The textbook conundrum

Textbooks in higher education – their quality, their cost, their utility, their pedagogy – continue to be the focus of discussion, debate, and deliberation around the country.  This article in The Chronicle of Higher Education provides an overview of the most recent survey of faculty regarding textbooks – traditional, digital, and openly-licensed.

ACC has joined in the debate by trying new approaches to lowering the costs of course materials while increasing the accessibility and availability of such materials. Many faculty would agree with the results of the Babson survey, no matter where you are on the opinion spectrum.  For some, textbooks are too expensive; for others, textbooks still give students a lot of bang for the buck.  For some, openly licensed materials are wonderful for teaching and for accessibility; for others, openly licensed materials are lower quality and do a disservice to students.  The debate will not end any time soon.

Thanks to the innovation and dedication of our faculty, ACC offers Z-classes (zero textbook costs) and Z-degrees (degrees that can be completed by taking only Z-classes).  This effort at ACC occasionally brings us attention from the local press as well as serving our students.  The intent of Z-classes and Z-degrees is to ensure that students have access to required course materials on the first day of class and to make that access free or very low cost.  Too many of our students can’t purchase a textbook until two or three or four weeks into the semester, so they start behind and can never catch up.   Open educational resources can be one solution to that problem.  To date, if you use $100 as an estimate of average textbook costs, ACC’s Z-classes have saved students over $2 million.  That savings is the direct result of the decision of some faculty to adopt open educational resources.

Inclusive access is another way to lower costs and provide access on the first day.  As with the larger textbook debate, faculty are on all sides of the inclusive access issue.  Some argue that inclusive access doesn’t save students that much money, and students prefer/do better with hard copy textbooks.  Others believe that our students today expect electronic access to their required textbook as well as the portability that comes with it, and First Day Access guarantees that students do not start the semester unable to do the required reading.  ACC started its First Day Access program in Summer 2018 and through the Fall we had saved students almost $700,000 in textbook costs when compared to buying a new hard copy textbook.

No matter whether you are a believer in open educational resources, or you are committed to First Day Access, or you are focused on the pedagogical value of a physical textbook, you teach at ACC because you are committed to fostering learning for all your students.  The debate around quality – and access – and pedagogy will continue.  That’s the beauty of the higher education system.  We disagree as much as we agree, but we all support the common goal of education that can alter the trajectory of our students’ lives.  And the beat goes on.

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the January Edition

Prelude (“something preliminary”)

In September 2018 ACC received a grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to develop and offer statewide professional development to support implementation of HB 2223.  HB 2223 was passed into law by the 85th Legislature and it mandates co-required developmental and college credit classes. The premise is that too many students get mired in developmental education quick sand and can’t get out of it in order to advance to college credit coursework.  Under Texas law, we use the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA) to determine college readiness.  Students who are not deemed college-ready under TSIA are mandated into classes that will help them build their skills in college-level reading, writing, and/or math.  HB 2223 presumes that providing just-in-time and contextualized remediation in a corequisite setting will help more of our students achieve their college goals.

The THECB HB 2223 professional development grant obligates ACC to offer conferences and webinars around the state to both two-year and four-year public colleges and universities (at least five PD opportunities each year for the next two years) to help them effectively implement the requirements of HB 2223.  In addition, under the grant we are building a peer learning directory to share information, research, promising practices, and lessons learned.  The grant was given to ACC in September and ACC INRW (Integrated Reading & Writing) faculty laid the foundation for the work with the development of a needs assessment survey and the creation of a Texas Corequisites Project web site.  In November I was asked to spearhead the work going forward, along with our Math/Developmental Math Department Chair Carolynn Reed (and – of course – relying on the outstanding support of my executive assistant Rhonda Little).

Interlude (“an intervening period or event”)

The decision had been made early in the Fall to host/put together/convene a conference here in Austin on January 25 and 26 under the HB 2223 PD grant.

So now we get to my “day in the life”:  Friday, January 25.

I arrived at work around 8:30 to do a bit of email before a 9:00 o’clock meeting.  My boss (Mike Midgley, VP Instruction) called around 8:45 to make sure someone was going to chair Curriculum & Programs at 10:00 (and yes, I had that on my calendar), since he, Gretchen Riehl (AVP, Workforce Education) and I all had multiple obligations that morning.  Divide and conquer was the goal.

At 8:58 I headed downstairs to the 9:00 AM meeting of the Dual Credit Growth & Sustainability Task Force.  This task force has both ISD and ACC members and is focused on strengthening our partnerships to support – you guessed it – the growth and sustainability of our dual credit offerings. The meeting was scheduled to run until 11:30, but I had to leave at 9:45 to get over to HLC for Curriculum & Programs.

