Report of the Learning Communities Coordinators for Academic Year 2005-2006 Submitted by: Catherine Sanderson and Priscilla Bellairs Introduction: Learning Communities made significant advances this year in both the number of LCs offered and the number of students enrolled in those courses. However, the Steering Committee also learned some important lessons about how scheduling and registration processes affect the vigor of the LC project. Fall 2005 During the Fall Semester, the Facilitators scrambled to get up to speed with processes, deadlines, publicity, and outreach to new areas, while also working at defining the scope of the two new job definitions and doing crisis intervention. We began with a registration crisis that led to a year-long theme of learning, studying and proposing to revise registration processes, which include the proofreading of the Master Schedule and of the printed Schedule given out to students. During the Fall Semester, we conducted discussions about LCs in Criminal Justice and in Health Professions; the Criminal Justice conversation almost produced a proposal, but finally collapsed. However, an idea for “embedding” librarians in English Composition courses was introduced, discussed, and has borne fruit: three experimental sections of English Composition I with a librarian present once a week in a computer lab with internet access will be running in the Fall 2006 semester. Discussions with the Computer Science area over an LC proposal that was not approved led to better delineation of guidelines for priorities in areas where there are issues about faculty time: in general, the priorities favor participation of new faculty after a team has had the chance to offer an LC twice. January Retreat: The January Retreat was a successful meeting for all. All current and past LC faculty were invited for the morning and lunch and then the Steering Committee continued the retreat in the afternoon. The morning focused on faculty input. First there was a discussion of successes faculty had experienced in teaching LCs and of particularly successful integration of material from two disciplines. The main purpose of the retreat was to develop a process for recruiting and training students to publicize LCs at the time of spring registration. The Steering Committee had often suggested that this could be an important way to increase enrollment in LCs and had decided the retreat was the appropriate place to work on the process. It was extremely helpful to get everyone’s contributions to this process. In the afternoon session, the Steering Committee members finalized this process and it was later distributed to the whole group for final feedback. The results of the process developed are described below under Achievements. Achievements: The new structure of having two co-facilitators appears to be successful. Cathy and Priscilla agree that working together but in separate spheres we have accomplished more than we could have alone, even with more reassigned time. Two important innovations for LCs were in place by the end of Spring ’06. The first was the use of students who had been enrolled in Learning Communities to publicize Learning Communities to other students and particularly to make them aware of the LCs available the next semester. Students who would take on this role were nominated by faculty teaching LCs. Those who responded to an initial email query were plugged into a three hour training processes which had been developed at the Spring Retreat. First they met with Priscilla Bellairs, co-facilitator of LCs who coached them to identify what they liked best about Learning Communities. Then they met with Rose Dittmer who gave them valuable training in how to work a room—one of the modules Rose uses for student doing Coop Ed. Finally they met with Cathy Sanderson, co-facilitator of LCs who worked with them on the mechanics of which they would team with, which classes they would visit, and which LCs would be appropriate to discuss given the level of the class. The five students who took on these responsibilities did a terrific job. Their enthusiasm remained high and their poise in talking to classes increased. Faculty were generous in allowing them 5-10 minutes to talk with each class. In all, they visited about 20 classes and also worked the entrance to Spurk Building during a busy noon hour. Our goal was to have enrollment in LCs in double digits before the spring semester was over. Although we did not achieve this goal for all LCs, we did achieve it with the two LCs which are most appropriate for returning students, The All-American Learning Community which combines American History I and American Literature I and Comparing Civilizations I which combines World History I and World Literature I. We are psyched! The other important innovation was the decision to embed librarians in three English Composition I sections next semester. In the fall, librarians Gail Stuart, Ann Grandmaison and Michael Hearn will each meet once a week with a Comp class in a computer lab. One of those composition sections will also be part of an LC. We believe that this new model will allow students to learn much more about how to find and use appropriate electronic sources and how to avoid inappropriate ones. This collaboration should increase the sense of community between faculty and librarians and also serve as professional development for Comp I faculty in teaching research skills. In the Coaching/Mentoring area, we advanced from class visits to class visits followed by informal conversations focusing on observations from the class. These proved useful in each case to the teaching faculty involved. As in the Fall semester, discussions about LCs were opened with