After taking a brief break last time to explore the guided pathways questions session from the AACC Pathways Institute in October, we’re back into it with the 15 new Guided Pathways questions, and as you can see above, I’ve decided to title the paper that follows the completion of these new questions “Guided Pathways Demystified II – The Questions Strike Back”.
This month we have three that are focused primarily on the faculty role in guided pathways reform. Student services folks, don’t go away – I think these questions and the exploration of them should be very relevant to you too. They are: #14 – Isn’t guided pathways the next educational fad? Shouldn’t I just wait this out like I have for the past 15-25 years?; #15 – Doesn’t faculty workload go up under a guided pathways model?; and #16 – How does a focus on teaching & learning evolve or shift under a guided pathways model, Great, great questions…
#14 – Isn’t guided pathways the next educational fad? Shouldn’t I just wait this out like I have for the past 15-25 years?
So I had to look back at previous blog posts, because I really thought I’d written on this topic before, but I must be subject to the memory loss that accompanies 90 cities and 250,000 air miles this year, because apparently I haven’t! This question comes up quite often in sessions with faculty and front-line staff, and I have to say it makes me really happy every time. The reason for this is that it is only when you hear this type of question that you realize people are thinking – maybe even hoping – that this time it might be different.
My observation on this question is that historically I think many of the people asking it are spot on in their analysis; we’ve had a variety of movements, there’s been dozens of acronyms, lots of Opening Day speeches on how X, Y, or Z will be the next big thing. We could cite lots of examples of this, but out of respect to the good ideas and movements that supported them, we’ll keep it anonymous. And, perhaps more importantly, the baseline models, structure and culture of higher education and how it’s delivered has remained relatively constant for somewhere between five decades and seven centuries, depending on your educational history frame.
So the question then is, why is this one different? Or maybe even better – how do we make it different? A couple of thoughts here – first is that the guided pathways movement needs to be exactly that – a “movement” and not an “initiative”. Ed Bowling, CBD Cadre Lead for North Carolina from Guilford Technical Community College, is fond of saying “Guided pathways is something we’re becoming, not something we’re doing.” This is doubly important, because in addition to placing it in a long-term change process, it also suggests that it can build on a natural evolution from great work that’s been already started on most if not all community college campuses. Some may be farther along than others, but nearly everybody has something to build on.
It will require sustained efforts, and a coherent and targeted vision from leadership throughout the organization, but the notion of guided pathways as a framework for this movement is really important. We also need to make sure we continuously emphasize meaningful and authentic engagement throughout the organization, across historical siloes. In the perfect world, guided pathways can be an umbrella or thru-line between a series of perhaps disconnected initiatives, with the four “big ideas” of guided pathways serving as the pillars of the work over time. Of course, only time will tell if we are collectively able to pull this off…
#15 – Doesn’t faculty workload go up under a guided pathways model?
So now, as they say, things are getting real. I love this question, because it’s a sign that faculty around the country are perking their collective ears up and saying “Hey, this actually might happen.” And it’s a completely fair question, and here are some thoughts. I’d been saying for a while that there’s an important distinction here – between the workload for faculty when guided pathways models are “up and running” and the workload to get the structured pathways developed and in place.
The early guided pathways pioneers don’t report that faculty workload goes up when the pathways are implemented; they still teach the same number of courses and are subject to the same outside-the-classroom obligations that are part of whatever their college faculty contract requires. Faculty do report that they might emphasize some historically “outside-the-classroom” topics in their classrooms more often, such as emphasizing the importance of the pathway or program, transfer destinations, progress toward the degree, career exploration, etc. But for the most part it’s the same workload per se, primarily focused on teaching in the classroom and creating learning environments that progressively ensure that more students learn the outcomes of their courses and programs.
We should note there that at some colleges the contract requires faculty to do advising; at these institutions, it’s likely that a guided pathways reform would actually make this role easier, given that it’s easier to advise off a guided pathway than the relative chaos that exists on many student transcripts now. It doesn’t mean that advising is easy or less important – in fact I’ve claimed before that we create “more” of a need for it when we move from drop-in models to required advising models – just that the act of figuring out where a student is and how to advise them to move forward should be more streamlined. It’s also possible expectations of faculty advising might shift – likely to provide more professional development to emphasize consistency in the information students receive.
There is absolutely faculty work to get the structured pathways in place – I used to estimate this after some earlier discussions with CBD colleges that this took about 15-20 hours per pathway. More recently, a couple of CBD and AACC Pathways colleges told me it’s more like 8-12 hours per pathway, with the variance depending on how much research is done on the general education courses by "program" faculty. Eight to twelve hours is not insignificant, but it does seem to be a reasonable amount when spread out over a 3-month or 6-month period of time given the bet we’re placing that the net result of the work will be such a positive catalyst for improving student completion.
#16 - How does a focus on teaching & learning evolve or shift under a guided pathways model?
This is a fascinating question to explore, and while it’s true of all of these questions I think it’s especially true of this one that there’s no clear “right” answer. My guess is that the primary consideration here is the shift that is at the heart of the guided pathways movement – that from focusing on courses to focusing on programs. On the teaching & learning side, I think the most obvious evolutionary step under this umbrella is on the student learning outcome front. And I don’t mean the formalistic side of SLO assessment, but rather the more authentic efforts to ensure that students are learning what we have identified as important. Note that this is the 4th pillar that we (the national partners) identified for the guided pathways movement – so we think it’s very important.
Clearly, colleges have a very wide range of approaches to SLO assessment at the course, programs and institutional levels, and I think nearly all of them have some value. My take is that it’s relatively easy to have a functional course-level SLO assessment paradigm on paper, but it’s a lot harder to have it be authentic and produce the changes in approaches and/or pedagogy that leads to increased achievement of students actually learning a given outcome. I’ll set aside a decade-long harangue on this topic about how too often accreditation agencies make this worse with reporting requirements that lead to more check-box type compliance models than catalyzing an authentic approach. Well, I guess only partially set it aside.
I think it would be incredibly valuable to focus the teaching & learning conversation increasingly on the program / liberal arts / general education level. At the end of the day, most of us don’t remember specific course outcomes from our 2nd year in college or how well we achieved them, but we have a pretty good idea of our skill sets on the more global outcomes of critical thinking, communication, computation, creativity, and the more typically liberal arts type outcomes. Employers tell us they’re pretty concerned about it too nearly universally, regardless of where a given job lies on the increasingly blurry blue-collar to white-collar continuum. We’ve discussed reclaiming the liberal arts outcomes as a key piece of the guided pathways movement (see Guided Pathways Demystified Question #4), and I think that we need to catalyze and evolve conversations about how to define and improve liberal arts. A number of our AACC Guided Pathways colleges such as Lansing CC, CC of Philadelphia, and Western Wyoming CC among others – first individually and hopefully soon collectively – have been exploring the intersection between guided pathways reforms and pedagogy, professional development, SLO assessment and high-impact practices. We think more of this needs to happen…