he writes. But most community college students have weak academic skills: Up to two-thirds need remedial education. Many are the first in their families to go to college, but get little guidance on which courses to take. Most work, leaving less time for homework.
. . . a re-envisioned community college would offer far greater numbers of block-scheduled programs. Rather than selecting courses, most students would be directed to enter comprehensive programs built around specific degree goals and schedules.
So students would choose (1) a program such as an associate of science or arts aimed at eventually transferring to a four-year institution or a vocational program like welding; and (2) a block of time to attend full or part time (mornings, full days, or evenings/weekends). Blocks would include homework time, when students would practice what they learn with the help of tutors and technology rather than squeezing it between class and work.
This system would also be geared to serve students who begin in remedial education, to allow them to see the length of time and the cost associated with various degree and certificate options. Instead of the uncertainty of many years of semester-by-semester course selection and scheduling, students would know that if they showed up and did their work well, they would earn a degree in a specific period of time.
In addition, community colleges should hire professors “solely for their teaching ability and willingness to continually improve their craft,” Wyner writes.
New Community College at City University of New York, which just opened this fall, is trying out some of these ideas, including block scheduling and time for study and tutoring.
The “new traditional” student — especially at community colleges — has been out of high school for years and has rusty academic and study skills, writes Rob Jenkins, a Georgia Perimeter College English professor and administrator, in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Many have jobs and family responsibilities. It’s time for instructors to design classes for adult students, he writes. Young students will benefit too.
To start with, instructors should relax “rules aimed at keeping 18-year-olds from ditching class or dragging in late,” Jenkins writes. Adult students need more flexibility.
Older students (and quite a few younger ones) will benefit from “frequent refresher sessions to reinforce basic skills” and tutoring referrals.
“Placing course materials online, creating inexpensive course packs, or taking other steps to lower the cost of books and supplies” benefits all students, but especially those who are supporting themselves, he writes.
Try to regularly establish a clear link between course concepts and “real-world” outcomes. Show them how what they’re learning might apply beyond the classroom, in their professional lives. Take every opportunity to incorporate materials from nonacademic sources, such as newspapers, magazines, and Web sites. Structure your assignments to mimic real-life work situations.
Finally, make sure older students feel valued for their experience and perspective on life. “Choose readings that might be relevant to their situations, and then structure writing and presentation assignments that encourage them to draw upon their experiences,” Jenkins concludes.
How did Valencia College in Orlando, Florida win the Aspen Prize for community college excellence? President Sandy Shugart has six big ideas about what community colleges should to enable learning, writes Fawn Johnson.
1) Anyone can learn anything under the right conditions.
2) Start right.
3) Connection and direction.
4) The college is how the students experience us, not how we experience them.
5) The purpose of assessment is to improve learning.
Many community colleges enroll huge numbers of students, collect the tuition and then see most of them drop out.
Valencia sacrifices its enrollment numbers (and the accompanying dollars) by turning students away who fail to register before the first day of a class. Research shows that students who register late are more likely to drop out, so Shugart says it makes sense to head those students off.
The college integrates advising with teaching. “Faculty members are expected to participate in plotting their students’ graduation paths, but each program also has an embedded full-time career adviser to track students’ progress,” Johnson writes.
Faculty members test teaching ideas in a three-year “learning academy.” Adjuncts are paid more if they participate in developing their teaching skills.
Valencia invests most heavily in improving 15 to 20 “gateway courses” that make up 40 percent of the curriculum for first-year students.
Planning is required. “When I was in college, the idea was that your freshman and sophomore years was an exploratory time. Totally gone. It is not exploratory,” said Joyce Romano, Valencia’s vice president for student services. “Decide when you’re in the womb what you want to do.”
All students are expected to map out a graduation plan in their first semester. They must “connect” with faculty members, career advisers, tutors, and student-services staffers. Tutors—usually students themselves—know the professors personally and often sit in on classes to seek out students who might feel shy about asking for help. Tutoring centers are located in central campus areas, and they are packed.
Valencia constantly analyzes student-achievement data, but instructors are judged on their teaching, not their students’ test scores.
College professors may be enabling “academic entitlement” in their students, according to research by Tracey E. Zinn, a psychology associate professor at James Madison University. Entitled students learn less because they don’t think they need to do the work, notes Inside School Research.
Signs of entitlement include the beliefs that:
• Knowledge is a “right” that should be delivered with little effort or discomfort on the student’s part;
• A high grade should come, not from mastery of material, but in return for non-academic aspects of education, such as the student showing up to class, or the student or her family paying tuition or taxes which go to the teacher’s salary; and
• If a student didn’t perform well on a test, it is a sign that the test was too difficult, not that the student did not understand the material.
Entitled students want instructors to give them the right answer, while students who don’t feel entitled ask for help understanding concepts, Zinn and her colleagues found.
Siobhan Curious, who teaches at Quebec’s version of community college, was having a lousy day even before a failing student walked in to make it worse.
Kalia had failed the same class in the autumn because she didn’t come to class. After skipping the first two weeks of her second try, she came to the office to ask if she had a chance to pass the course. This time, she said, she’d come to class and do the work.
She came to the next class, but didn’t buy the books or do the homework. She started skipping class again. Her average was 10 points below a passing grade. After cutting class for three weeks, she came in to ask Curious for help with her essay.
“Kalia,” I snapped. ”As I instructed you and everyone, you should bring the essay to class with you on Monday and we’ll work on it some more and you can ask questions. We have spent THREE WEEKS working on this latest essay in class, and you haven’t been in class for that work. So you failed. I’m not going to give you private tutoring on everything we’ve done because you couldn’t be bothered to come learn what you needed to learn during class time. We talked at the beginning of the semester about what you needed to do to pass this course. You haven’t done it. You’re welcome to do this rewrite and do your grammar test and see what happens. But I’m not going to re-teach everything I’ve taught for an audience of one.”
Kalia went quietly away.
There are all sorts of arguments for why Kalia needs tough love, for why, no matter how harsh my response may seem, it’s really for her own good. She needs to take responsibility for her learning and fulfill requirements and deal with whatever’s preventing her from doing the most basic things she needs to do, or she needs to get out of school and come back when she can handle it. Coddling her is not going to help her. And so forth.
But none of these reasons are my reasons. . . . I snapped at her because I was exhausted and she was pissing me off.
Another post includes an e-mail conversation with an absentee who repeatedly fails to understand the assignment.