Monday, July 21, 2014

Mark Phillips has written a really interesting article for Eutopia about myths associated with education. His inspiration was a book by Drs. David Berliner and Gene Glass titled 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education. The book focuses on the U.S. public education system, but many of the myths apply equally to our own college students. Phillips put the myth that teachers are the most important influence on a child’s education as his number one. He writes, "Of course teachers are extremely important. Good teachers make a significant difference in achievement. But research indicates that less than 30 percent of a student's academic success is attributable to schools and teachers. The most significant variable is socioeconomic status, followed by the neighborhood, the psychological quality of the home environment, and the support of physical health provided." I understand his argument to mean that teachers are very important but part of a larger system that can include many impediments that a student and teacher must overcome for teaching and learning to occur. I am familiar with Dr. Berliner's work and have seen him present a number of sessions at the annual American Educational Research Association. I am anxious to read the entire book. Let me know what you think of the list and the book.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this weekend that proclaims that economic mobility is alive and well for Americans who pursue technical or practical training. That is a fact that we are well aware of at BRCC and hopefully we are continuing to make sure that our course content is relevant in preparing a workforce-ready graduate. Tamar Jacoby writes, "Americans have a host of postsecondary options other than a four-year degree—associate degrees, occupational certificates, industry certifications, apprenticeships. Many economists are bullish about the prospects of what they call "middle-skilled" workers. In coming years, according to some, at least a third and perhaps closer to half of all U.S. jobs will require more than high school but less than four years of college—and most will involve some sort of technical or practical training." The future is indeed bright for BRCC and our sister schools of LCTCS.

How would you describe good teaching? Ben Johnson recently joined an online discussion about that topic. He remarked, "My experience is that good teachers care about students. Good teachers know the content and know how to explain it. Good teachers expect and demand high levels of performance of students. Good teachers are great performers and storytellers that rivet their students' attention. Great teachers engineer learning experiences that maneuver the students into the driver's seat and then the teachers get out of the way. Students learn best by personally experiencing learning that is physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. John Dewey had it right in 1935 when he espoused his theories on experiential learning. Today we call this constructivism" Many of the things he had to say echo what you will find in the pages of Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do, a book that we used as a common reader in the fall 2013 semester (and plan to use again this fall). So do you think the comments above describe you? Although I aspire to be what Johnson and Bain have described and challenge myself through critical self-reflection, I know it is a journey that we are all called as teachers to make.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The numerous students we are seeing at the orientation sessions this summer tells me we are going to have a very busy fall semester. We have been stressing to all of the incoming students that the key to success is preparation. While you have some time, why not sift through your class lists from the spring semester and identify some students who could benefit from the College Success Skills class we offer. An email from you could be just the inspiration they need to take better control of their academic career. As we continue to focus on student success strategies that work, I encourage you to try some intrusive advising.

Dr. Peter Riley Bahr has developed a new way to classify community colleges based on their use by students. As it is important for us to understand patterns like this to fully understand and prepare to meet the Grad Act benchmarks, I encourage you to read the full article that appeared in the Research in Higher Education journal (June 2013).  Bahr writes, "The implementation of performance accountability systems for community colleges is complicated by the multifaceted mission of these institutions. This mission often is divided into the three categories of workforce development, upward transfer to four-year institutions, and community education. In addition, it is not uncommon for a fourth category to be mentioned, though the specifics vary. Some argue that the fourth category is remediation, while others suggest that it is general education.”

