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Infusing new ideas into the classroom

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Participants in the Teachership Academy at El Paso Community College (Texas) discuss authentic assessment and student outcomes.
Teachers are unquestionably the frontline in the education process. However, given budget contraints and other issues facling colleges, ensuring that instructors have the right tools to improve the learning process sometimes falls off the radar.

“The employment of a new full-time faculty member is a million-dollar investment over a lifetime,” said Terry O’Banion, senior fellow and president emeritus at the League for Innovation in the Community College.
 
The best way to ensure a return on that investment is through professional development, O’Banion said, particularly because university programs that prepare faculty often don’t address the particular challenges of teaching at a community college.
  
One college that believes strongly in the value of professional development for instructors is El Paso Community College (EPCC) in Texas. Its Teachership Academy helps full-time faculty and adjuncts adopt strategies and techniques in their classrooms to make their teaching more interactive and more effective.

Teachers in the program are expected to attend a four-hour session every month for 10 months. At each session, “participants learn a new teaching strategy they can apply in their classroom the next day,” said Lydia Tena, dean of instructional programs.
 
One teacher who had participated in the program, for example, reported learning a new technique to adjust lesson plans based on the result of quizzes to determine what students remember from the previous class. The teacher also learned to break down lectures into smaller sections to better retain students’ attention and incorporate humor into the class when appropriate.
 
At the end of the program, participants develop an action research project that they implement in their classroom and also present to the other members of their cohort and at a faculty retreat, Tena said.
 
In one example of an action research project, a teacher proposed having students in one of his psychology classes stay for a five- to 10-minute meeting after class to discuss the major points of the lecture and the hardest concepts to understand. The teacher planned to compare the test results from the class with those of another class where that technique was not used.
 
A cohort of 20 to 25 teachers are accepted into the program each year, Tena said. Applicants must submit a document of support from their academic dean demonstrating their teaching potential. They are not compensated for participating, and they do not receive a pay increase for completing the program.
 
“We believe in it. It works. It enhances teaching abilities,” said Tena. "Over 10,000 students have benefited from this” since the program started in 2008. 
The Teachership Academy is a high priority of the EPCC leadership and is being expanded, she said, even though the college is going through a challenging budget period.
 
Teachers who complete the program now have the option of signing up for a second year, which will allow them to learn more about teaching methodology  and continue to work on their action research project.
 
Student engagement
 
Community colleges are trying to get faculty to engage more with students, not just stand in front of the class and lecture, said Evelyn Waiwaiole, director of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development.
 
“We’re placing more expectations on faculty,” Waiwaiole said. “We expect them to be coaches, mentors and advisors, as well as teach, and we’re expecting them to be accountable for student success.”
 
It’s all about “making sure students have a connection with what they’re learning,” she said, noting that engaged students are more likely to complete college.
 
Having engaged students—and faculty having the skills to implement interactive teaching techniques—is crucial if community colleges are serious about the Completion Challenge, added O’Banion. 
 
Faculty engage students by making sure there is active learning going on, conducting group projects in class, encouraging students to be engaged with one another in class, and meeting with students outside of class, said Waiwaiole.
 
“You have to teach them to be effective in these roles. It doesn’t happen naturally,” she said. And it won’t happen “without commitment from the leadership.” That means colleges have to put more resources into training faculty.
 
With budget cuts threatening professional development programs, most colleges are turning inward,  Waiwaiole said.
 
“Historically, they brought in people from the outside to do speaking engagements to energize the college, she said, noting that now they’re more likely to run their own programs.
 
Grow your own
 
The College of Lake County (CLC) in Illinois as an example of a community college that has been successful developing its own professional development program.
 
CLC’s weekly New Faculty Seminar for teachers on the tenure track “helps folks get started on the right foot,” said Mark Coykendall, chair of the biology department, who runs the program with Lauren LoPresti, chair of the administrative office systems department.
 
Sessions at this year’s seminar cover such topics as the library and copyright issues, valuing diverse students and instructional technology. At one session, a panel of faculty who had taken the seminar last year was scheduled to talk about what they wish they had known when they started.
 
“The networking aspect is really important,” Coykendall noted. Too often, community college faculty are isolated within their own academic departments, so the seminar provides a good opportunity for teachers from different disciplines to interact with one another.
 
At the end of the seminar, some of the instructors continue to meet regularly in their own informal working groups. 
 
Support for adjuncts
 
According to Waiwaiole, some community colleges are reaching out more to help adjunct faculty, who teach about two-thirds of community college students. Many adjuncts are hired at the last minute, and since the work is usually part time, they often don't get additional training ot enrichment, she said.
 
“Adjuncts have the knowledge base and the qualifications, but many of them don’t know anything about the students we serve,” Waiwaiole said.
 
One college that has made a commitment to provide professional development for adjuncts is Lone Star College (LSC) in Texas. LSC offers a voluntary certification program to adjuncts that includes online and on-campus workshops on classroom management, student engagement and the philosophy of the campus, along with basic information about the student population, such as cultural and generational differences. New adjuncts also work with a full-time “master teacher.”
 
Adjuncts who complete the first year of the two-year program receive a one-time bonus in pay, and if they complete the second year, they receive a permanent pay increase, said Feleccia Moore Davis, vice president of instruction at the college. The program is offered on all of LSC’s campuses and serves about 100 adjuncts a year.
 
Students who have taken courses from adjuncts who have completed the certification program have had high success rates, Davis said, and satisfaction rates among certified adjuncts have "significantly increased.”
 
LSC also makes a point to recognize adjuncts. Each semester, the college holds an “adjunct appreciation night,” with awards presented to adjuncts who have been there for five years.
 
“We do want them to be part of our family,” Davis said.​
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