Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What skills did you possess as an undergraduate that made you successful? Who taught you about the methods you used to navigate college? Were you lucky enough to have a mentor? A recent discussion about our undergraduate experience made me take a new look at the current research about student mentoring. As expected, having a mentor increases a students chance to persist and graduate under the right circumstances. In Buffy Smith's Mentoring At-risk Students through the Hidden Curriculum of Higher Education, she notes three actions that mentors should do in order to help students including: (1) telling students what they should do (advising), (2) advocacy, defined as motivating and connecting students with individuals on campus, and (3) showing and empowering students how to acquire the highest degree of capital from the mentoring relationship (academic apprenticeship). Many institutions include mentoring as part of their first-generation programs. Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist provide a really nice overview of mentoring in their article for Inside Higher Ed. The article focuses on what faculty can do in the form of mentoring to help students succeed. One of the points they make is about the relationship itself as they note, "Individual faculty mentors also should recognize the backgrounds, resources and needs of their students, rather than assuming that students are all the same and have all of the resources they need. Students benefit from faculty mentors who see them as whole people. By recognizing who a student is beyond their role as a student, faculty members can develop trusting relationships with them."

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A recent conversation with a colleague about problem-based learning (PBL) prompted me to take a look at the latest research on the topic. What I found is there is a lot of material and the research studies are very often giving what looks like conflicting results. A closer look however led me to understand that very often the context has a lot to do with whether PBL is beneficial to learners or not. If you are just jumping into PBL, John R. Savery has a nice overview with definitions that are helpful. One of the areas I am always interested in looking at is how to help learners develop their critical thinking abilities. It is one of the many topics we teach in the College Success Skills course and I often share with students that people who can solve problems will always find a job. Agnes Tiwari, Patrick Lai, Mike So, and Kwan Yuen tackle this issue in their study and found that PBL did aid in the development of critical thinking skills versus students who only received traditional lectures. Serkan Sendağa and H. Ferhan Odabas also found that using PBL in an online environment increases learners critical thinking skills. Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver found that using PBL methods can also improve learners collaboration skills and intrinsic motivation. Now you should be really intrigued and want to learn more about how you can implement PBL into your courses. Look for a follow-up post soon that will share some tips on how you can do just that. By the way, if you are already using PBL, be sure and post your comments so that we can all learn from your experiences.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Before adult learners will learn something, they often need to know why they need to learn it. That sounds really easy right? Just like you and me, understanding the relevance to our lives will cause us to focus more deeply on something. So translating that to our classroom makes great sense. Just develop and deliver learning experiences that have direct applicability and relevance to our student's lives. The other important concept to remember as we develop our curriculum is that adult learners are autonomous and self-directed. Now this may be where some of our student persistence issues begin to occur. If most of your students are first-timers and recent high school graduates, they are very much set in something we like to call the 80/20 model. Eighty percent of everything that happened to them in high school was delivered by their teachers. Books are free. The bell rings to change classes. The bus picks you up and takes you home. You get a study guide for all tests. So it is understandable that many of our students are expecting the same thing from us. But college is not high school in so many ways. So getting our students to not resist the college experience begins with that simple statement. Turn 80/20 on its ear and tell your students that it is time for them to begin to write their own future. Asking them questions like "what do you want to do with your life or what type of job are you hoping to find once you earn your academic credential" (degree/certificate/etc.) can begin to help them understand that college is the beginning of their adult life. Then have them create goals for themselves. Suggest they do this for each class, for the semester as a whole, and for the next 5 years of their lives. You should also remind them to revise them as the semester progresses. It is a subtle thing but it helps them to begin to understand that becoming a self-guided learner is the optimal goal. After all, once they complete college, they will still need to continue to build their knowledge base on their own. Holding this type of conversation during the first class session will certainly help our students to begin the semester moving in the right direction and should also improve our student persistence rates.