Active learning is most commonly defined as several models of instruction that focus the responsibility of learning on learners. To enhance learning, teaching must encourage students to do more than just listen: they must read, write, discuss, and be engaged in solving problems. We are currently working on updating the Active Learning Manual but the current version is still available and we will forward a copy to you if you send us an email request ( A recent article in Faculty Focus extolled the virtues of the one-minute paper, an active learning standard. Problem-based learning is another good active learning technique that can be used by any discipline. The aforementioned article notes, "Case studies are a form of problem-based learning that encourage the student to think critically and apply “book knowledge” to everyday practice and problems that will occur in the workplace. A literature review reveals very little research on using case studies in fields other than health, law, and business. However, case studies could certainly be written for any field of study." You can also use video in your courses to promote active learning. Whether you are just getting started in the active learning realm or have moved far to the right of the continuum mid-point, there is always room for improvement. I have found that as I use some of the suggested active learning methods, new ideas begin to emerge. Sometimes the students themselves suggest new ideas.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Mariale Hardiman and Glenn Whitman have written a really interesting piece about assessment and the learning brain. The article starts out by noting, "Research on the connection between motivation and learning has focused on two types of mindsets that students develop, based on the kind of experiences (including assessments) we present them with in school. Students tend to develop either performance-related goals or mastery goals (Ames & Archer). Performance-related goals are those linked to more traditional types of assessments. Students become motivated by the grades they achieve, their rankings compared to other students, and extrinsic rewards such as honor rolls or school awards. In contrast, students who develop mastery goals are motivated by the actual learning experiences. Their rewards arise from the challenges of acquiring and applying new knowledge and skills. While students may possess a combination of both types of goals, those motivated primarily by performance goals tend to lose motivation and confidence when faced with difficult academic challenges or when set back by failures. In contrast, students who are motivated by mastery goals are more likely to persevere in the face of such challenges. Difficult tasks or setbacks do not diminish their motivation or self-esteem (Pintrich; Grant & Dweck). Students with mastery goals mindsets are more likely to choose more difficult but rewarding ways to demonstrate learning."

Do you see pictures in your head as you are reading? Dr. Mark Sadoski has a solid article outlining the research he did on mental imagery. He notes, "The mental imagery that we experience while reading, either spontaneously or induced by instruction, is now known to have powerful effects on comprehension, memory, and appreciation for text. This may seem self-evident today, but it was not long ago that purely language-based theories of cognition and memory prevailed. If imagery was recognized at all, it was held to be incidental and of little importance." The article goes on to provide some relevant research that, while not comprehensive, is extremely thorough and the implications include a suggestion that we might want to use imagery in our assessment of learning.

The summer break (for some of us) is always a good time to upgrade your technology resources. Are you looking for an easy way to create a game or short video? You should check out ClassTools. Socrative is a smart student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets. Do you enjoy the Ted Talks as much as I do? Visit this website to discover how you can use the material in the presentations to help your students learn. Looking for videos that you can use in your face-to-face classes or perhaps to post on your Blackboard site as part of a flipped lesson? Take a look at what PBS has to offer.

Monday, June 16, 2014

I am very excited to be one of the select few that will be heading to New Jersey to participate in Ken Bain's last Best Teachers Summer Institute later this week. Judging by the pre-conference homework (Dr. Bain's version of flipping), this promises to be an exceptional learning event. I wanted to share just a small sliver of what we are working on before coming together as a group. Dr. Bain has asked us to do some critical self-reflection (one of my favorite topics) and to specifically look at how we construct our syllabi. He asks, "how can a colleague develop a sense of you as a scholar by examining the various features of your course?" I hope that you do what I did when I saw that question and that is, quickly pull up one of your syllabi and begin to deconstruct it to determine the answer to this brilliant question. If our syllabi are truly the guiding documents for our partnerships with our students, shouldn't they reflect our teaching philosophy, our passion for the subject matter, and what we think is most important for student learning? In the same way, the assessment instruments we indicate on our syllabi are also telling an interesting story. I hope to bring back much more of this type of faculty development from the conference and am sure that our programming for the 2014-15 academic year will be shaped by what happens this week.