At 10:05 I began the Curriculum & Programs meeting.  This is one of my favorite meetings each month because the members do good work and take their work seriously.  Among other things, we approved updates and revisions to the master syllabus template (since sent out for comment via the Faculty Senate and Adjunct Faculty Association), new programs in Agricultural Sciences (an AS and and AAS), updates to the Psychology AA to incorporate the state-approved field of study, and new tracks for the Entrepreneurship AAS.

By 12:30 I was back in my office, where I wrote the introduction for the keynote speaker for the Friday evening opening of the #TxCoReqs Conference at HLC’s Social Staircase.  I also tried to catch up (a bit) on email and return some phone calls.

At 2:00 I was in the first meeting of the NACEP Accreditation Advisory Board.  The National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships offers accreditation to dual credit programs, and ACC is initiating the accreditation process.  If we receive NACEP accreditation, we will be the first dual credit program in the state of Texas to be accredited.  This was the kick-off meeting of the internal Accreditation Advisory Board to start the conversation about what we will do, when, and how.

I left the NACEP meeting around 3:00 in order to get over to HLC to begin the preparations for the evening’s kickoff of the #TxCoReqs Conference.

Attendees were invited to have appetizers at 5:00, take campus tours at 6:00 and 6:30 (ACCelerator, Fashion Incubator, Bioscience Incubator), and hear the keynote at 7:00.  So “preparations” included checking the set up (no, there weren’t enough tables, we didn’t have table cloths, there wasn’t a podium, we needed more chairs, etc.).  Paper table cloths were found in Student Life, more tables were delivered by the folks in the Campus Manager’s Office, a podium was found, additional chairs were set out.

Around 4:00 the food was delivered, which required getting it organized on either side of the Social Staircase to ensure two lines for the appetizers (we were expecting approximately 150 attendees).  Among the chicken tenders and quesadillas and veggie and cheese trays and such, we had ordered chips and salsas/hummus.  The chips arrived in bags – so I had to dash home (I live approximately ten minutes away – that is, when it’s not rush hour) to get serving bowls for the chips.  (Sometimes my “hostess” gene just takes over – and I wasn’t going to serve chips out of bags!)

We had student interns available to help us with the set up and the registration table, and they were great helpers, doing whatever was needed (including quickly washing a couple of the serving bowls that I had just brought from home).  The registration tables were set up, the name badges were organized, the conference programs were spread out.

We ran a shuttle bus from the conference hotel to HLC, and attendees started arriving around 4:45.  (My thanks to the “shuttle host” Dr. Marilyn Yale who stationed herself in the lobby of the hotel to direct conference attendees to the shuttle.)  Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, the atmosphere, the congeniality, and the campus tours.  Our keynote speaker, Dr. Luzelma Canales, Senior Associate Vice President for Student Success at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, focused our attention on Reframing the Student Experience Through an Equity Lens, and spoke from the heart and from personal experience about our students and how they experience college.

Around 8:00 PM folks started heading for the shuttle back to the hotel.  We were left to gather up the remaining food, throw things away, and in general make sure that we were good stewards of the space and didn’t leave a mess.

At 9:00 PM we finally left HLC, with the #TxCoReqs Conference opening evening a success.

Postlude (“something played afterword; closing”)

Bonus day in the life:  January 26.

I was at the conference hotel by 7:20 AM to get the registration table set up.  Breakfast for attendees was served at 8:00, Dr. Cook delivered brief welcoming remarks at 8:50, and the first breakout sessions began at 9:00.  We offered a total of 16 breakout sessions in the morning and afternoon, with lunch provided in between.  My thanks to the “room hosts” (Ann Palmer, Julie Wauchope, Gillian Waterston, Ysella Slavin) who handed out and collected session evaluation forms and served to trouble-shoot when presenters needed help.

The conference concluded with remarks from Dr. Suzanne Morales-Vale, the Director of Developmental and Adult Education at THECB.  As the conference ended, we collected the plastic name tag holders (to be used again at the next conference), gathered up remaining conference folders, and wished folks safe travels.

I left the conference hotel about 5:45 PM and headed home.

Exhausted.

Really, really exhausted.

But I also knew that we (Carolynn, Rhonda, and I) had pulled it off – the sessions were well received, and the conference was well attended.  So the exhaustion was connected to good people who did good work – student interns, room and shuttle hosts, hotel staff, HLC staff, presenters, and everyone else who had a hand in making this work.  My thanks to all!