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Our summer session starts on June 5 and as veterans will tell you, it moves quickly. Students accustomed to the (somewhat) more leisurely pace of fall and spring, usually underestimate the time they now have to stay current and fully prepare for assessments. This is an area where you as an instructor can really help. Spend some time in the first class session allowing your students to create a semester calendar. Remind them to mark off all of the dates when the big projects, tests, and presentations are due. Their calendar should also include the other events that require a lot of their time like jobs, possibly travel time, etc. In this way, they can begin to see the times when they are free to read, study, consolidate notes, or meet with a study group. Getting off to a quick start is paramount in semesters that have limited sessions. Please remind your students that there will be a sign-up table to join Study Groups for the summer in the Magnolia Building during the June 5-8 week from 9 am until 3 pm each day. If you need more information, please contact Academic Support Specialist Barbara Linder ( linderb@mybrcc.edu or 216.8228). Study groups can really provide that needed support during abbreviated semesters. Good luck on the upcoming semester.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

David Gooblar has a new post that represents what many of us are feeling right now. He writes, "It’s been a long semester. We’ve all worked hard, tried out new things, adapted on the fly, managed to keep our heads above an ocean of work while still being present for our students. We’ve made it through the mid-semester doldrums. Depending on how much grading we’ve got left, we’re now within sight of the end. If you’re anything like me, to say that you’re looking forward to the end is an understatement. Does anyone else visualize entering that last grade, closing your folder of class notes, and then throwing that folder into the sea? Today I’d like to suggest that you not be so quick to move on from this term, no matter how desperately you long for a summer away from teaching. So this year, maybe when your students are filling out their evaluation forms, take a little time to evaluate yourself. What worked well? What didn’t? What would you change if you could teach the course over again? Answering even these few questions will pay dividends well worth that slight delay in getting you to your much-deserved summer break." Continue reading here.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Have you ever thought about what we are all doing in higher education (or any level of education for that matter)? We are teaching students from the things we know now to help them be the leaders of the future. We are literally teaching then for things that will happen that we may or may not know anything about. It really drives the point home that we can't just worry about covering the material but must focus on helping them become self-guided learners. They need to be adults who can learn things on their own so that they will be able to handle the problems of the future. That was one of the reasons I was excited to attend the American Association of Community Colleges conference in Louisiana last weekend. As I participated in a session about innovative learning going on at several of the City University of New York schools, I marveled at how most of my colleagues are wrestling with the same issues that we are encountering. Today I encountered a special section in the The Chronicle of Higher Education that talks about a student leadership development program at CUNY. The program is aimed at creating leaders for the future. The City University of New York’s Futures Initiative, founded in 2014, is a program that advocates for both authentic innovation and equity. According to Cathy Davidson, the Initiative’s founding director and a distinguished professor of English at CUNY’s Graduate Center:  “Normally when we think of innovation in higher education, we think of extremely well-funded programs for typically wealthy students who plan on going into jobs at the very top of the technology world. Not necessarily innovation that serves the good for the most people. Our credo is that unless your innovation has equity built into it, it’s not really innovation.” It certainly raises a lot of questions as we come to the end of the spring semester.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This is the time of year when we can smell the fear in the air. It is the end of the semester and that means that finals are just around the corner. Our students anxiety levels are raised and some of them begin to panic. But it doesn't have to be this way. Maryellen Weimer posted a letter to students about finals back in December 2016. It is still a great piece and the relevance echoes throughout higher education. I also found it very useful in teaching College Success Skills (CSSK 1023) as we spend a good amount of time on helping students figure out how they learn best. Weimer begins where we also begin in CSSK--start with a plan. Very often students jump into finals prep with no game plan and that is surely a recipe for disaster. One of my favorite parts of the post is this gem: "Believe in yourself. Your brain is plenty big enough to handle any question I might toss at you. You’ve just got to get the information stored in a place where you can retrieve it. Build connections between the new material and what you already know. Short-term memory is like a sponge—once it gets full, it drips. If you truly understand something, it’s much less likely to leak out." I strongly encourage you to share this letter with your students. We have sent it to the student who are participating in study groups and have received some positive feedback from them as well (letting your students know it is peer-endorsed may get them to read it). You might also remind them that the Academic Learning Center provides assistance for all students and the Long Night Against Procrastination is occurring on May 2 from 4:00 until 10:00 pm in the Magnolia Building on the Mid City Campus.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