Drs. S. Michael Putman, Karen Ford, and Susan Tancock have written an interesting article about enhancing critical thinking abilities using discussion boards in online classes. They write, "The asynchronous online discussion (AOD) is a communicative tool that has been observed to promote “a level of reflective interaction often lacking in a face-to-face, teacher-centered classroom.” Inherent within successful AODs is the use of meaningful discourse to facilitate critical engagement with the content that is the focus of the experience. Numerous studies have shown that effective AODS produce an increased level of cognitive thinking and knowledge construction within participants. Potential for these outcomes were maximized when learning objectives were linked to real-life experiences within moderately complex tasks. Participants in the AODs were more effectively able to understand the applicability of the content within the greater context of learning. Knowledge development increased as participants shared information regarding their beliefs and experiences. Critically engaging with and reflecting on content prior to sharing was theorized to account for differences." They encourage the use of "facilitative Prompts" to fully realize the effects of online discussion.

Boredom is one of the most common complaints among university students, with studies suggesting its link to poor grades, drop out, and behavioral problems according to an article by Drs. Steven J. Kass, Stephen J. Vodanovich, and Jasmine Y. Khosrav. They note that "Boredom proneness was found to be significantly and negatively related to course grade and measures of satisfaction." They conclude that "students need and desire the opportunity to use the variety of skills learned in class. Putting these skills into practice allows students to see the connection between what they learned and the context within which it is applied , thus increasing satisfaction and internal motivation which they may demonstrate through greater class attendance and engagement. Students may also benefit by allowing them to make their own decisions and develop individualized approaches (i.e., autonomy) to completing coursework. Consistent with many different theories on training and learning, students must be provided with in formative feedback to help direct efforts toward accomplishing their goals." Certainly another reason to look at experiential learning and the use of problem-based situations in our courses.

Monday, June 9, 2014

We are already in the second week of class for the summer term and the campus is alive with teaching and learning. We are also seeing a good number of students who will begin their academic careers in the fall and their excitement level is very contagious. For those teaching during the summer (and the rest of us on break), I want to encourage you to journal throughout the semester. Critical self-reflection is crucial to any attempt to improve your teaching and add to your toolkit. The academic support staff is hard at work in the Division of Innovative Learning and Academic Support and we stand ready to assist you with your teaching and learning needs. If you are looking for some summer reading, I want to recommend Ken Bain's classic What The Best College Teachers Do. Remember to keep calm and be engaged.

There was an interesting research study published in the April 30 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience about how the brain responds to fairness. Using MRI scanners, Dr. Ryuta Akoi's team found that when people are offered the sames choices, they report being happier and their bran scans showed increased activity in the area called ventromedial prefrontal cortex. So how would you apply these findings in your classroom? I immediately thought of the awkward situation when students ask for extra credit work. It was validating to see that the explanation I always use related to the fairness of extra credit work is a good choice. By explaining to your students that your strategy to treat everyone fairly and equally will actually work to your advantage and leaves the student feeling satisfied.

Reading a recent column by Dr. Neil Haave about teaching philosophies and how they are usually developed made me think about learning styles. Although there is not a consensus on the matter of learning styles, most educationalists agree that students do use different methods to learn. Dr. Haave pointed out that many of us also teach using the method that we find most useful to our own learning. So it begs the question, do you know your own learning style preference? Have you ever taken one of the many online tests to determine your bias? I encourage you to take that step, especially if you are asking your students to determine how they learn best (and you should be). Learning about learning (or metacognition) should be a learning outcome for everyone's class. Let me know what you discover about yourself.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Tomorrow will be the last Friday BRCC will be open until August 8. June 2 marks the beginning of the summer semester, four-day work weeks and we are off and running with 4-week, 8-week, and full semester offerings in addition to our eLearning courses. We have been meeting so many of our new students at the various orientation sessions being offered. They are excited and so are we. This is truly a partnership and that point must be made clear from the start. College is not high school and so the students have a terrific opportunity to write a new story for their lives. If you think about it, someone can come in and in only a short 24 months have a totally different life. Our students become welders, artists, nurses, first responders of all types, sonographers, veterinary technicians, entertainment technologists, musicians, and folks who work in all sorts of businesses, both big and small. It is these students that will form the sustainable families of the future and that is why what you do is so important. Please feel free to contact me or any of the staff in the Division of Innovative Learning and Academic Support if you need assistance. We are here for you.

