Teaching Writing to Students in Transition: Models for Success

william j barry profile 2016 (1)

While researching how robust technology use can improve students’ first-year experience, William J. Barry teaches academic research and writing at Concordia University.  He also trains adult educators in partnership with the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL) and teaches first-year seminar at Texas State University, where he is a Ph.D. candidate in developmental education.

Writing helps students learn and persuade (Graham, Gillespie, & Mckeown, 2013), while supporting lifelong literacy, but learning writing challenges learners and involves a complex process.  Along the way, developing writers pass through stages, including telling only what they know, transforming the text to their own benefit, and adjusting the text for the reader’s benefit (Kellogg, 2008).

As writers acquire competency, they emphasize prospective beliefs regarding the reader’s understanding of the text (Kellogg, 2008), and they target their audience by applying elaborated strategies to structure and content problems (Hayes et al., 1987).  As per Spivey’s (1990) academic writing skills–selecting, organizing, and connecting sources–Schriver (2012) described using genre knowledge, arranging non-related text parts into a coherent document, and balancing the appropriate mix between content and target audience, according to community-specific expectations as essential skills.

Creating text, which reflects a clear understanding of reader perspective, structure, and content, requires writers to use a diverse toolkit of knowledge, skills, and strategies (Hayes & Flower, 1980).  One of the challenges educators face involves helping students acquire those tools and the ability to employ them effectively, and meeting the challenge means first explicitly teaching the skills, strategies, and knowledge relevant to academic writing.

Several supported models, including cognitive apprenticeship (Collins et al., 1989) and the socio-cognitive model (Schunk and Zimmerman, 1997) suggest sequences of learning by first observing before doing.  In other words, students must first observe a model (Zimmerman and Kitsantas, 2002), either a mastery model or a coping model (Bandura, 1997; Schunk, 1991).

Since academic writing includes building a macrostructure of the text as a first step, students need training on how the text should appear (Graham et al., 2012).  In particular, they need to learn and apply the text structure of the key genre in their community, which, for students in transitional roles, tend to be the various essays and term papers expected of a liberal arts education.  Starting by familiarizing students with the components, structure, and function(s) of such writing provides them with the essential framework within which to apply later process and skill training, translating to higher retention, better outcomes, and overall satisfaction.

References

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman.

Collins, A., Brown, J.S., & Newman, S.E. (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. In L. B. Resnick (Ed.) Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser (pp. 453-494). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Graham, S., Gillespie, A., & Mckeown, D. (2013). Writing: importance, development, and instruction. Reading and Writing, 26(1), 1–15.

Graham, S., Mckeown, D., Kiuhara, S., & Harris, K. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for students in the elementary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(4), 879–896.

Hayes, J. R., & Flower, L. S. (1980). Identifying the organization of writing processes. In L. W. Gregg & E. R. Steinberg (Eds.) Cognitive Processes in Writing (pp. 3-30). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hayes, J. R., Flower, L., Schriver, K., Statman, J., & Carey, L. (1987). Cognitive processes in revision. In S. Rosenberg (Ed.) Reading, Writing, and Language Possessing (Vol. 2, pp. 176-240). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kellogg, R. T. (2008). Training writing skills: A cognitive developmental perspective. Journal of Writing Ressearch, 1(1), 1–26.

Schriver, K. (2012). “What we know about expertise in professional communication,” in Past, Present, and Future Contributions of Cognitive Writing Research to Cognitive Psychology ed. Wise Berninger V., editor. New York: Psychology Press.

Schunk, D. H. (1991). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective. New York, NY: Merrill.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1997). Social origins of self-regulatory competence. Educational  Psychologist, 32, 195–208.

Spivey, N. N. (1990). Transforming texts constructive processes in reading and writing. Written Communication, 7, 256–287.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Kitsantas, A. (2002). Acquiring writing revision and self-regulatory skill through observation and emulation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 660.