Tact and Kindness

This link was sent to me by Dr. Suzanne Summers, Professor of History.  Please take the next seven minutes and watch the video. While the setting may be Stanford, the comments of these students – typically first in their families to go to college – can  help us understand our students here at ACC.

The premise of the video is “what I wish my professor knew” about the world view and experiences of first generation and/or low income students  The wisdom of the students is wonderful.  In watching the video, these observations stood out to me.  One student asks that as professors we recognize that we are not “the sole holder of knowledge” in the classroom.  We can and should honor the knowledge and experiences that our students  bring to the classroom.  Many of us do this with classroom discussions, or active learning projects, or other approaches – but it’s always nice to be reminded of the perspectives that our students bring that enrich the learning experience for all.

Another student recommends that we take the time to talk about things like office hours – what they’re for, why we hold them, how students can benefit from coming to see us during office hours.  We all know that many of our students find their professors intimidating, so perhaps requiring a visit from each student during office hours could help us break down some barriers and build up some sense of belonging.

One of the students on the video encourages faculty to have “an open mind and open ear”.  It is sometimes too easy to get into our classroom rhythms and forget to listen to our students, so a reminder to be open to who they are, what they’re struggling with, and what they have to say is always welcome.

A final comment from a student recommends that we all try to provide guidance to our students “with tact and kindness”.  I’ll leave you with that.  As we all try to help our students learn, let’s also try to help them figure out life as a college student, recognizing that we don’t know their work schedule or their family obligations, and they could be nodding off in class because they just got off the night shift.  Let’s all try to think about the value of providing guidance to our students “with tact and kindness”.

Words

I love language. I love learning (and using) new words – as you might be able to tell from my post about the word “joyance”.  I love my Dictionary.com app that sends me a new word every day.  Some words are familiar, and some are not.  Today’s word was “elevenses”, which is British slang for a midmorning break.  Yesterday’s word was “neoteric”, which means modern; new; recent.  A few days ago the word was “champers”, which is slang for champagne – a timely word for the new year!

Thanks to Inside Higher Ed and Lake Superior University, we have a list of words or phrases to banish from the lexicon for 2019.  The list includes “optics”, “thought leader”, and “importantly”.  I’ll leave it to the clever amongst you to put all three into a sentence.

On the plus side, Inside Higher Ed and Wayne State University also provide us with a list of words to use in 2019.  Here is a brief selection from their list:

Anecdoche or anechdoche.  This word doesn’t show up in any of the three dictionaries that I have in my office, but the Google machine finds it in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, “a compendium of invented words”.  The definition?  Anecdoche occurs when everyone talks at once, listening to no one.  Have you attended any meetings like that?

Logorrhea.  Logorrhea describes excessive, compulsive talkativeness.  Do those who suffer from logorrhea show up at meetings that turn into an anechdoche?

Trenchant.  Trenchant means incisive, keen, clear-cut, sharply defined.  The world could do with more trenchancy (noun), couldn’t it?

As we start 2019, raise a glass of champers, say farewell to optics and hello to trenchancy.  

Cheers, all.

Steve Ryan from Groveland, CA, USA [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the Holiday Edition

Joyance

This word popped up on my phone yesterday as the word of the day.  Isn’t it charming?  Even without knowing exactly what it means, it has a lovely lilt.

Joyance

Joyance – as you might expect – means joyous feeling.  Gladness.  Delight. Enjoyment.

As we bring this semester and this year to a close, I wish you joyance.

As I have spent my day today –

  • signing off-cycle pay requests (of course!)
  • working on conference planning around the implementation of corequisites
  • responding to a student complaint
  • taking colleagues to lunch
  • answering questions for a professional reference
  • booking a couple of meetings for early January
  • answering and sending emails
  • trying to figure out some course equivalencies
  • providing additional information to my boss about an international travel request
  • looking at the (too long) list of unsubmitted grades –

I have been reminded – even in the midst of the routine (off-cycle pay requests) and the frustrating (too many unsubmitted grades) – that I find joyance in my work.

What we do matters for our students and our community.  It is meaningful and impactful work that makes the world we live in better.  I hope you take as much delight in our work as I do.  I hope our work at ACC gives you gladness.  I hope the mission and ministry of community colleges give you a joyous feeling.

I wish each of you merriment and gladness this holiday season.

Joyance to you all

Picture Credit:  By Jeangagnon - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51252267

Legacies

Legacies can be cherished or burdensome.  Legacies can be known or hidden.  Legacies can be something to celebrate or something to forget.