As our yearly spring break week winds to a close, there is anticipation in the air. It is always a mystery as to just how many of our students will check back in. It is the time of year when we may have seen the last of a student yet we didn't know it. Many of us, with the small taste of sprummer (spring/summer Louisiana style), can empathize with our students who check out at this point of the semester. Why does this happen? Does the break someone trigger feelings of being done or hopelessness or both? It reminded me of a recent article on NPR.org that encouraged us to not schedule early classes because our students learn better later in the day. It also said, "College classes start too early in the morning for students' brains. While most colleges have start times of around 8 a.m., Jonathan Kelley advises NPR Ed that the ideal start time would be more like 10 or 11 a.m. The reason: People fall into different 'chronotypes,'which people know as 'early birds' and 'night owls.' In this sample, night owls outnumbered early birds by far. The reasons for this are biological, says Evans. There has been evidence over time from specific studies indicating that teenagers' body clocks are set at a different time than older folks, she says. Medical research suggests that this goes on well into your 20s, so we decided to look at college students. While there is no ideal start time for everyone, up to 83 percent of students could be at their best performance if colleges allowed them to choose their own ideal starting time for a regular six-hour day, according to Kelley." Food for thought. By the way, we are strongly encouraging our study group student participants to plan some meeting time to discuss how they plan to finish the spring semester strong so please encourage your students to spend some time on this idea as well.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Whenever we enter into conversation about teaching and learning, we inevitable end up talking about how distracted our students have become. We ponder ways to pull them back in, something active learning has proved to be adept at but there is still room for improvement. Reading James M. Lang's latest post, tells me that the faculty at BRCC are joined by colleagues around the world who are facing the same situation. One of the quotes from the post that really stuck with me is, "The arrival and widespread adoption of new technologies has occurred in increasingly intense bursts. In The Distracted Mind, Gazzaley and Rosen point out that, if you assume a benchmark of 50 million worldwide users, radio arrived at that level within 38 years of its invention. The time frame shrinks with each new invention: telephone, 20 years; television, 13 years; cellphones; 12 years; the internet, four years. Social media amped up the curve: Facebook, two years; YouTube, one year. And the winner, at least at the time of their writing the book? "Angry Birds" took over our lives in 35 days." We know our brains grow and adapt. We know that we continue to learn throughout our lives. We know a lot about how technology disruption changes things for us no matter the delivery modality. What we don't know is how to effectively use the technology (usually smart phones or tablets) without causing what education scientists call the "lingering effect." I think we do what we have always done and that is to try different approaches using the new tools. But we must share our results with each other and grow the research resources so that we can improve student success and continue to add tools to our teaching toolkit. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Have you ever had one of your students ask you why they needed to learn something? Many of our students feel like anything they spend time learning should be relevant. Have you ever been stumped when they asked you the question? Rohit Metha found himself in just that sort of situation while teaching a wireless communication class to senior engineering majors. He writes, "Personally, wrapping my head around the concepts of probability took me several years. As a result, it has had a serious effect on my understanding of the world in general, including my position on some crucial political, medical, and spiritual issues. When my student asked me for why it was relevant, I tried to explain why I cared about it and how it connected to wireless communication. I could tell that he did not care about either of my reasons. This bothered me for weeks, perhaps, months. Well, it still kind of does. But, it led me to wonder what could I have done differently? Last year, now working as a researcher in literacies at MSU, I found my answer." Sometimes it is beneficial to look at what we are teaching and consider why we are teaching it. Maybe like Rohit, it will help you enhance your teaching skills. He didn't stop there. He decided to write down his five ways that we can make learning relevant for our students which you can access here. He closes the post with what could be his teaching philosophy saying, "Our goal is to have them on-board with the things that we have learned to value and care about, so they can be good, literate, and emotional citizens who value each other and the world they live in."