two new areas, Education and Respiratory Therapy, but without the result yet of a proposal. In the week between the end of final examinations and graduation, we held two very successful Syllabus Workshops for all the teaching faculty of Fall 2006 Learning Communities and “librarian enhanced English Composition” sections. Another important advancement, in keeping with LCs now well-established position at NECC, is that Academic Vice President Paul Bevilacqua has agreed that in FY07 Learning Communities will have their own budget line in the Academic Affairs budget instead using the budget of the Teaching and Learning Center to cover expenses. Though our needs are not great, we do have predictable recurring expenses such as duplication, publicity, community-building activities, and the like. We are pleased to have an official budget to draw on. This spring, after some of the Steering Committee evaluated how on-line registration handled students attempting to register for LCs, we made some recommendations to Jim Cotton about how the process of registration for LCs on line could be improved. Jim was receptive to some of our suggestions and has agreed to implement them. Most importantly, when a student registers for one course of an LC on line, the student will automatically be registered for the other course of the LC. Assessment: Much vigorous discussion of assessment issues in the Steering Committee did not lead to any consensus about new initiatives in this area. We did, however, agree that we had not made the best use of the data that had already been gathered from Faculty Surveys, or even from Sandra DeVellis’ research project, which had some definite and applicable outcomes. So we have taken the first steps toward trying to codify and use that material. We also performed a Fall Semester survey of students enrolled in LCs to learn how they had learned about the LC and what caused them to enroll; we revised the Faculty Survey form both Fall Semester and Spring Semester, and developed a Student Survey in parallel form for the Spring. None of these steps, not even the discussion, could have occurred without the consistently cheerful and helpful input from Ellen Wentland, to whom we owe a debt of thanks. Steering Committee: This year we had problems with enrollment in some learning community offerings. An unfortunate proofreading error on the master schedule occurred because of miscommunication problems that we now understand how to prevent. The course did not enroll. The enrollment in another course was only saved when the co-facilitators met with advisors to explain that the LC was particularly developed to support student success in a combination of courses advisors do not usually suggest students take in the same semester. This brought home to the Steering Committee the absolute importance of collaborating with advisors before we ok LC offerings and of explaining our offerings clearly to advisors. Finally another LC did not enroll in the spring because there were too few students who were eligible for the courses offered together. This information was provided on request by Tom Fallon after the LC failed to enroll. All of these “problems” were important learning experiences for the Steering Committee. Next year we have seven Learning Communities scheduled for both the Fall ’06 and Spring ’07 semesters. We have consulted with the Career and Advising Center to get their assurance that the LCs we are planning looks viable. One of the LCs running in the fall will be a combination of an ESL reading class and Human Health and Nutrition. Advisors had been suggesting that ESL and a science could be a valuable combination for our ESL students. All in all, we believe that next year will be a strong year for Learning Communities. Data Collection: In the fall of ’05 the Steering Committee surveyed all LC students about how they had first learned about LCs and why they had enrolled in them. The majority of students had learned about LCs from the Career Development and Advising Center, which reinforces our understanding of the need to work closely with this group. Professional Development: Two Steering Committee faculty, two other LC faculty attended and Dean of Professional Development Judith Kamber and Director of Academic Program Review and Assessment Ellen Wentland attended the Atlantic Learning Communities’ overnight retreat in Hartford, CT which focused on Assessment of learning communities. We found it valuable to meet with a number of faculties who have been doing learning communities for a long time, especially those in the CUNY system. Co-facilitator Cathy Sanderson attended of Steering Community meeting of this group in February where next fall’s retreat was planned. We continue to be grateful for the tremendous administrative support provided by Judith Kamber, Christine DeRosa or the OFSD. Conclusion: This has been a year of growth and learning for the Steering Committee and also of pride in what we have accomplished. We believe we have a better handle on what kinds of combinations of courses will work best for learning communities at NECC and also on how to publicize and enroll them. Since Vice President Paul Bevilacqua will be retiring sometime during this summer this is the last report he will be receiving from the Steering Committee. It is important to state that without his support, Learning Communities at Northern Essex would not have existed. He embraced this concept with enthusiasm and supported its growth with generosity. To quote from last year’s report written by Facilitator Barbara Stachniewicz, “He has shared our belief in the benefits of and our passion for this program.” Thank you, Paul.
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