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EWS from your Faculty
by Eldon Baldwin and John Bartles
Faculty Senate Business
We are writing this article at the start of the third week of classes for the spring 2005 semester. The Faculty Senate met for the first time last week and approved two proposals we described last fall that are designed to provide enhanced compensation opportunities for faculty of all ranks who are engaged in their primary job functions, service to the college, and professional development. These proposals are described on the faculty organization Web site, and have been submitted to the vice president for Instruction for administrative consideration. Hopefully, you will have heard more recent good news by the time this issue of the Instructional Forum is published.
We also described proposed changes to leave banking, coupled with a new full-time teaching load policy. An ad hoc committee refined both of these proposals during December, and returned them to the Faculty Senate for approval. The Faculty Senate is scheduled to complete discussion of these proposals during February, and we anticipate approval and forwarding of these proposals for administrative consideration before March 1.
Learning Centeredness and College Governance
Learning Centeredness is one of those good ideas that sometimes takes a while to catch on at Prince George's Community College. A committee composed of faculty, department chairs, administrators, and classified staff studied issues of learning centeredness during the 2001-2002 academic year, and submitted their report with recommendations in July 2002. During the fall 2002 semester, this report was discussed by the college community on Professional Day, and a standing Learning Centered College Planning Committee was established. Progress since that time has been slow, and the college has changed little with regard to learning centeredness.
During the 2004-2005 academic year, Dr. Ronald Williams has been meeting with an ad hoc group to discuss strategic planning, college governance, and learning centeredness. This group is composed of the president and his cabinet, the constituency leaders, and the chairs of the strategic planning committees. After several long discussions during the fall semester,
Dr. Williams announced the formation of a new high-level governance group that will be empowered to make policy and planning recommendations and/or decisions. Details concerning the composition and charges for this group will be evolving during the spring semester.
One specific reason for creation of this new governance group is to help PGCC move toward true learning centeredness. Built around the cabinet, the new group will include faculty, department chairs, administrators, and members of the classified staff who are closely involved in Instruction, Continuing Education, and Student Service programs both on the Largo campus and at degree/extension centers. We anticipate that this new governance group will begin functioning during February 2005, and that you will be hearing much more about its activities as the spring semester progresses.
Okay, we already hear some of you grumbling! The “Year of Learning Centeredness” was 2002-2003; 2004-2005 is the “Year of Critical Thinking;” and next year it will be the “Year of Something Else!” While we fully understand the source of this cynicism, we also believe that 2005 presents a unique opportunity in the history of Prince George's Community College for the faculty to truly participate in helping to change our institution.
Some of you have served on the faculty for a long time, and are justifiably proud of the institutional growth and development in which you have participated since we first moved from Suitland High School to the Largo campus in 1967. For our many newer faculty who have no knowledge of the first ten years of college history, we recommend reading The History of the Founding of Prince George's Community College 1957-1969, by Professor Merlin LeRoy Badger, Jr. (retired). Regardless of how much success this college experienced during its first thirty years, however, we have been presented with many new challenges during the past fifteen years, and it is crucial that the institution begin making significant changes in order to effectively address these challenges.
We believe that learning centeredness represents a philosophical approach to the types of institutional change that are necessary in order to set and maintain high standards while simultaneously enhancing student learning and student success. In 1996, Maryellen Weimer described a wide gap between then current conversations about teaching and classroom realities. Weimer described years of faculty development work in which she really resisted emphasis on learning; she thought it was her job to “work with teachers, and that a repertoire of strategies and techniques really did focus on instruction.” But what Weimer discovered when she returned to active classroom instruction was that “the old ways of teaching, lecturing, term papers, objective midterms, or essay finals don't result in very credible learning outcomes.”
The Macmillan English Dictionary distinguishes in the following way between teacher-centered and student-centered classrooms. A teacher-centered class focuses on “what the teacher is doing and saying,” while the focus in a student-centered class is on “what the students are doing and saying. Weimer reports, “When I propose [student-centered] in-class discussions of learning processes like problem-solving and critical thinking, most faculty nod, smile and take notes, but tell me later they can't do it because it takes too much time. ‘I won't be able to get through the content [without teacher-centered approaches],’ they say.”
