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Colleges start new academic programs

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How to hold students' attention in the classroom (essay)

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Creating classroom experiences that grab and hold students' interest is not only good teaching, it's good science, writes Karen Costa.

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Layoffs for Largest Boot Camp Provider

General Assembly, the largest coding and skills boot-camp provider, has laid off 50 employees, which is roughly 7 percent of the New York City-based company's work force, The Wall Street Journal reported last week. Jake Schwartz, the company's CEO and cofounder, told the newspaper that the layoffs were to make sure “we are completely self-sustainable and ready to control our own destiny for as long as it takes.”

Access to venture capital recently has tightened for many start-ups, the WSJ reported. General Assembly reportedly brought in $70 million in revenue last year. The company plans to make an announcement soon about new strategic investments, Schwartz said, while it seeks to continue growing a relatively new corporate training program.

Peace Corps Ends International Master's Program

Students may no longer apply to the Master’s International program with ties to the Peace Corps on any campus, The Keene Sentinel reported. The corps reportedly has outgrown its goals for the program and will be retiring it. Master’s International was created to pair graduate students “holding advanced sector-specific training and skills with relevant Peace Corps volunteer opportunities,” Emily Webb, corps spokesperson, told the Sentinel. Now, however, she said, the corps is attracting “remarkable numbers of highly qualified [applicants] and has created in-country trainings for volunteers that are far more robust and focused than they were in 1987,” when Master’s International began.

The corps has partnered with more than 90 U.S. academic institutions as part of the program, allowing students to pair their master’s degrees with relevant service. The program’s end won’t affect currently enrolled students or those who enroll by September.

What we're learning about challenges to implementing guided pathway reforms (essay)

The June 23 edition of Inside Higher Ed featured a thoughtful essay by Mike Rose titled “Reassessing a Redesign of Community Colleges.” The essay discusses the guided pathways reform model that we described in our 2015 book, Redesigning America’s Community Colleges: A Clearer Path to Student Success.

We wrote the book because we perceived that more than a decade of reform in community colleges had failed to improve overall student outcomes. We attributed that failure to the organization and culture of the colleges, which were originally designed to expand student access to higher education rather than promote student completion. Under the typical arrangement, what we called the cafeteria-style approach, students face a sometimes bewildering array of courses, programs and support services without clear guidance on how to navigate them effectively.

The guided pathways model we described provides an organizing framework to pull together several intersecting reforms that affect the student experience. Those reforms encompass not only changes in college and program structure but also changes in pedagogy, advising and student support. The model we outlined is an integrated approach to college redesign aimed squarely at improving student completion and learning.

Rose speaks favorably of the overall model but raises two potential problems. First, faculty resistance may thwart the implementation of guided pathways, and our discussion of how to engage faculty members seems abstract. Second, students arrive at college with many outside challenges and little idea about what they want to do academically, and they will thus inevitably take a variety of different paths through college. Rose rightfully argues that some problems at community college will not be solved by the recommendations presented in the book and that those barriers may prevent the model from living up to its potential -- leading to discouragement and perhaps a backlash.

There is no question that guided pathways reforms will encounter many implementation challenges, and we did not intend to minimize the difficulty. In the book, we suggested that the implementation of guided pathways is at least a five-year process even under favorable circumstances. The structural reforms we recommend need to be coupled with real-world problem solving in the context of each college to overcome the challenges.

In fact, we are devoting the next phase of our research to refining what works and what doesn’t as colleges attempt the reforms. But we have already learned a lot from the field since the book was published. Institutions that seem to be making progress in implementing guided pathways reforms have leaders who have worked for a long time laying the groundwork for change -- any sort of change, not just guided pathways. Even in those institutions, dealing with the political and cultural dynamics that Rose describes is a constant (but necessary) process.

Many of those colleges have taken the first steps by engaging faculty members to examine and rethink their programs in light of what students need to learn to prepare for further education and employment -- in some cases, working with employers and faculty members from four-year colleges in the process. Colleges are bringing together advisers with academic departments to redesign the intake and first-year experiences of students to better help them explore and choose a program of study.

Recent work by Melinda Karp and other Community College Research Center researchers on the implementation of e-advising technologies (which are central to guided pathways) provides insight into the conditions under which colleges can accomplish such “transformational change.” They found that transformative change requires leadership at both the college and initiative levels with a unified commitment to a shared vision for the reform and its goals. Still, we have far more to learn about how to effectively mobilize faculty and administrators in the implementation of guided pathways.