 

Acceleration in Mathematics (AIM)

Photo_Anderson Foxley

JP Anderson (Ph.D., Rice) and Kristen Foxley (M.S., University of Houston—Clear Lake) have been teaching math for over 20 years. They share not only a passion for teaching, but for running as well, and have been running together for the past 10 years. Both JP and Kristen were part of the original design team for AIM and have been co-teachers since its beginning in 2012.  In addition to working with students, they enjoy providing professional development for faculty on ways to incorporate active learning in the classroom and presenting on AIM at conferences at the local, state, and national level. 

Nationwide, over 40% of students enter college needing one or more developmental courses. Unfortunately, traditional methods of remediation are not successful in preparing students for success in credit-bearing courses. In Texas, for example, only 12% of community college students who begin in developmental math courses will pass a gateway math course, such as college algebra, within 2 years (Complete College America, 2016). Although counterintuitive to some practitioners, many colleges have improved success through accelerated course offerings (Jaggars, Edgecombe, and Stacey, 2014), with corequisite models showing particular promise (Complete College America, 2016).

After implementing such a model, Acceleration in Mathematics (AIM), in Fall 2012, San Jacinto College has seen a significant improvement in student success. A study of seven long semesters’ data showed that 64.1% of AIM students passed college algebra with a grade of C or better, compared to 44.8% in traditional college algebra classes. This is especially notable since the majority of AIM students who are placed into developmental math courses are one or two levels below college algebra. Moreover, AIM narrowed the success gap for Hispanic students—approximately half of our student population—from 6% to less than 1%. In addition to AIM’s impact on students’ cognitive learning and academic success of students, a separate study showed improvements in their attitudes, feelings, and mindset regarding their mathematical abilities (Campbell, 2015).

Acceleration in Mathematics is a one-semester corequisite pairing of math courses that allows students who are not college ready in mathematics to complete all developmental requirements as well as college algebra in a single semester. Students who take AIM sign up for two classes: a three-contact-hour developmental course and a four-contact-hour college algebra course.  A typical AIM section meets Monday through Friday for a total of seven hours each week. AIM is team-taught by two instructors, one experienced in teaching traditional college algebra and one who specializes in developmental math instruction, both of whom are in the classroom for all class meetings and who share equally in the teaching duties.

  • Just-in-Time Remediation. Unlike traditional multi-semester or accelerated sequential remediation models, which teach basic skills weeks or months before they are needed in college algebra, AIM integrates these skills right before they are needed in the college algebra curriculum. For example, simplification of radical expressions is introduced just before the quadratic equation.
  • Streamlining. AIM focuses on learning objectives prescribed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Some skills that have been part of the traditional developmental math curriculum, but which are not needed for college algebra, such as rationalizing the denominator, have been eliminated.
  • Active Learning. Daily lessons alternate brief lectures with small-group practice activities. To maximize student interaction and foster a sense of community, instructors use a technique called “clock partners” to pair students with a different practice partner each day.
  • Low-Stakes Assessment/Prompt Feedback. AIM students turn in daily homework assignments of approximately 25 questions. A portion of the problems are graded, and the assignments are returned the following day. Answer keys are available online for the ungraded problems. Students are tested every other week, for a total of seven unit tests and a final exam. Each unit test counts only 9% of the semester grade, making it possible for students to recover from one or two setbacks.
  • Cumulative Review. Every homework assignment and exam contains review problems to help students maintain essential skills throughout the semester.
  • Learning Resources. AIM students have online access to instructor-authored videos providing examples of all topics and worked-out solutions to the exam review sheets. San Jacinto College’s Student Success Center has a designated AIM table for on-campus tutoring. Also, thanks to the strong sense of class community, AIM students often form study groups on their own.

AIM has proven most successful for students required to take college algebra for their associate’s degree. To support students who would benefit from an alternative math pathway, however, the college has begun offering corequisite courses for developmental students seeking credit in a statistics or quantitative reasoning course. Early results show that these pathways show similar promise.

References

Campbell, P.S. (2016). Self-Efficacy in a Co-requisite Model of Developmental Mathematics and College Algebra: A Qualitative Analysis of Student Perceptions (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from https://ttu-ir.tdl.org/ttu-ir/handle/2346/66121

Complete College America. (2016). Corequisite Remediation: Spanning the Completion Divide. Retrieved from http://completecollege.org/spanningthedivide/

Jaggars, S. S., Edgecombe, N., & Stacey, G. W. (2014). What we know about accelerated developmental education. New York, NY: Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

 

Motivate Learning Through Online Games

Lutze Pic

Holly Lutze, Ph.D.

