Did you read the NYTimes profile of community college student Vladimir de Jesus?
Mr de Jesus is struggling to complete enough credits at LaGuadia Community College to transfer to Hunter College for a bachelor’s degree. He needs 60 credits to transfer, but has only gained 27 credits over 6 semesters. The big stumbling block is the math requirement, Math 96, a non-credit developmental class that he has failed 3 times.
What would our EDUCAUSE crowd make of the story of Vladimir de Jesus and LaGuadia Community College?
To inoculate myself a bit from criticism about oversimplification and technological solutionism, let us stipulate that the challenges faced by community colleges and their students are complicated. That the erosion of public investment in our public postsecondary education is both short-sighted and self-defeating. And that the folks in the best position to articulate the needs, and most efficient path forward for community colleges, are those educators working in the system. That said, the ideas below should be widely applicable throughout all of the postsecondary education system.
Idea #1 - Invest in Learning Designers?:
From how I read the NYTimes piece, it seems that engagement is one of the main challenges for students like Mr. de Jesus. The most effective method that I have seen to improve classes, so that they both cover the content requirements and introduce active learning elements that increase engagement, is to introduce a learning designer to collaborate with the course instructor.
This is not to take anything away at all from the amazing teaching of many of our faculty. Only to say that knowing learning theory and current pedagogical practices is a high level skill, on par with the discipline knowledge that defines the training from which most faculty emerge. The skills are a faculty member and learning designer are complementary. If the goal is to create classes that improve student engagement (and here I’m thinking of larger classes, not smaller seminar or discussion courses), that an effective (and cost-effective) method is to introduce a learning designer to the course team.
We need to reject the notion that creating opportunities for partnerships between instructors and learning designers can only happen at wealthy schools. Too often I read that that postsecondary education is a zero sum game. That any investment in a non-faculty educator such as a learning designer will necessarily reduce the resources available for faculty. How can we change that conversation so that we stop trying to find silver bullets and shortcuts to quality education? How can we argue for both more resources for faculty and more resources for non-faculty educators without having the former feel slighted?
The real question here, I think, is if investing scarce dollars in learning designers will be amongst the most effective and productive investments in helping students like Mr de Jesus?
Idea #2 - More Blended Learning?:
This is how the article describes Mr. de Jesus’ routine to make it to his twice weekly 9:15am class:
"Mr. de Jesus had to take his 6-year-old daughter, Svetlana, to school, traveling from Roosevelt Island to the Tremont section of the Bronx by way of the F and D trains and then the B42 bus, before he could get to LaGuardia’s campus, more than an hour away”.
What would it take to move this class to a once a week residential session? Can we evolve the teaching model from one where content delivery and discussion takes place when the class is physically together to one where those activities move online? This would enable the in-person class time to be spent on faculty mentoring and individual coaching. Would moving to an all blended model of learning break our notions of face-time and seat-time, and allow us to think about what really works best in-person and what can be accomplished online?
The challenge of creating effective blended courses will always come down to resources. Designing a really good blended class is an amazingly labor intensive exercise. It is time consuming and costly to develop high quality learning modules, effective formative and summative assessments, and engaging activities for the in-person and online sessions. Developing excellent blended courses is an activity that does not scale.
Is investing in blended learning where community colleges should be devoting their scarce resources?
What are your thoughts after reading the NYTimes article?
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