The Pressures on Students

Rose’s second point concerns the tremendous out-of-school challenges community college students can face that serve to undermine their academic success. As a result of those pressures, many students take convoluted pathways through colleges, stopping out and changing their purposes and goals. Guided pathways are not going to make those outside pressures fade away, but the reform model may indeed have more to offer the students who face such challenges than the smaller number of community college students who are well prepared, know what field they want to pursue and can attend full time and continuously.

First, the guided pathways model places particular importance on helping students explore and choose programs of study and potential careers. To be sure, many will change their minds, and that is fine. As it is, colleges do very little to enable students to explore options in a purposeful way so that they can see what is and what is not a good fit for them. Clarifying program pathways and improving the monitoring of progress for all students (especially by using default maps for program course sequences and tools that allow students to monitor their own progress) will be particularly helpful to part-time students or students who have to stop out.

More coherent pathways may also reduce the time to degree and thereby the probability that life events will derail a student’s college experience. And strong anecdotal evidence suggests that the guided pathways model increases the amount of quality time advisers spend with students, because they use less time scheduling students and more time talking about their plans. Early alert systems and predictive analytics are also being used to identify struggling students who need support but who probably would not have been identified in the past.

Rose certainly offers some important cautions. At the very least, he points to the need to make it clear that implementing guided pathways is a heavy lift that will take several years. In that process, will reformers be able to engage faculty members and administrators to redesign their colleges into coherent programs, and will they be able to help students overcome the difficult barriers they face, both in school and outside of it?

In the months since we published our book, reforms based on the guided pathways model have proliferated. We have identified numerous efforts by colleges in a majority of states to implement guided pathways at scale in their institutions. In almost all of those cases, the colleges are making such reforms without substantial grant funding.

At CCRC, we are now engaged in evaluations of some of those reforms in several states with an explicit goal of analyzing their successes and failures. Thus, over the next several years, we will get a much better sense of the ultimate effectiveness of the model. And we will be able to develop much better answers to the questions concerning implementation that Rose has raised.

Thomas Bailey is the George and Abby O'Neill Professor of Economics and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and director of the Community College Research Center. Shanna Smith Jaggars is director of student success research for the office of distance education and e-learning at the Ohio State University in Columbus and former assistant director of CCRC. Davis Jenkins is a senior research associate at CCRC and directs its work on guided pathways.

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Colleges start new academic programs

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What can be learned teaching campus workers along with traditional students (essay)

I spent last January teaching somewhere unexpected: at New York University’s campus in Abu Dhabi, established six years ago. And this class was different from any other in which I’ve been involved.

My creative writing class had 25 students of extraordinarily diverse backgrounds. Some were traditional-age seniors, soon to graduate. Others were older security personnel, several of whom had never been able to attend a college or university. Yet their differences didn’t matter. For three exciting weeks, I taught storytelling to matriculating students and staff members. More important, they taught each other.

They came from all over with tales to tell. A woman from the Philippines planned her story in her head while on duty as a campus security guard. Another student, an Emirati, composed his off campus, in his family home. One student from Uganda wrote about a young girl who could whistle magically. A student from Pakistan enlisted classmates to perform her manifesto -- scripted as a play -- satirizing arranged marriages. Another student, from the same part of the world, read out a dialogue from a son who wanted only more time with his busy, working dad.

This all started months earlier, when I received an email from Carol Brandt, NYUAD’s associate vice chancellor for global education and outreach. Would I be interested, she asked, to have my class participate in cocurricular activities? I had no idea what that meant. She told me that I could break up the January term’s notoriously intense three weeks of daily classes by, for example, taking students on a field trip or having them interview school staff members, or whatever creative idea I felt was suitable.

In the days before term started, the opportunity expanded. Another email came -- this time from Liria Gjidija, who goes by Lily and works in the social responsibility area of the university. Would I, she asked, be interested in also teaching creative writing to members of the campus staff?

I said yes to the unexpected offer. Of course. Education, after all, is key to developing every citizen’s possible self, while creative writing is vital to finding one’s voice.

Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, I immediately met with Lily, who explained NYUAD’s evolving social responsibility initiative. I was surprised, then thrilled, to hear about her work with campus contract employees -- maintenance personnel, hospitality staff and security guards -- as well as with those working in domestic roles with staff and faculty families. NYUAD now offers all of them access to library and health facilities, intramural sports, film screenings and an expanding range of classes on such subjects as survival Arabic, ESL, photography, business English, storytelling and even cooking.

Rather alarmingly to me, Lily described the creative writing course I’d give to contract staff: everyone had very high hopes, she told me, and you’ll be the captain of the ship.

Carte blanche can sometimes produce great anxiety, especially when teaching for the first time at a foreign school. I retreated to my apartment to brainstorm, knowing well that continuing education presents special challenges. I’d learned that painfully after completing my M.F.A. at Columbia University, when I gave creative writing courses in South Australia at the Workers’ Educational Association. There, I discovered that adult learning is particularly demanding because teachers have little baseline knowledge of what students have previously learned. Faced with the diversity of teaching 16 contract staff members at NYUAD, I became even more anxious.

The solution hit me as I read over the initial completed writing exercises of my nine matriculating NYUAD students. We’d spent our intense first week learning the basics of storytelling. They’d studied elegantly simple short stories, such as “Reunion” by John Cheever and Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” Reading the students’ work, it was evident they’d learned their stuff.

I jumped up, excited: Why not have these young students share all they’d learned with the 16 security guards whom I’d be teaching in the second and third weeks of the term? And why not have both sets pair up to learn about narrative by sharing their life stories?

On the first of what would be two Thursday afternoons, both sets of students were equally enthusiastic. For the beginning half of the class, the NYUAD kids shared their new skills with the guards who keep their campus secure. During the latter half of the class, those youngsters interviewed their elders, learning about their lives. Throughout, there was a shared excitement in the air. Nary a moan nor protest was heard when I assigned the busy contract staff members the stories by Cheever and Hemingway as their homework.

The frisson persisted during our second Thursday together, as the young students paired up with different staff members to unpack “Reunion” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” As with the week before, the latter portion of class was spent on interviews, but this time with staff members interviewing students about their lives. At the end of the class, we all parted ways for the weekend -- stories communicated and real connections made.

Too rare, often, are the moments in teaching and writing when you’re reminded exactly why you do it -- when what is learned goes beyond pages or discussions, or standardized demands of exams or reviews. Over the following two weekends, I met alone with the contract staff members to go deeper into what the NYUAD students had taught them. Those older learners then constructed their own stories and shared them with each other. They wrote of distant children growing up without them. Or parents passing far away. They wrote of departures and missed opportunities. Or the unforgotten beauty of their homelands. In writing, my students transcended themselves -- taking a bold step toward finding their voices, so that one day they could raise them beautifully and loudly. Because that’s what creative writing is about.

But rarer, still, are those moments when you see a higher education institution transcend the business that is education. Colleges and universities have classrooms, books, facilities; many have endowments and well-paid professors, or noble ideals like with my own Jesuit and Christian brothers’ alma maters. Colleges and universities engage in socially relevant research or in outreach, give to charities and encourage students to look at our troubled world and ask: Why?

Yet nowhere in my lifetime of studying and teaching have I seen this effort to help further educate the hundreds of workers who exist quietly within hallowed halls, in shadowed corridors -- keeping campuses safe, serving food to young minds, selling or shelving books or tidying up classrooms those long hours they are emptied. We should ask ourselves: Why not?

NYU Abu Dhabi is now doing it, to my great surprise. Their social responsibility program is becoming a model that should be replicated in every able university across the world. If you saw what I saw, what my students saw in those 16 university employees -- from the Philippines, Nepal, Uganda, Pakistan and India -- you would agree wholeheartedly that this initiative is vitally important. Because isn’t what happened in those classes what education is all about?

Miguel Syjuco, a visiting assistant professor of practice at New York University Abu Dhabi, is a Filipino writer from Manila. His debut novel, Ilustrado, was the winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize and a New York Times Notable Book of 2010.

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Competency-Based Education for Underprepared Students

The key to designing a competency-based education program for underprepared adult students is the need to balance remedial instruction with college work, within a system of effective student support services, says a new paper from Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group. Competency-based education has great potential for students who have remedial needs, the paper said, because of the course delivery method's focus on flexibility, customization and learning for mastery.