Dr. Holly Lutze is an Assistant Professor in Business and Economics at Texas Lutheran University with 12 years of experience teaching Operations Management. She holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management from Oklahoma State University. Her M.S. in Engineering-Economic Systems and Operations Research and Ph.D. in Management Science and Engineering are from Stanford University.

Professors often have students demonstrate classroom learning through simulation games. Textbook publishers underscore the need for high quality, meaningful, and practical experiences to exercise new knowledge (Barko & Sadler, 2003). These simulation games are wonderful but are often applied only after the instruction takes place (Squire, 2003).

Simple, free, online games can effectively introduce ideas and provide playful examples for use later in a semester. My students may play with Legos, throw paper wads, or dig through my garbage. However, their interest is piqued when I ask them to bring laptops or tablets to class.

Video games can be used to stimulate learning in the classroom. Some instructors resist this practice due to time constraints or because they believe the strategy conflicts with their traditional teaching methods (Kirriemui & McFarlane, 2014; Squire, 2003) The challenge of engaging students with different interests, backgrounds, learning styles, and aptitudes is one we all face (Barko & Sadler, 2003; Kelly, 2005; Bowman, 1982).

While my classes may teeter on the edge of chaos at first, pulling a classroom into productive discussion fits well with my pedagogical strategy.  I want to form an environment where all students feel comfortable interacting with classmates and with me (Kelly, 2005). My instruction frames what students observe in a game and expands upon it (Squire, 2003). Sometimes concepts relate immediately, and sometimes I refer to the games later in the semester, as examples.

One game I use effectively in Operations Management is Patient Shuffle, available through GE Healthcare Partners. Used to introduce the differences between production organizations and service organizations, the premise of the game is to run a hospital. Patients follow different sequences of treatments, spend varying amounts of time in each room, and leave by either foot or helicopter. Student performance is measured by the number of patients treated and the general mood of the patients.

Students audibly express frustrations throughout the game, but these frustrations are exactly what I am looking for. To elicit student engagement, I follow up five rounds with the following four questions.

(1) What made this game difficult? Comments lead to discussions of measuring productivity, customization in a process focus, and resource limitations.

(2) What would have made the game easier? Comments lead to discussions of capacity planning, scheduling, and strategies for process-oriented layout.

(3) What did you do to improve over time? I point out that they already demonstrate problem solving skills that can help them be successful operations managers.

(4) Who did the best, and what was the secret to his/her success? We talk about benchmarking and, time permitting, allow students to try to improve performance at the end of the fifty-minute class.

Finding free online games that relate to my teaching goals can be tricky. If a game elicits relevant answers to the above four questions, I know I have found a good one. Bottling the magic of Pac-Man in a productive and educational learning environment (Bowman, 1982) is not impossible. 

References

Barko, T., & Sadler, T. (2013). Practicality in virtuality: Finding student meaning in video game education. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 22(2), 124-132.

Kelly, H. (2005). Games, cookies, and the future of education. Issues in Science & Technology, 21(4), 33-40.

Bowman, R. F. (1982). A pac-man theory of motivation: tactical implications for classroom instruction. Educational Technology, 22, 14-17.

Squire, K. (2003). Video games in education. International Journal of Intelligent Games & Simulation,  2, 49-62.

 

Metacognition: Critical Start for Literacy Instruction

Tasha Vice bio pic

Tasha Vice, Ph.D.

Tasha Vice studied at Eastern New Mexico University, where she received a M.Ed. in Secondary Education and M.A. in English. She continued to study Curriculum and Instruction at Texas Tech University, where she earned a Ph.D. with an emphasis in Language and Literacy.  Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Reading and Education at South Plains College, where she teaches Developmental Reading as well as Integrated Reading and Writing. In addition, she instructs Learning Frameworks courses with a focus on cognitive neuroscience and psychological theories of learning. Her research interests include content literacy, critical literacy, and cognitive or metacognitive factors related to reading success. She can be reached by e-mail at tvice@southplainscollege.edu.

