February 28, 2011

Are College Students Academically Adrift?

One component of the Writing Initiative is to include more critical thinking in the redesigned writing-intensive course sections.

I am also teaching a course in critical thinking this semester. In one of my seraches online, I came upon Professor Richard Arum, New York University, who has done a major longitudinal study of student learning in higher education. His research follows approximately 2,400 students at 24 diverse U.S. colleges and universities over a two year period to examine how institutional settings, student backgrounds, and individual academic programs influence how much students learn on campus.

His study uses a recently developed, unique learning assessment tool, the Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA), which measures the "higher order thinking skills" that colleges and universities aim to teach: problem-solving, critical thinking, analytical reasoning and communication skills.(The CLA is a tool developed by the Council for Aid to Education, a national nonprofit based in New York.)

Are you surprised? Research has shown for a long time that students spend more time on social pursuits than the average 13 hours per week spent studying.

Arum points out that faculty incentives within higher education (promotion, tenure) are generally aligned with research pursuits, rather than the quality of undergraduate instruction. This is less true at community colleges, but there are still many non-teaching requirements and distractions.) According to Arum, this misalignment of goals results in far less attention to teaching and learning than is necessary to cultivate higher order skills in students.

Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College CampusesRichard Arum is professor of sociology and education at New York University and the program director for educational research at the Social Science Research Council. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.

He is the author of several books and articles about student achievement, social stratification, and the organization of schooling, including, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses.

Student Workhops for March and April

Workshops are held in the PCCC Writing Center Annex (A111) on the main Paterson campus (within the library) unless noted otherwise. For more detailed descriptions and updates, check our website.

Survival Grammar continues every Wednesday from 5:30-6:30 with that topic repeated Thursday from 1:10-2:10

Writing Workshops

Preparing for the CWE and other Essay Exams
Wed. March 23, 2:00
Thurs., March 24, 5:30

Attacking the Question
Mon., March 28, 5:30
Tues., March 29, 2:00

Proofreading Strategies for Essay Exams
Mon., April 4, 1:10
Tues., April 5, 5:30

Studying for Exams
Tues., March 1, 5:30
Thurs., April 21, 5:30
Friday April 22, 1:10

Research and Citation
Mon. March 7, 5:30
Thurs., March 10, 1:10
Wed., April 13, 1:00
Thurs., April 13, 5:30

Mon., April 25, 5:30
Tues., April 26, 2:00

February 21, 2011

Faculty Workshop: Writing Assignments that Work

Writing Assignments that Work
Presenter: Elizabeth Nesius
Date: Tuesday, 02/22/2011
Location: Paterson Room (off the cafeteria)
Time: 3:30- 5:00

This workshop will focus on creating writing assignments designed to produce the best writing from your students. When students struggle with writing, there is often more going on than just the writing. Some students may have trouble reading and interpreting what you want them to do. The first way to help students write better is to create clear, engaging assignments.

A variety of writing assignments in different subject areas (as well as ones that can be used in multiple areas) will be presented, but please feel free to bring your own assignments - either ones that need to be reworked, or ones that have met with success! We will be sharing ideas and helping each other.

This is a collaborative workshop, so feel free to come late and/or leave early as your schedule allows.

Grant Wiggins on Assessing Student Performance

Assessing student performance has always been challenging and controversial.

Assessment is more than testing. Intellectual performance is more than right answers. New systems of assessment more closely examine students' habits of mind and provide teachers and policy makers with more useful and credible feedback.

Leaving aside the true politics of assessment, I want to look at the work that has been done by Grant Wiggins.

Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd EditionGrant Wiggins (http://www.grantwiggins.org) who is probably best known for being the co-author, with Jay McTighe, of Understanding by Design.

How do you know when students understand something and how can you design learning experiences that make it much more likely that students understand content and apply it in meaningful ways?

Understanding by Design (UbD) is a method that seeks to answer these questions. One thing the approach provides is a template for creating curriculum units based on the idea of "backward design" method.

Backward design is a method of designing curriculum by setting goals before choosing activities or content to teach. That seems so logical, but for much curriculum the goals are not considered until some assessment is needed. The content is often decided first, possibly by the selection of a textbook. The idea of backward design is to select content and methodologies and then teach towards those goals that were set first. It goes against the idea of "textbook coverage" which is so prevalent in higher education.

Backward design is "backward" only because it challenges the traditional methods of curriculum planning. In backward design, one starts with goals, then assessments and finally lesson plans.

UbD hs been used as a framework to maximize student understanding in grades K through college and Wiggins was lead consultant on many state assessment reform initiatives, such as the portfolio project in Vermont and performance assessment consortia in New Jersey and North Carolina.

Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve Student Performance (Jossey Bass Education Series)In Educative Assessment, Wiggins challenges schools to adopt a different type of student assessment. Rather than the one-shot audit tests that are generally used, it examines assessment grounded in authentic tasks enabling students to self-correct their ongoing performance.