Angus Johnston has written an interesting column about trigger warnings in the classroom. He writes, "A classroom environment is different for a few reasons. First, it’s a shared space — for the 75 minutes of the class session and the 15 weeks of the semester, we’re pretty much all stuck with one another, and that fact imposes interpersonal obligations on us that don’t exist between writer and reader. Second, it’s an interactive space — it’s a conversation, not a monologue, and I have a responsibility to encourage that conversation as best I can. Finally, it’s an unpredictable space — a lot of my students have never previously encountered some of the material we cover in my classes, or haven’t encountered it in the way it’s taught at the college level, and don’t have any clear sense of what to expect.

Adaptive learning is a uniquely innovative, albeit expensive, way to address the problems of costs, retention, and student success, especially in remedial education where this technology promises to be most useful. So says Brian Fleming in a terrific piece on the topic. He continues, "Personalization in teaching and learning happens best when content delivery, assessment, and mastery are “adapted” to meet students’ unique needs and abilities. Educators, of course, have been doing this for centuries. What is new about this practice today, however, is simply the use of technology, which comes in the form of heavily automated digital learning platforms driven by predictive modeling, learning analytics, and the latest research in brain science, cognition, and pedagogy. This technology can be used in any discipline, though it is most common in math and science courses and primarily as a tool to enhance student success in online and remedial education, where the need for personalization has historically been most urgent." The future is here but are we ready?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

With no classes scheduled for the next two weeks, things should be slowing down at BRCC, right? Not so, because this is traditionally a time for graduating high school seniors to start their college orientation process. We have held a number of sessions already with more to come. I was asked to participate and give the orientation crowds a ten minute version of how to succeed in college. Impossible you say? Not really, I say and here is part of what I tell them. College and high school are different. The clearest way to send this message is to talk about the 80/20 and 20/80 rule. In high school 80 percent of the information students learned came from the teacher. That means that 80 percent of what a student may need to pass a test is being provided in carefully crafted learning experiences that do not require any active learning to occur. In college, that role is (or should be) reversed. Students must realize that their professor will provide about 20 percent of what they need to be successful in the course. The rest of the information needs to come from other reliable sources like textbooks, journal articles, personal research, and most importantly, application of the basic knowledge. This process, usually described as critical thinking, is what sets the college experience apart from high school. So how do we get our student to shift from the 80/20 to the active learning model? First by having them understand the difference by talking about it and having them think about it. Next, talk about the college experience, your expectations, and the effort that is required to be successful (or strongly encourage them to take the College Success Skills class that we offer). Finally, talk about how the college experience and the approach they learn to apply here will benefit them for the the rest of their lives. The "real world" requires them to think critically, write well, and work with others. These are all of the skills they learn in college. At the end of my presentation at orientation, I challenge the incoming students to begin to write their own story. I ask them, "Who do they want to be and how will they get there?" I close by reminding them that making the decision to come to college infinitely increases the chance that their future will be bright.

In a classic survey of campus faculty, Browne and Osborne noted a large discrepancy between faculty expectations for incoming students and incoming students’ perceptions of their own abilities. In particular, faculty expect college students to: critically think, manage their time, monitor their own stress levels, solve problems, clearly articulate what they do and do not know, and prioritize tasks so more important tasks are afforded more time. In this same poll, however, first year students cited the following areas of weakness in their own preparation for college: poor time management skills, ineffective methods for coping with stress, frustration with communication abilities, and poorly developed critical thinking skills. It may not surprise you that this survey was released in 1998. So here we are sixteen years later and not much has changed. The good news, according to Browne and Orborne's research, is that the process of critical thinking can be taught and modeled well enough in one semester to initiate some long-term change. Even with a model for critical thinking in hand, however, student success is not guaranteed. Students need ongoing and frequent practice with applying the critical thinking model, and they need practice with applying the model in diverse ways. Discipline-specific applications on the process of critical thinking may be less effective in the long run than requiring students to implement critical thinking in ways that are relevant to their daily lives. As you begin to plan your learning experiences for next semester, remember to look for ways to help students develop their critical thinking skills. Take another look at the survey list above at the beginning of your next semester. If your class is filled with first-time students, who were most recently in high school, they may not have all the skills your expect. That means you have to change your approach but in the end it will create less frustration for you. Remember to keep calm and be engaged.