Core literacy skills are necessary for success. Yet, students lack the reading skills for literacy (ACT, 2011). Improving literacy is the responsibility in all content areas. However, colleges rely on developmental education to address the needs of literacy students (Boylan, 2001; NADE, 2011). Many developmental students believe they don’t need literacy improvement (Vice, 2013) and are resistant to learning (Lesley, 2001; Lesley, 2004). How can faculty help these students succeed?

Direct and explicit instruction of cognitive and affective strategies, content knowledge, and contextual skills are key. Responsive pedagogy addresses some components:

  • Advising, counseling, and support systems (NADE, 2011),
  • Opportunities to deconstruct negative feelings about learning (Lesley, 2001),
  • Activities to reconstruct or develop literacy identities (Gee, 2002),
  • Self-analysis of skill and attitude over time (Moje, 2008),
  • Social, emotional, cultural, and ideological contexts in the classroom (Chiu-hui and Cody, 2010).

Each of these is important, but none solely guarantees success. To increase success, educators should introduce metacognition, thinking about thinking (Flavell, 1979). Accurate metacognition is required to maintain focus, attention, motivation, and self-efficacy (Conley, 2005). Metacognition also includes a personal understanding of one’s performance and persistence (Conley, 2007).

Developmental students’ inaccurate perceptions are rooted in their personal beliefs about their abilities (Lesley, 2004). Dweck (2006) argues those students who believe their skills and abilities cannot change suffer from a fixed mindset. Students with a fixed mindset lack motivation for learning and cannot cope with failure. Students with growth mindset and who believe they can change are likely to embrace learning. Instructing students on the concept of mindsets can help them reduce resistance and embrace change as literacy learners.

“A growth mindset is telling yourself or someone else that you can do anything, no matter the challenge, with time, attention, and practice.” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Duckworth (2016) argues that grit (persistence and perseverance) is the only determining factor of success. Students should reflect on their failures and develop plans to monitor, regulate, and direct their own thinking. Challenging students to go through these processes can help them increase their grit and succeed.

“Set up your mind. Believe. Make your brain work! Tell your mind ‘never give up’. Don’t let falling down, someone, or something affect you!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

Mindsets theory provides insight into students’ inaccurate perceptions and may help them focus on growth while grit helps students to understand and persist as they perform literacy tasks.

“Metacognition is important because it helps us be successful! When we have a growth mindset, we are ready to grow and accept mistakes. With grit, we get through it and learn new things even if we fail. This helped me believe in myself, and I think I can do it!” (Literacy Student, Fall 2015)

As a critical starting point for literacy instruction, educators should explore practices and investigate the possibilities of using Mindsets and Grit theories that address students’ metacognition.

References

Act., Inc. (2011). “The Condition of College & Career Readiness: 2011”  Retrieved from http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/cccr11/index.html

Bandura, A. (1997).  Self-efficacy:  The exercise of control.  New York:  Freeman.

Boylan, H. (2001). Making the case for developmental education. Research in
Developmental Education , 12 (2), 1-4.

Chiu-hui, W. & Cody, M. (2010).  ‘The United States is America?’:  A cultural
perspective on READ 180 materials.  Language, Culture and Curriculum, 23(2),
153-165.  Doi:10.1080/07908318.2010.49732

Conley, D. T. (2007).  Redefining college readiness.  Educational policy improvement.
Eugene, OR: Gates Foundation.

– – -.  (2005). College knowledge: What it really takes for students to succeed
and what we can do to get them ready. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
pedagogy.  Reading Research and Instruction. 44 (1) 62-85.

Duckworth, A. (2016).  Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York. Simon and
Schuster.

Dweck, C. S. (2006).  Mindset:  The new psychology of success. New York. Random House.

Flavell, J. H. (1979). Metacognition and cognitive monitoring: A new area of cognitive-
developmental inquiry. American Psychologist, v34 n10 p906-11 Oct 1979.

Gee, J. (2002).  Literacies, identities, and discourses, In Mary Schleppegrel & M. Cecilia
Colombia. Eds., Developing Advanced Literacy in First and Second Languages:  Meaning
with Power, Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum, 2002, pp. 159-175.

