Teaching and Learning Centers' Accreditation Opportunities and Responsibilities
Dr. Becky Reed Rosenberg, Director
Center for Teaching, Learning & Assessment
CSU Monterey Bay
We all face accreditation with some justified trepidation. Hopefully, we can also appreciate the opportunity to reflect on where we are, what our strengths and needs are, and how we can rethink our work to enhance it. Since our attention, as well as WASC’s, is increasingly focused on student learning, I am most interested in how we can contribute to and benefit from the campus accreditation process to directly enhance student learning.
I arrived on campus about a year before the upcoming (fall 2009) capacity visit, so I confess that some of my recommendations are based on what I wish I’d had time to do and some on what I was able to do in my first year. In either case, below are some of the lessons learned in my first year.
- Be present for campus accreditation and program review activities: First, of course, directors of faculty development should volunteer to participate in accreditation activities. I was fortunate to be invited to serve on the campus WASC Steering Committee. This allowed me to contribute to the self-study process and to understand the central concerns of the faculty and administrators closest to the process.
- Connecting to the core values: In chronicling the initial accreditation experience at CSUMB (Taking Ownership of Accreditation), authors Amy Driscoll and Diane Cordero de Noriega underscore the importance of aligning self-study with institutional core values. In our case, the fundamentals are expressed in our campus vision statement and in our strategic and academic plans. Aligning our internal assessment to those areas is proving very useful in assessment and planning.
- Focus on critical areas: While the self-study asks for breadth in our analysis, WASC also asks us to select specific areas that we will examine in depth, based on the campus’s understanding of our current situation and needs. Know and connect to those areas of focus: How does and can the work of the faculty development Center contribute?
- Collaborate with assessment leaders: CSUMB’s faculty development Center, unlike comparable Centers on some campuses, houses work around assessment of student learning as an integral element of teaching and learning. Whether or not that’s the case on your campus, faculty development leaders need to design their work based on what faculty have to say about what students are learning and what they’re not. Some of our richest and most motivating campus conversations take place when faculty from across disciplines gather over samples of student work and identify what outcomes are being achieved or not and then use those findings to identify areas of the curriculum and pedagogical approaches that require rethinking. Those conversations are powerful in setting the faculty development agenda.
- Collect and analyze data: Most of us collect data on what services (workshops, consultations, grants, etc.) we offer and who makes use of them. But do we know what the impact of these activities is? Systemically measuring how attending a workshop in fall 2007 directly translates to student learning outcomes a year or more later is not only challenging but impossible. However, faculty RTP dossiers document how they’ve taken their participation in workshops to guide teaching and enhance student learning, and we can work with those reflections to demonstrate our impact.
The keys to optimizing the faculty development Center’s contributions to and benefits from the accreditation process depend on asking good questions, listening closely to the responses (data collection), and using those data to inform planning (analysis). Sound familiar?
Faculty Developers’ June Workshops: Strategic Planning and Mentoring
Dr. Peggy Perry, President, Faculty Development Council (FDC)
Director, Faculty Center for Professional Development, Cal Poly Pomona
Dr. Juan Carlos, Teaching and Learning Coordinator, CSU Fullerton
The FDC and ITL leadership team held a 2-day retreat at the faculty Center of Cal Poly Pomona on June 23-23. Facilitated by Dr. Victoria Bhavsar, the team refined their Strategic Directions and Activities for the next 3-5 years, including task components, timelines, and responsibilities for this strategic plan. See strategic plan in Center Pieces, pp. 6-7.
On the two days following the Leadership Retreat, June 23-24, twenty one (21) faculty developers met at Pomona’s Kellogg West for a Mentoring Workshop. The following sixteen (16) topics were presented by members of the group as how to sessions, mini-talks, or posters:
- Webinar workshops - Lou Zweier (Center for Distributed Learning, Sonoma), Brett Christie (Sonoma)
- Faculty book groups - Lindy Valdez (Sacramento)
- Professional writing - Eileen Barrett (East Bay)
- Library and counseling faculty - Maria Costa (Los Angeles)
- Certificate programs - Tony Rimmer (Fullerton)
- Grant programs - Ed Nuhfer (Channel Islands)
- Promoting and communicating about your Center-Cynthia Desrochers (ITL, CO)
- RTP process-Betsy Eudey (Stanislaus), Peggy Perry (Pomona)
- Faculty learning communities-Victoria Bhavsar (Pomona)
- New faculty orientation-Ed Nuhfer (Channel Islands)
- Lecturers-Eileen Barrett (East Bay)
- Student learning outcomes/model of Center effectiveness-Becky Rosenberg (Monterey Bay), Tasha Souza (Humboldt)
- Peer-to-peer mentoring and classroom consultation-Cynthia Desrochers (ITL, CO)
- Online and hybrid models of faculty development-Brett Christie (Sonoma), Joe Grimes (San Luis Obispo)
- Assessing and responding to faculty needs-Ed Nuhfer (Channel Islands)
- Managing the Center workload-Joe Grimes (San Luis Obispo)
Dr. Tasha Souza, Faculty Development Coordinator at CSU Humboldt, co-facilitates a session on Demonstrating Center Effectiveness and Connections to Student Learning
Chico’s Undergraduate Research Wins Accolades
Two students from CSU Chico won a prestigious place in the 2009 Council for Undergraduate Research (CUR) “Posters on the Hill” event held in Washington, DC in May. The two biology students worked with faculty in biology, chemistry, and mechanical engineering to study the reuse of industrial and agricultural waste products as biodegradable plastics. Their research resulted in a first place at the 2008 CSU Student Research Conference as well as the trip to Washington, DC to present their research. From left, student Kevin Roy Parsons, Senator Barbara Boxer, student Christopher Paul Morris, and Professor Joe Greene of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
Northridge Professor Receives Obama Award
Dr. Steven Oppenheimer, Professor of Biology at CSU Northridge, was selected as one of 22 professors nationwide to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. Congratulations from your colleagues!
||Teaching & Learning
Why Did Student Achievement Go Up While My Teaching Evaluations Went Down?
