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ENGAGING STUDENT LEARNING


by Ronald Williams
(President)

 In November, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) named Prince George’s Community College a top performer for scoring higher than the national average in the five benchmark areas of active and collaborative learning, student effort, academic challenge, student-faculty interaction and support for learners. Ours is the only large college in Maryland to receive this designation. While it is good news that the college is performing well in relation to its peers, the results for community colleges overall were disappointing. Even the results for Prince George’s Community College, a “top performer,” reveal some gaps.

Approximately 850 Prince George’s Community College students responded to the survey. A sample of the results is illuminating.

·        More than a quarter report never having made a presentation in class.

·        The number who always come to class prepared totals less than 25 percent.

·        Nearly half never take advantage of career counseling.

·        A third have never utilized academic advising services.

·        More than 40 percent report that the college offers “very little” help in coping with non-academic responsibilities.

This is not to say that the results are completely dire. Indeed, some students give us high ratings across the board. However, if we are genuinely committed to pursuing learning-centeredness, we must heed the survey report’s instruction that “a college’s overall performance should be considered no better than the outcomes of its lowest-achieving student group.” We must be able to provide for all our students, not simply those who are already predisposed to succeed. While our high-achieving students can and do serve as role models and mentors to their peers, it is not enough to hope that other students will somehow “catch up” to their level of achievement. The effort to create systems that enable their success must be concerted and well-planned.

I spoke recently of the need for a culture of evidence that clearly articulates what we intend to do, what we are doing, what we have done well, and what we have not done well. Data such as that provided by the CCSSE report is precisely the kind of information that will help us in determining how best to create an environment that takes into account the entire learning experience of our students. The Office of Planning and Institutional Research will be instrumental in providing accurate, detailed information to help shape our decisions.

Reorienting ourselves and our institution to a mindset within which student learning becomes the rationale for all we do will involve structural changes in decision making. In terms of administration and governance, we should strive for a shared decision-making process that allows for voices supportive of students’ intellectual and emotional development to be heard and respected. A collegewide committee could have as its focus the development of core competencies required of students, the identification of student goals, and the implementation of mechanisms for assessing student learning that are systematically reviewed as part of individual faculty, department, and divisional evaluation.

The wholehearted participation of faculty is crucial to this endeavor. A learning-centered college requires faculty who view student learning and not the dispensing of faculty expertise or knowledge as the central activity of the college. The role of faculty must be expanded to include advising and mentoring. Faculty cannot confine their activities to the classroom or the formal delivery of instruction. It is evident that students require broader and more personalized support that takes into account the entire range of factors affecting learning.

As we continue the discussion on learning-centeredness and formulate new strategic objectives, faculty can think about how to define clearly what students ought to know, not simply in terms of individual programs and courses, but in the larger sense of what sensibilities ought to be developed. This transitional period presents substantial opportunities for creative contributions and innovation. The CCSSE report substantiates what we already suspected about the challenges we face, but it also confirms that we are on the right track with regard to creating a more positive, productive learning experience for our students. It now remains to us to sustain, indeed to increase, the momentum.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 20, No. 2 

Spring 2005