Before you leave for the summer (if you have decided not to teach during the summer term), you might want to request a copy of the updated Active Learning Manual. It is filled with active learning strategies that can be used in any type of class. There are even some suggestions specific for those teaching in the online environment. You might also want to take another look at this post on active learning. Can you spot a good learner? Revisit this post and match the list with the students in your class who had success. Is the article validated by what you observed? If you are looking at a course redesign project over the summer, take a look at this information to help you stay focused.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It is officially finals week at BRCC. Where did our semester go? Hopefully this will be a time for achievement and affirmation. Pledge to create a testing atmosphere that allows your students to perform at their best. Remind them to study, rest, and eat so that they are ready for the challenges of assessment. This is also a great time to begin to reflect on your work this semester. If you journaled, like I did, you can take a look at the entries once more. I am amazed at where we (the students and me) began this journey and where we are now. I have seen tremendous growth from most of my students. I have witnessed grit and persistence. I have seen success. I always learn so much about teaching and learning over the course of a semester and this one proved to be filled with lessons. I have also taken another look at all of my assessment instruments I used over the semester and tried to incorporate what worked best, based on the scores achieved by my students, into my final assessment. The proof will be in the final grades although I can tell you that all of my students have learned. They are better equipped to handle the pressures of college and they have changed their ideas about what learning is and how to do it. Today is a good day. Keep calm and be engaged!

Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Monique Cross and I gathered with the Engaged Scholars on Friday to celebrate their success and acknowledge their efforts. Teachers who come each day to make a difference give us so much inspiration. Many of the "engagement specialists" shared stories of what happened in their classrooms and online and the recollections were filled with good news and accomplishments. Capital One was the corporate sponsor for the event held at Bistro Byronz. Patrick Olinde, district manager, and Mary Pourciau, manager of the Broadmoor branch, represented Capital One and were so excited to hear about BRCC's accomplishments. Engaged Scholars recognized for 2013-14 included Mrs. Catherine Doyle (Nursing), Dr. Sandra Guzman (Science), Mr. Paul Guidry (Criminal Justice), Mr. Wes Harris (English), Dr. Mary Miller (Science), and Mrs. Amy Pinero (Criminal Justice). If you are looking to improve your interaction skills or learn a few engagement strategies, please contact the Teaching+Learning Center to discuss creating a personal plan of action.

Sally Johnstone and Thad Nodine have written an article for Inside Higher Ed about competency-based education (CBE). Although available to students for several decades, CBE has seen a jump in interest over the past year. Politicians at the national level are encouraging innovation in new delivery models. Federal agencies and foundations are weighing in with studies and grants. And think tanks and higher education associations are organizing convenings and webinars. Meanwhile, more colleges and universities are beginning to offer competency-based education (CBE) programs and many others are considering them. There has been plenty of attention, at the 30,000-foot level, concerning the potential benefits and risks of CBE, but little has been shared about what the programs entail on the ground, particularly for traditional institutions. One critical characteristic that distinguishes CBE from other courses is that students can progress at their own pace. They progress toward course objectives and toward a certificate or degree, based on demonstrating the knowledge and skills required at each level. That is, learning becomes the constant -- and is demonstrated through mastery of learning objectives, or competencies -- and time becomes the variable.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

There is good news and bad news on the brain front depending on which side of the neural network you are on. According to a recent article in Popular Science, the concept of brain emulation has a long, colorful history in science fiction, but it's also deeply rooted in computer science. An entire subfield known as neural networking is based on the physical architecture and biological rules that underpin neuroscience. Computer engineers have created artificial neural networks capable of forming associations, or learning. However, any neuroscientist will tell you that artificial neural networks don't begin to incorporate the true complexity of the human brain. Researchers have yet to characterize the many ways neurons interact and have yet to grasp how different chemical pathways affect the likelihood that they will fire. It appears there are rules they just don't know yet. So in the battle between human and machine, it seems we are still winning. We are discovering new things about how we learn everyday, which is another reason that teaching continues to be such a fascinating career or vocation. A lesson for our students is to practice good living like getting the proper rest, avoiding high anxiety situations right before assessment, and developing healthy eating habits to make sure their neurons are firing properly.