Have you experienced this scenario or something close? You redesign a course, making it more learning centered, shifting from a predominantly lecture-and-exam format to (a) students completing reading assignments outside of class; (b) students taking an online assessment of reading assignments; (c) students receiving short mini-lectures on confusing points from the readings; and (d) students applying their readings in-class through problem-solving activities and small-group discussions. After which you see these results: (a) increased classroom activity, energy, and fun; (b) improved student achievement and grades go up; and (c) decreased student satisfaction and evaluations of your teaching go down! What?
Gary A. Smith (University of New Mexico) writes about this baffling situation in his article First-Day Questions for the Learner-Centered Classroom, National Teaching and Learning Forum, 17(5), 1-4. He offers the following explanations and suggestions for building better student understanding about the above learning-centered teaching scenario.
Students may be content to take lecture notes, cram the night before for exams, and quickly forget memorized facts because it is less work. Moreover, they may not understand how they learn and why we might teach in a more learning-centered way. Because of this, we need to discuss learning with our students in order to seek their buy-in if we are planning to ask them to construct deeper meaning at an application/problem-solving level.
The following semester, Professor Smith projected the following questions on the screen, not knowing if this buy-in activity would work:
Thinking of what you want to get out of your college education and this course, which of the following is most important to you?
- Acquiring information (facts, principles, concepts) 
- Learning how to use information and knowledge in new situations 
- Developing lifelong learning skills 
Next, he polled students and counted the number of responses for each goal. The numbers they gave are shown in brackets above. Class discussion followed with advocates for each of the three options stating their case.
Then, he posed the following question:
All three of these goals are clearly important. However, let’s think for a moment of how best to accomplish these goals. Learning is not a spectator sport-it takes work; that includes work in the classroom and work that you do outside of the classroom. So, of these three goals, which do you think you can make headway on outside of class by your own reading and studying, and which do you think would be best achieved in class working with your classmates and me?
Students concluded that reading to acquire information was the easiest for them to do independently as homework, and that pursuing goals 2 and 3 could not be achieved by listening to a lecture. Hence, the students were now beginning to understand why they had to actively do things in class, work harder in class, and do the reading before class, in a learning-centered classroom. Would they do it? Yes. The results: Improved student achievement continued this second semester, as evidenced by assignments and exams, and Professor Smith’s teaching evaluations “rose to their highest levels.” (p. 3)
Top Ten Practices to Promote Good Learning
In chatting with colleagues, this question came up: “Given the last 25 years of cognitive science research about how we learn, what should students be doing in my classroom?” Emphasizing that learning is about making connections in a supportive, yet challenging, active social environment, here’s a quick top ten good practices.
Self-check for each of your class sessions:
- Begin by considering what you want students to learn and what you’ll ask from them to demonstrate that learning. Examples: Students write a short paragraph, solve a problem, or draw a diagram to illustrate what they have learned. And we can still marvel at the spontaneous unplanned learnings that may also occur.
- Emphasize key concepts and big ideas; you can’t teach everything there is to know about a topic, so apply selective abandonment of some minor points.
- Share multiple representations of key concepts (give students opportunities to read, write, see, hear, and touch) and multiple examples for each key concept, providing students with options for meaning making.
If you find yourself lecturing for 50-minutes straight, ask yourself why and upon what research you are basing this decision, as it goes squarely against cognitive science research. Understand, however, that most of us tend to teach using our preferred learning mode (lecture?), so determining yours using the VARK Questionnaire or the more complex Index of Learning Styles Questionnaire may inform your teaching practice.
- Relate new concepts to students’ past experiences to help them make connections. For example, if you are teaching that molecules bond, discuss other forms of bonding that your students may be familiar with-between mother and child, friends, or two tightly glued objects.
- Stress students’ comprehension of concepts by asking students to explain concepts in their own words and relate them to other similar ideas. When possible, ask students to participate beyond the classroom on projects or activities that will allow them to apply their skills. Memorized recall of information is not evidence of comprehension.
- Design multiple means of engaging students. This includes asking students to work in different environments: total group, pairs, and individually. Recognize and provide students with differing degrees of guidance in the early stages of their learning curve by providing clear directions, scoring rubrics, draft submissions of product outlines, and re-teach sessions as appropriate.
- Require students to do something in each class session, such as solve a problem, write a few sentences, or draw a diagram (on index cards?). Quickly scan these short formative assessments to check students’ understanding, and then provide total-class feedback or a re-teach session at your earliest opportunity.
- Consider multiple means of student expression. One shoe size doesn’t fit all, so consider designing projects where students can create various products that are aligned with their talents: written (expository, narrative, poetry), visual art (watercolor, ceramics, Web design), music, dance, and theatre (skit, debate, role play). Unsure of the consequences? Try it this fall term, making these “artistic output projects” count a mere 10% of the final course grade as a test-run.
- Keep your learning environment positive and fun, to the degree possible, so that the affective (feelings) and cognitive (thinking) domains are associated in your course. This not only increases the likelihood of retention through good emotions, but ups the possibility that students will maintain a lifelong interest in your field.
- Suggest methods whereby students can monitor their own learning, also helping them to pinpoint their learning strengths and deficiencies. Share strategies for working on the latter. Assign an online learning style questionnaire (see #3 above) and discuss implications for learning.
Did you score 10 out of 10?
Center Pieces: Profiles of the Faculty Teaching, Learning, and Professional Development Centers of the CSU, 2008-2009
Facts about the California State University, April 2009