Community College Buzz

I was at the Two Year College Association conference in Washington DC this month. What were the topics that were trending there in the presentations and conversations?

  Enrollment continues to surge at the state's public colleges and universities, thanks to a population bulge and a poor economy that has served as a catalyst for some to return to school. At my own Passaic County Community College enrollment has topped 10,000 as a 20-year growth trend continues. The number is 9 percent higher than last September.

BUZZ #2  WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT and TRAINING   The community college growth is fueled, in part, by people looking to retrain for new careers in a tough economy. But it also reflects cost-conscious students who opt for bargain rates during their first two years of college.

BUZZ #3  DEVELOPMENTAL EDUCATION   Record numbers of students are arriving on community college campuses this fall, but Education Week says that a majority of them—nearly 60 percent—aren’t academically prepared to handle the classwork.Call it developmental, basic skills or remedial, 3 out of every 5 community college students need at least one remedial course, and fewer than 25 percent of those students successfully earn a degree within eight years, according to the National Education Longitudinal Study. Colleges are having to look at ways to address the problems and lower the $2 billion-and-rising annual cost for remedial education.

   The Obama administration has put a lot of money and attention towards community colleges. But two things that the administration wants to see improved are the the amount of time it takes to get a "two year" college degree, and the number of students who actually make it to a degree.

Some colleges are looking at where those concerns cross. For example, developmental education and graduation rates are connected. You can improve graduation rates if you use admissions standards. Don't let in the weakest students, and you will certainly increase your graduation rates in a few years. (Of course, you could also lower your standards and let more students get by, but that has pretty limited appeal to everyone from the federal government to employers.)

One counter-intuitive trend in dealing with these students is to push them through remedial work faster. (It reminds me of how ADHD patients are given drugs that speed up their system, when you might expect they needed something to slow them down.) Computer software that personalizes remediation and monitors it, more frequent class sessions and longer classes are all part of these programs. Early-intervention systems that identifies students who are failing and falling behind and can then provide support before they drop out are a hot trend. Grouping students into learning communities is another approach. These cohort communities move through developmental education together and then co-enroll in their first college-credit courses the next semester.

Open Education Resources Training

Open Education Resources (OER) and wikiEducator training skills
A 10 days workshop -
November 17, 2010 - November 30, 2010

A collaboration between / OER Foundation and the Community College Consortium for Open Education Resources (CCCOER).

WikiEducator's community comprises 16,000 educators in 120 countries, and CCCOER has 200+ community colleges primarily in the US and Canada.

Learn valuable skills for developing OER content and building new connections in the OER world and with others in community colleges and beyond.

Here is a direct link to registration -

Merrily we roll along...

Long(ish) weekends are generally a good time to do a little Virtual preventative maintenance. If some of the articles appear to be in hiding, or if the rss feeds seem to be out-to-lunch for brief periods over the holiday weekend, you can still enjoy this classic song from Warner Brothers by way of Jimmie Lunceford.

Copying Versus Plagiarism

You don't find many academic publications in favor of copying, but I came upon In Praise of Copying. Marcus Boon makes the case that “copying is an essential part of being human... that the ability to copy is worthy of celebration, and that, without recognizing how integral copying is to being human, we cannot understand ourselves or the world we live in.”

In Praise of CopyingMarcus Boon is a writer, and Associate Professor in English Literature at York University, Toronto. He says that "the university is a place that is truly saturated with copies and copying." From students who dress in "well-defined subcultural fashions" to the way they move through the "maze of corporate branding which controls everything from drinking water to the bathroom walls."

And speaking of copying, you can download a free copy of his book at the Harvard University Press web site that has been released under a Creative Commons license. You can also purchase a printed copy online.

Boon says that the book grew out of the observation that although copying is pervasive in contemporary culture, at the same time it is subject to laws, restrictions,
and attitudes that suggest that it is wrong.

We have music that samples other music, mashups, BitTorrent, tools like Google Earth or Photoshop, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that make copying easy and encourage it in many ways.
Still, when we use many sites or products we are confronted with copyright and
intellectual-property law in the form of notices, fine print and terms in small print that we usually don't read and click on AGREE and continue.

He notes that our ability to
make copies at the macro and even micro (via nanotechnology and replication from the atom up) levels is big business. Even the software and services online that push and pull your "personal data" (if there is such a thing anymore) from one place to another makes me wonder what “public domain” and "fair use" and other legal terms will mean in a few years. This blog post contains things copied from other web pages including the author's site.

Interesting reading and an interesting topic of discussion to have with your colleagues and students.

School of One

Choose your modality. That's a key idea behind School of One in the NY City school system. I heard about it on a Freakonomics Radio on an episode called "How is a Bad Radio Station Like the Public Schools?" that compared this pilot school program to using the the internet-based Pandora Radio that lets anyone customize the music he or she wants to hear. The NYC pilot program tries to do the same thing for education.

The connection? School of One attempts to provide students with "personalized, effective, and dynamic classroom instruction so that teachers have more time to focus on the quality of their instruction."

How? The program shifts from the classroom model of one teacher and 25-30 students in a classroom. Each student participates in multiple instructional modalities, including a combination of teacher-led instruction, one-on-one tutoring, independent learning, and work with virtual tutors.

Pandora Radio has an algorithm that creates a radio station for you based on the songs that you give a thumbs up, thumbs down or never-play-this-again rating. The school also uses an algorithm. Students take a test every day that analyzes what they have done, where they excel or fail, and what modalities are working best. The classroom instruction is customized to their particular academic needs, interests, and learning preferences.

According to the program brochure, to organize this type of learning, each student receives a unique daily schedule based on his or her academic strengths and needs. As a result, students within the school can receive profoundly different instruction. Each student’s schedule is tailored to ability and to the ways he or she learns best.

The teachers (who really are more "guides on the side" most of the time) get data about student achievement each day and then adapt their live instructional lessons accordingly. By leveraging technology to play a more essential role in planning instruction, teachers have more time to focus on delivering quality instruction and insuring that all students learn.

How did they build School of One? The team worked with each school’s leadership to select four program teachers for the after-school pilot. The team also identified two teacher-residents from local universities and three high school interns with a strong record of mathematics achievement. The group participated in professional development and planning sessions to prepare.

All sixth graders the three sites were invited to participate in the program. Of those, 260 across all three sites submitted permission forms and were selected into the program. Prior to starting the program, students receive an orientation to School of One. They learn how
their daily schedule works, as well as how to use their logins and passwords, navigate the software, take daily online quizzes (the playlist update), and transition and work in the learning space.

When students start the program, they are assigned to one of four teams that serve as their home base. These teams compete with each other to earn points based on student attendance, academic performance, and organized team activities.

It's a pilot program and it's outside the normal school day, so good results have to be seen as additional schooling and not a change in the "regular" classroom instruction. Of course, you would assume if it works, this would become the regular school day.