According to Robert Marzano, in A Different Kind of Classroom (1992), comprehensive learning- centered instruction includes “explicit teaching of higher-level attitudes and perceptions and mental habits that facilitate learning”; a blend of effective teacher-directed and student-directed instructional strategies; and assessment of “students’ use of knowledge and complex reasoning rather than their recall of low-level information” (i.e., critical thinking).
In Learning Abstracts (March 1999), Terry O’Banion describes a learning college (or learning-centered college) as being both learner-centered and learning-centered. According to O’Banion, “client centered, student centered, customer centered, and learner centered all mean essentially the same thing—institutions and their employees attempt to focus on the special needs of the individuals they exist to serve through their policies, programs, and practices. Learner centered is but the most recent manifestation of the impulse to respond to individual needs…”
Neither teacher centeredness nor learner centeredness are innately bad, but when either is practiced to excess it can have the effect of impeding learning. Problems are likely to occur when teachers “do their traditional thing” without regard to how much and how well students are learning. Similarly, problems are likely to occur when administrators impose student-centered policies that are designed to improve pass rates, transfer rates, graduation rates, or general student satisfaction without regard to how much and how well students are learning.
The significant difference in learning centered instruction is that student learning outcomes (how much and how well students are learning) are consistently measured. Instructional policies and procedures can then be adjusted in an effort to optimize the learning outcomes. In one case, a lecture style instructor may find that a new student centered activity is more effective than a previously used teacher centered activity. It may not appear to be as efficient if less material is covered, but the net result may be that students learn more and understand better. In another case, an instructor employing a student-paced instructional system may find that students learn more and understand better when additional teacher directed structure is provided.
Some PGCC faculty members have focused on learning centered instruction for years, although they may have never employed this label for what they do. Becoming a truly learning centered institution, however, means applying learning centered concepts to the manner in which the entire institution operates. To what extent do we schedule the classes that students need at the times they need them? How frequently do we instead schedule classes that faculty like to teach at the times they like to teach them? Do most students learn successfully and efficiently when classes are scheduled for fifteen weeks? Would some students benefit from longer formats that provide more time to learn? Would other students learn more efficiently in a shorter class format? Are the students who enroll in online and shorter late start classes the students who are most suited to those learning formats? Would student learning be enhanced if it were easier for new students to find their way from the bus or parking lot to the classroom? The majority of our full-time staff work daytime hours despite the fact that approximately half of our students are enrolled in evening and weekend classes. Does this have an effect on student learning?
O’Banion believes that the vision statement of Palomar College (San Marcos, CA) captures the essence of a learning centered institution:
Our new vision statement reflects a subtle but nonetheless profound shift in how we think of the college and what we do. We have shifted from an identification with process to an identification with results. We are no longer content with merely providing quality instruction. We will judge ourselves henceforth on the quality of student learning we produce. And further, we will judge ourselves by our ability to produce ever greater and more sophisticated student learning and meaningful educational success with each passing year, each exiting student, and each graduating class.
In an issue paper written by the president of Palomar College, William J. Flynn writes about some of the challenges in changing a traditional college into a learning centered college. He describes a necessary learning paradigm shift in which:
Faculty are the designers of powerful learning environments. Curriculum design is based on an analysis of what a student needs to know to function in a complex world rather than on what the teacher knows how to teach. The college is judged not on the quality of the entering class but on the quality of the aggregate learning growth possessed by its graduates. Compartmentalized departments are replaced by cross-disciplinary cooperatives. And every employee has a role to play and a contribution to make in maintaining a learner-centered environment.
Flynn goes on to acknowledge the difficulty of achieving this learning paradigm shift, when he confesses that:
All of us – faculty, administrators, classified staff – are caught up in defending a system not of our creation. It is the system in which we were educated. It is the system that annoys or infuriates us when, as parents, we see our children endure some of its inanities. Yet when we are inside it, when we work in it, when we teach in it, we become the system, and amazingly, we resist changing it.
The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 20, No. 2