Exercise improves cognition, so colleges should require physical education (essay)

Brain Matters

Exercise improves cognition, so it's time for colleges to require physical education throughout a student's undergraduate experience, writes Karen Costa.

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Let's put cameras in the classroom to protect professors from narcissistic students (essay)

It takes only one problematic student in an otherwise amiable class to cause a teacher to temporarily question his career choice. It’s especially troubling that the proportion of such problematic students appears to be growing.

Some studies have reported a rising “narcissism epidemic” among students, the result of which suggests that the “United States is poised to experience social problems as younger narcissists age and move into positions of power,” as Josh Clark of Seeker.com noted in February 2013. Many educators are unfamiliar with scholarly research on this mental disorder, yet they know, through personal experience, its various symptoms. What are those symptoms, and what can educators do to manage them when they flare up, particularly in the classroom?

Let’s start with the first question. Narcissistic students are distinguished by several traits that imply a greater likelihood of conflict with their instructors. They are prone to “arrogant, haughty [rude and abusive] behaviors or attitudes,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They are also easily offended; one might expect that this trait is especially manifest in classes where controversial social issues are regularly discussed. Further, narcissism is associated with a sense of academic entitlement, as well as uncivil behavior when, as noted in an article in Personality and Individual Differences, “entitled behaviors fail to achieve the desired outcome.” Finally, narcissism is linked to immoral -- and shameless -- conduct, including academic dishonesty. (Cheating seems to be on the rise, although I’ve seen little evidence that students are getting better at it. Would it kill them to at least change the font color before copying and pasting someone else’s work?)

Simply put, narcissistic students are more disruptive, academically entitled, willing to cheat in order to succeed and likely to fuss when they don’t.

As a result, classroom conflicts with narcissistic students may occur with greater frequency in higher education today. Here I’m particularly interested in the more serious cases that reach the attention of college administrators, wherein professors face at least two challenges when presenting their side of the story. First, if narcissistic students do have fewer qualms about committing acts of academic dishonesty, it isn’t a huge stretch of the imagination to suspect that they’re also more likely to deliberately misrepresent classroom confrontations and level false accusations against faculty members. Such bogus allegations are a real -- and evidently growing -- problem in today’s educational institutions. In Great Britain, at least, more than one in five teachers reported having been falsely accused by school and college students in a survey conducted last year by the U.K.-based Association of Teachers and Lecturers. On the other side of the Atlantic, it was reported that one in seven male teachers has been wrongly accused of “inappropriate contact with students,” leading to a dearth of “male role models” in Canadian classrooms, according to the Canadian Education Association.

Second, colleges and universities are increasingly run like businesses, whereby students are viewed as customers. Accordingly, Nate Kreuter argues, “the old main street American, folksy business mantra that ‘the customer is always right’ can’t be too far behind.” Although recent experience has taught me that I’ve been blessed with a very fair-minded dean, I know that professors at other institutions aren’t nearly as fortunate. The rise of this business model of education may be part of the reason why some of them are quitting. Perhaps they’ve lost confidence in their institutions’ ability to adjudicate conflicts between students and faculty members impartially.

So, what’s my solution? Installing video cameras in classrooms is by no means a novel idea. It has been proposed for multiple reasons, from helping “teachers ground their self-reflection in empirical evidence” to protecting students from bullies and abusive professors.

But class cams aren’t usually predicated on the growing need to protect educators. While leaving it to each college and university to address questions of implementation (e.g., where, and for how long, will video footage be stored? Who may access it and under what conditions?), I argue that class cams will produce the incontrovertible evidence that faculty members need to overcome false allegations from students.

Of course, faculty members and school teachers are capable of misconduct, too (and I mean real, coming-to-class-drunk-and-walking-into-walls misconduct, not the distasteful-yet-harmless-dropping-the-f-bomb-in-class misconduct that, these days, can help get a professor fired). Therefore, class cams could also benefit students by proving or deterring inappropriate classroom behavior on their instructors’ part.

Class cams are an admittedly costly solution. But for colleges and universities that can afford them, they may be a necessary safeguard for faculty members until we successfully resolve the underlying causes of our narcissism epidemic.

Amir Azarvan is an assistant professor of political science at Georgia Gwinnett College.

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