Lesley, M. (2001).  Exploring the links between critical literacy and developmental
reading.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(3), 180-89.

Lesley, M. (2004).  Refugees from reading:  Students perceptions of “remedial” Literacy

Moje, E. B. (2008).  Foregrounding the disciplines in secondary literacy teaching and learning: A
call for change.  Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy,52(2), 96-107.

Vice, T. A. (2013). “Illuminating Teaching and Learning: Students’ Metacognition and Teacher
Responsiveness in One College Developmental Reading Class” (Unpublished doctoral
dissertation).  Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX.

 

 

 

 

Developing a “Visual Rhetoric” for Students on the Spectrum

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Jack Trammell, Ph.D.

Jack Trammell received his B. A. degree in political science from Grove City College and, following a M. Ed., was awarded a Ph. D. in Education, Research and Evaluation from Virginia Commonwealth University. His experience includes working as a special education teacher in the Virginia public schools. He is currently Director of Disability Support Services and Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department, teaching disability studies at Randolph-Macon College. His research interests include disability stigma, transition, and the social mechanisms related to disability discrimination. He can be reached by email at: jtrammel@rmc.edu.

A growing body of research is suggesting that students on the Autism spectrum (including Asperger’s) have a particular preference for or benefit from visual learning activities in many learning situations.  This may be for very specific neurological reasons, but the practical benefits from a learning assistance perspective can very easily be explored and imagined, and present the possibility for diverse and innovative interventions.

For example, training students in group orientation sessions can be supplemented or even replaced with video lecture or online content.  Students on the spectrum are likely to focus better on a video and be less distracted or anxious with the social component removed from the equation.  Of course, if direct communication and face-to-face interaction are the primary learning objectives, that won’t work.  But the enterprising presenter/facilitator/instructor can mix live group action and face-to-face speaking with video monitoring and prerecorded videos, or place recurring content online, and even this blended approach can sometimes mitigate a great deal of communication anxiety for spectrum-oriented students and provide a powerful visual reference for them.

A recent study focusing on college upperclassmen looking for jobs demonstrated that a “visual rhetoric” (an overarching communication framework that focuses on visual techniques) taught through face-to-face meetings and video training could improve job interview performance for students on the spectrum.  The intervention involved students utilizing television sitcom reruns to catalog and organize body language and facial expressions seen on television.  Students were later trained to “play the role” visually of an interviewee using rote cues and dialogues they had studied and matched to specific situations.  This visual approach, with an emphasis on assuming a role, resulted in much greater job interview success (Trammell, 2013; Trembath, Vivanti et al., 2015).

In a similar fashion, some recent studies indicate the potential benefit of playing video games for students on the spectrum, in large part due to the visual component.  A self-identified “Aspie” reports that video games are not just fun but also a safe place to play roles and transition from communications they control to real human communication that carries far greater social risk (Raede 2016).  Some studies show that the benefits of video games can benefit many children, and not just those on the spectrum (Kovess-Masfety, Keys et al., 2016).

Drama related pedagogy is more frequently being used to help students on the spectrum learn to play roles, and assume the kinds of communication behaviors that will help them adapt successfully to the mainstream (Kempe & Tissot, 2012).  Although many projects have focused on younger children, the promise of the technique remains valid for post-secondary students, as the interview example above demonstrates, which utilized a type of drama/role playing.

Postsecondary education, even with an overarching transition to new pedagogies and more online or distance learning for everyone, remains primarily a visual experience.  It also remains, in many settings, an intense exercise in human communication skills which directly impact students on the spectrum in challenging ways.  Developing a visual framework in pedagogical thinking for ASD students will likely prove beneficial in helping this at-risk population of postsecondary students, providing lower stress practice opportunities and a neuro-friendly technique.

References

Kempe, A. and C. Tissot (2012).  The use of drama to teach social skills in a special school setting for students with autism.  Support for Learning 27(3), 97-102.

Kovess-Masfety, V., K. Keys, et al. (2016).  Is time spent playing video game associated with mental health, cognitive and social skills in young children?  Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 51(3), 349-357.