Many of these types of assessments - rubrics, portfolios, reflective practice - are being used by us in the Writing Initiative.

Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing (Jossey Bass Education Series)In Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing, Wiggins discusses how testing differs from assessment.

Why are performance tests, by themselves, not an adequate system of student assessment? How might we better "test our tests" beyond current technical standards?

Like many educators, he does not feel that increased national testing will offer the accountability of schools that is obviously needed. The book analyzes problematic practices in test design and formats like multiple choice that prevent students from explaining their answers.

Further Reading
Understanding by Design
Understanding by Design: Professional Development Workbook
Integrating Differentiated Instruction & Understanding by Design
Making the Most of Understanding by Design
Assessing Student Performance: Exploring the Purpose and Limits of Testing

February 18, 2011

Electronic Portfolio Use at PCCC

Writing Intensive students at PCCC have been using an electronic portfolio product called eFolio since 2008.

The Writing Initiative has played a very important role in making the case for portfolios as a means of campus-wide assessment. The use of portfolios is slowly taking root in the campus culture. Faculty outside the Writing Initiative – including those in areas such as Early Childhood Education, English, and the College Experience - have successfully piloted or will pilot eFolio in their courses.

As a result of these efforts, the Vice-President of Academic Affairs has outlined a five-year, three-phase plan to adopt portfolios for assessment in several academic programs.

This year the Writing Initiative team is implementing strategies to increase use of electronic portfolios, including hiring a faculty mentor for portfolios, and discussing best portfolio practices at the Faculty Institutes. 

As the number of WI sections has increased, the Initiative team is unable to go in-person to the 20+ WI sections each semester. So, we have developed a set of online video tutorials recorded with Echo360 lecture capture technology. The short, highly specialized tutorials are available to students 24/7/365. Follow-up in-person eFolio sessions are conducted as needed, and students with eFolio questions can drop in or schedule an appointment with Ken Karol. In addition, all WC tutors have also been given training in basic portfolio use so that they can assist students if necessary.

Here is a presentation we made at the 2010 NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices showcase about the ePortfolio soft launch at PCCC.

February 17, 2011

Accountability for Community Colleges

Passaic County Community College has been selected as one of 40 community colleges nationwide to pilot a new Voluntary Framework of Accountability (VFA) that is designed to redefine what “success” means for two-year institutions nationwide.

The Voluntary Framework of Accountability is an initiative by community colleges to develop more accurate ways to measure their performance. An accountability framework specifically for community colleges, it will measure institutional effectiveness based on the community college’s own unique student population and multiple services.

Unfortunately, community colleges have for years been held accountable to performance indicators designed for four-year institutions - indicators which are inadequate for understanding community college students.

The U.S. Department of Education defines a "successful" community college student as someone who enrolls as a full-time student and completes an Associate degree within three years. But, since many of our students are not full-time, and are parents and the major wage earner in a family, these life responsibilities ake the three year measure unrealistic.

The VFA represents the first national system to provide accurate data, operational transparency and the ability for colleges to benchmark student progress and completion data against peer institutions.

The VFA is being developed by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in collaboration with the Association of Community College Trustees and the College Board and with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation for Education.

The pilot colleges include 37 institutions, two statewide systems and one multi-college district in 29 states. Besides PCCC, New Jersey schools in the pilot are Burlington County College (Pemberton, NJ), Hudson County Community College (Jersey City, NJ), and Raritan Valley Community College (Somerville, NJ).

Pending outcomes of the pilot testing, reaction to the VFA among AACC member institutions and future funding, a full-scale roll-out to the nation’s nearly 1,200 community, junior and technical colleges could take place starting in 2012.

The Obama administration and others are focused on greater numbers of student completions and demonstrable measures for how we gauge student success.

More  www.aacc.nche.edu/Resources/aaccprograms/vfa/

February 15, 2011

Writing Center Staff: Dr. Martha Brozyna

The PCCC Writing Center is pleased to introduce you to our newest team member. Actually, Martha Brozyna is not new to the Writing Center, but she is new to the position of Educational Specialist.

She started working in the Writing Center in the Fall 2009 semester as a Writing Consultant and eTutor. The following semester she began teaching history at PCCC as an adjunct.

Now, as our Education Specialist, she oversees day-to-day operations at the Writing Center. Her office is within the Center.

Martha will be providing assistance in the preparation and implementation of training for Writing Center tutors and collaborating with WI faculty in the development of appropriate writing within their courses.

Dr. Brozyna went through the Initiative's Faculty Institute when she took on teaching one of the writing intensive sections of Western Civilization I. Now, in her new role, she taught other faculty during our January 2011 Faculty Institute. Having someone who has taught and developed materials for a WI course in the Education Specialist position is a great advantage for our team.

Dr. Brozyna has taught history at Rutgers for almost 12 years. She has a BA from Rutgers University in history and political science and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California.

Martha replaces Claire Ribeiro who held the position since 2008. Claire has moved into a full time teaching position in the ESL department at PCCC.