We are still gathering key materials from this Teaching and Learning convening to share with you and will post in the near future.
In late June, in Raleigh, North Carolina approximately one hundred community college faculty (and some administrators too) convened to talk about how to improve teaching and learning on our campuses. The faculty who attended the conference teach at the CBD colleges—a group of nine community colleges from Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida.
Our colleges were among the earliest “early adopters” to implement strategies designed to restructure of our students’ experiences and improve their graduation rates (which honestly were not impressive at the time the initiative began). Our colleges have been very busy!
We have implemented structured academic pathways for our programs, redesigned orientation programs and developmental education, overhauled our advising systems and practices, and implemented too many other policies and program changes to mention, all designed to help our students navigate their time with us successfully and graduate.
We have been working very hard to help our students be more successful and to be well-prepared for a career or transfer to a 4-year school. And we are seeing some very impressive results for all of our efforts. Our graduation rates are improving and our students are leaving us with fewer excess credits and less student-loan debt. We have a lot to be proud of, but we still have more work to do. And some have argued that we have not spent enough time or resources on one incredibly important area of the student experience---what actually happens in the classroom and learning environment for our students.
Our colleges now want to focus our energies on addressing what, on the surface, can seem like simple questions—“How can we improve teaching and learning on our campuses?” “How can we be better teachers and help our students be better learners?” These are actually very complex questions and so we begin our endeavors with an understanding of the complexity of the task we undertake. Some might argue that the questions themselves are loaded, subtly implying that community college teachers aren’t up to standards or that underprepared and unmotivated students are to blame.
Over the course of a day and a half at the Friday Center on the NC State campus, attendees examined their own perceptions and had genuine conversations about the challenges that our institutions face in improving teaching and learning.
Dr. Audrey Jaeger facilitated discussions about threshold concepts and argued that if we want to understand how best to help our students learn, we must also understand how faculty learn. She asserted that we must be willing to help community college teachers to step across the threshold and be willing to explore unfamiliar pedagogy, to address misconceptions, and to examine their own effectiveness. She also challenged attendees to address issues of equity on our own campuses and discuss the unintended consequences that some faculty have experienced in areas like workload and teaching assignments, and the allocation of resources. Dr. Jaeger noted that broad faculty engagement is promoted through acknowledgement and open discussion of concerns.
The participants at the conference were treated to a number of engaging and productive sessions during our convening but two broad themes emerged that campuses hope to focus on moving forward into the next year. The first theme can be summed up as: our relationships with our students matter. Approachable, empathetic faculty members, who mentor students, are crucial to the success of our students, particularly our students who are most at risk to drop-out and not complete their degrees. But what does it mean to be a good mentor or to be an empathetic teacher? It can be easy to point to examples of our colleagues who exemplify these traits, but how can we get more faculty to step across this threshold and be willing to relate to their students in a new, unfamiliar way?
Another theme of the conference revolved around the importance of proving deep learning experiences for that go beyond classroom learning and require our students to invest significant time and energy. Those of us who teach in the liberal arts disciplines were reminded that our transfer students also want to have opportunities for internships, practicums, and other hands-on experiences related to their career interests, just like students in the health care and business programs. By providing our students with deep learning experiences through practices like service learning we help our students make informed choices and connect them to future employment.
Our teams have returned to our campuses full of ideas and we have begun to make plans for how we can best address our most pressing issues in the area of teaching and learning. We are a heterogeneous group of institutions and we expect our plans will be diverse as well. But our ability to share with and learn from each other continues to one of the most beneficial aspects of the CBD initiative.
We are excited to begin this meaningful work and to share what we learn with you!
Word cloud based on participants’ conference feedback to the question: “What information are you excited to share with colleagues at your college?”
- CBD Agenda: Conference on Teaching and Learning June 28-29, 2016
- Speaker Bios
- Hodges Keynote: Lessons from Gallup's Research in Education and Beyond
- The Faculty Perspective
- Best Practices in Building Faculty and Student Engagement
- The Importance of Teacher Empathy in Increasing Student Success
- Teaching for Transfer: Shifting from the How to What
- Advising and Beyond
- Leveraging Instructional Technology for Student Success
- Fast and Furious Workshop Presentations
- Cultural Transformation at the Intersection of Design Principles, Strategic Planning, and Leveraged Serendipity: An Evolutionary Mapping of Faculty Development at Valencia College and survey results