Raede, D. (2016).  Why people with Aspergers play video games.  Retrieved April 22, 2016, from https://www.aspergerexperts.com/go/playvideogames/

Trammell, J. (2013). PRACTICE BRIEF: Modeling positive behaviors for postsecondary students with Autism/Asperger’s: The use of “Television Coaching”. Journal of Postsecondary Education & Disability, 26(2), 183-187.

Trembath, D. D., G. Vivanti, et al. (2015). “Accurate or assumed: Visual learning in children with ASD.” Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 45(10): 3276-3287.

 

 

 

Centering Disability Support in the Learning Center

Jack Trammell RMC pic (1)

Jack Trammell, Ph.D.

Jack Trammell received his B. A. degree in political science from Grove City College and, following a M. Ed., was awarded a Ph. D. in Education, Research and Evaluation from Virginia Commonwealth University. His experience includes working as a special education teacher in the Virginia public schools. He is currently Director of Disability Support Services and Assistant Professor in the Sociology Department, teaching disability studies at Randolph-Macon College. His research interests include disability stigma, transition, and the social mechanisms related to disability discrimination. He can be reached by email at: jtrammel@rmc.edu.

Disability support in higher education has its roots in a more general educational access tradition that dates back much further than the 1990 and 2008 reauthorized Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504. In the 1950s, Dr. John King hired football players to assist a teacher candidate who was a wheelchair user, and he began a long career of advocacy for physical access to campus spaces (Fleischer & Zames, 2001). In a similar fashion, the learning assistance movement that gained traction in the 1970s and spread through major universities benefited many students with disabilities and highlighted the need for new partnerships (Boylan, 1982).

In the post-1990 ADA environment, disability support services have been routinely offered to students, but the organizational structures have varied widely—some resources were located in medical schools; some in student services; some in academic services—and some were actually housed within learning assistance programs (LAPs) or academic centers. Of all the models, a strong argument can be made that disability support services (DSS) fits most effectively within the learning center for programmatic, philosophical, and assessment purposes.
The following is an abbreviated list of reasons supporting such an organizational concept:

• Philosophically, disability support is an effort to foster equal access to education; this is the core mission of learning assistance.

• In terms of accommodation, differentiation, remediation, and elaboration, all learning assistance programs potentially can benefit from shared resources, ranging from general tutoring programs to reading programs targeted specifically at students with dyslexia—silos can actually create more inequity.

• Increasingly, students with disabilities are overrepresented in learning assistance programs, and LAPs can therefore benefit from DSS resources.

• Learning centers tend to have more elaborate administrative structures, which actually can benefit more traditionally isolated DSS units.

• Learning assistance has a rich literature and expertise that overlaps with DSS.

• Disability is being conceptualized in the ongoing disability rights movement (DRM) as mainstream and therefore shouldn’t be isolated or set apart in a stigmatizing manner (a good reason not to house DSS in the medical school if possible).

• Universal Design in Learning (UDL) increasingly suggests that the gestalt of learning success requires overlapping access to resources and core learning skills across varied student demographics.

Each institution is different, of course, and will have its own unique circumstances. Program assessment is also critical in order to determine the effectiveness of current or potential organizational structures (Trammell, 2005). Increasingly, however, there is both practical and philosophical evidence that centering the disability support office in the learning center makes good sense for many institutions.

References

Boylan, H. R. (1982). Forging new partnerships in learning assistance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fleischer, D. Z., & Zames, F. (2001). The disability rights movement: From charity to confrontation. Philadelphia:                 Temple University Press.

Trammell, J. (2005). Learning about the learning center: Program evaluation for learning assistance programs. The             Learning Assistance Review, 10(2), 31-40.

Beyond Pro and Con: Re-thinking MOOCs

william j barry profile 2016 (1)

William J. Barry

While pursuing his research interests, which include effective technology use, especially among students in transition, William J. Barry teaches developmental reading at St. Edward’s University.  He also trains adult educators in partnership with the Texas Center for the Advancement of Literacy and Learning (TCALL), and teaches first-year seminar at Texas State University, where he is a PhD candidate in developmental education.