"The average person probably remembers more of what they see than what they hear," says Dr. Dave Yearwood in a great article about exposing your students to the same information multiple ties to insure it sticks. He writes, "according to molecular biologist John Medina, the key to more remembering what we see and hear is enhanced when repetition is involved. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating mass memorization of anything by anyone. Memorization is necessary in some cases, but given the easy access to all kinds of information, I see little reason for my students to commit large amounts of information to organic memory as opposed to knowing how and where to find it. What I am merely suggesting is that frequent re-exposure to snippets of content will likely aid understanding of what was presented or discussed."

Raise your hand if you believe it is a professor's job to stimulate, care about, and encourage their student's hopes and dreams? Put your hand down and take a look at this article by Scott Carlson in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes, "If you believe the new Gallup-Purdue Index Report, a study of 30,000 graduates of American colleges on issues of employment, job engagement, and well-being, it all comes down to old-fashioned values and human connectedness." Harold V. Hartley III, senior vice president at the Council of Independent Colleges said, "The thing that I think that is of particular value of this survey is that it is looking at outcomes of college that are different from the outcomes that we typically look at—like did you get a job, what is your salary, and those kinds of things."

Friday, May 2, 2014

The movement to create a academic advising program of excellence for our students continues to move forward. A good number of our colleagues gathered on Tuesday, April 29 to discuss a number of issues that included the need for a guidebook, academic progress checklists, a database on student advising, selection of an appropriate advising model, and the creation of a discussion board. Two ad-hoc committees were created to handle the main issues. The Academic Advising Handbook ad-hoc committee is being co-chaired by Science Department Chair Laura Younger and Nursing and Allied Health Academic Advisor Martha Sealey and includes the following members:  Dr. Mary Boudreaux (STEM Division), Gery Frie (Construction Management), Dr. Sandra Harris (Title 3), Leigh Potts, (Title 3), Jeanne Stacy (Academic Learning Center), Leroy Waguespack (Computer Information Systems), and Rebecca Wesley (Veterinary Technology). The Student Advising Records ad-hoc committee is being co-chaired by Business and Social Sciences Department Chair Amy Pinero and Business and Social Sciences Division Academic Advisor Eric Whitfield and includes the following members: Nisha Aroskar (Business), Vinetta Frie (CSSK) Peter Klubek (Library), Marla Kameny (Business), and Krista Schmitt (Business). If you would like to be involved in either ad-hoc committee, please contact one of the co-chairs.

Faculty Focus presents us with a timely article on an issue that we are currently wrestling with; namely student ratings of faculty. She writes, "When we talk about teaching effectiveness, it’s usually in the context of evaluation. Student ratings are frequently described as measures of teaching effectiveness, and that makes our understanding of the term important. Researcher Leslie Layne wondered whether students and teachers define the term similarly. If they don’t, Layne writes that understanding the differences “is crucial to faculty and administrators when interpreting student survey results.”

Dr. William Durden has written a very provocative opinion piece on the current state of affairs concerning liberal art degrees. He writes, "Americans don’t like cheaters. When it comes to how we learn and what we’re able to do with our acquired knowledge, a game has been going on. And many will find themselves systematically locked out of opportunity. This is not about students cheating on tests or principals downplaying ineffective teaching strategies. Nor is it about the latest argument concerning higher education — that college is too expensive and there’s no guarantee of gainful employment. It a national reckoning of how much we’re willing to tolerate regarding class, status and the suppression of economic mobility. This issue demands that we take responsibility for the way that our educational decisions play out in our lives and throughout our communities. Until we take ownership of these things, we will continue to play a fool’s game of winners and losers."