Questions of access and affordability remain at the heart of the developmental education discussion (Braun, 2016; Floyd, Felsher, & Ramdin, 2016), and as the results of Moore’s Law continue to bring the world increasingly powerful technology, stakeholders turn to ones and zeroes for answers.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) represent one such proposal enjoying ample coverage in the literature (e.g., Bastedo, 2016; McClure, 2016).  Advocates say MOOCs increase the accessibility of high-quality education while decreasing the costs (Carey, 2012; Teo, 2015), and critics point to the low academic rigor of MOOCs, while suggesting they profit at the expense of faculty and students (Axmann, & Atkins, 2016; Marshall, 2014).

Despite this crucial debate, MOOC critiques rarely consider college students’ perceptions and attitudes.  While administrators, faculty, and media argue apace, it remains unclear how students view MOOCs.  As an educator in the developmental space, I consider students the primary stakeholders.  As such, I expect MOOC policy to benefit students first.  I expect researchers and faculty interested in MOOCs to focus on how students perceive these issues.  After all, their education faces significant transformation in the face of widespread MOOC implementation.

Such expectations drew my attention to a recent study (Cole & Timmerman, 2015), which examined students’ MOOC perceptions.  Using thematic analysis, Cole and Timmerman (2015) suggested students believe MOOCs hold the potential to augment lifelong learning, even though they serve as inferior alternatives to traditional coursework.  Students made their determinations based on several interesting criteria (see Figure 1), which suggest a deeper appreciation for what works in education.  These kinds of nuanced student responses also suggest the value of asking deeper questions regarding MOOC utility, rather than yielding to seductive pro/con binaries.  Answers to such questions inform decisions with regard to the place of MOOCs in higher education, and those decisions stand to affect each one of us in yet unseen ways.

Figure 1.

bill barrys infograph

Click on image to enlarge.

References

Axmann, M., & Atkins, R. (2016). Online community-based practices for massive open online courses (MOOCs) at Open Universities Australia: A case Study. User-Centered Design Strategies for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), 83.

Bastedo, M. N. (2016). American Higher Education in the Twenty-First Century: Social, Political, and Economic Challenges. JHU Press.

Braun, H. (2016). The dynamics of opportunity in America: A working framework. In The Dynamics of Opportunity in America (pp. 137-164). Springer International Publishing.

Carey, K. (2012, September 7). Into the future with MOOCs. Chronicle of Higher Education, 59(2), 29.

Cole, A. W., & Timmerman, C. E. (2015). What do current college students think about MOOCs? MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 11, 188-201.

Floyd, D. L., Felsher, R. A., & Ramdin, G. (2016). A retrospective of four decades of community college research. Community College Journal of Research and Practice40(1), 5-22.

Marshall, S. (2014). Exploring the ethical implications of MOOCs. Distance Education, 35, 250-262. doi:10.1080/01587919.2014.917706

McClure, M. W. (2016). Investing in MOOCs: “Frenemy” risk and information quality. In Globalisation and Higher Education Reforms (pp. 77-94). Springer International Publishing.

Teo, T. H. (2015). Just-in-time teaching visual instruction for cohort base interactive learning for engineering course. GSTF Journal on Education (JEd)3(1).

Texas Developmental Education Professional Community Online

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Housed in The Education Institute within Texas State University’s Developmental Education Program in the College of Education’s department of Curriculum and Instruction, the Texas DEPCO extends from the Texas Success Initiative Professional Development program grant awarded by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Features of the Texas DEPCO include a blog featuring short articles that focus on promising practices in Developmental Education (DE) from DE and college-readiness professionals throughout Texas. The Texas DEPCO will also house an online discussion group for DE professionals to network across institutions of higher education—a forum for conversation about current and trending issues in Texas DE as well as a medium for sharing ideas, classroom exercises and assignments, syllabi, infographs, models, and any other content that can contribute to the success of college-readiness professionals and, therefore, DE students in Texas.

Supplemented by a social media presence that includes Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, the Texas DEPCO serves to establish, build, and nourish community among Texas DE professionals by also serving as a central location for upcoming conferences, DE professional development events, and relevant scholarship, legislation, and policy.

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