I was raised by college-educated parents.  My father was a philosophy professor at a public university until he retired at age 70.  He met my mother when they were both at Baylor, where she graduated with a BA in Spanish while he graduated with a degree in Bible. I am a product of East Texas (my mother) and West Texas (my dad).  Where else would they meet but in Central Texas?

I recently was reminded of something I had forgotten about my roots.  My multi-faceted legacy – my inheritance from my parents – now has another facet.

My mother was a product of Corpus Christi Junior College – now Del Mar College.  In going through papers in my mother’s office recently, I found pictures from her time at Corpus Christi Junior College (CCJC), where she was “Most Representative Sophomore”,  President of Phi Theta Kappa, President of the YWCA, a sophomore class officer, and Secretary-Treasurer of the Student Council.

That’s her, pouring tea, in the YWCA picture.

That’s her, first row on the left, in the PTK picture.

That’s her, second row, second from the left, in the Sophomore Class Officers picture.

My legacy – unbeknownst to me – is grounded in the mission and role of community colleges in a very personal way.  My mother was a teenager during World War II, and she had to work before she could start college.  She was a first-generation community college student who loved her time at CCJC.  It helped shape her, and it was her pathway to a four-year degree, to meeting the love of her life, and to spending the rest of her life connected to higher education, both through my dad and through me.

My passion for community colleges – my missionary zeal, if you will – has its roots in a Texas junior college of the 1940s.  My mother gifted me with this legacy, and I didn’t even know it.  Her legacies are many – she was kind, and gracious, and friendly, and thoughtful.  One of my lifelong friends described her as “a treasure”.  She was all that – and she was also a community college success story.

I’m writing this post because December 7 will be the first anniversary her passing.  So here’s to the many legacies of Doris Jane Jones Scott.  Here’s to our roots, both known and unknown.  Here’s to our past and our futures.  Here’s to my mother.  And here’s to the power of community colleges.

 

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the November Edition

Thursday, November 29 was a typical day.

Over the course of the day the focus of my attention included dual credit staffing challenges, weekend college, changing the Math calculus sequence, eight-week courses and programs, organizing a conference in Austin in January, off-cycle pay requests, position change and budget approval forms, job postings, our longstanding ROTC/Military Science partnership with UT, a potential engineering partnership with Texas State, appropriate documentation of student complaints and their resolution, Spring Development Day, effective use of data to inform short-term actions, assessments and improvement, communication streams, testing centers, the Ascender program, the content for the new edition of the student success report, the April Texas Pathways Institute on teaching and learning, Friday’s President’s breakfast with area superintendents – and more.

8:30   Arrived at the office and chatted about the day’s schedule with my fabulous executive assistant Rhonda, who keeps me on track and on schedule.

8:50   Went downstairs to the fifth floor to ask (and answer) some questions about a couple of projects and some looming meetings.

9:00   Turned to email.

9:15   Went to visit with Jennifer in HR, who is always helpful and answered my questions.

9:20   Went to visit with Dana in HR, who is also always helpful and answered my additional questions.

9:40  Signed seven Off-Cycle Pay Requests for my colleague Dr. Gretchen Riehl who was home with bronchitis.

9:45   Started writing a letter of recommendation for a faculty member who is applying to a doctoral program.

10:18  Succumbed to temptation and ate a Shipley donut brought to work by my evil (but not really) executive assistant Rhonda.

 

10:20  Returned to email and spent several minutes trying to figure out where my “trash” folder went in the new Google mail.

10:31  Had a drop-in visit from Dr. Susy Thomason to discuss updates to the faculty handbook, department chair orientation and training, Spring Development Day plans, and other things.

10:45  Read through the notes from Dr. Alison Kadlec, who facilitated the previous day’s deans’ retreat.

11:03  Received the agenda and started prepping for the Provost’s Council meeting scheduled for 2:30.

11:35  Approved two requisitions in Colleague related to the Texas Corequisites Project grant from THECB.

11:37  Finished the letter of recommendation and uploaded it to the candidate’s online file.

11:45  Checked “to do” list to confirm that I had done only one thing on the list, and answered more emails.

11:51  Started crafting an email to select department chairs about a new approach to a longstanding issue.

12:00  Ate some almonds and some cherry tomatoes at my desk while thinking through a plethora of issues related to the Texas Corequisites Project January conference that ACC is organizing.

12:25  Closed my office door to finish reading Lencioni’s Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars.

12:45  Opened my office door, returned to emails to address more questions and problems.

12:55  Turned to drafting an agenda for the Friday afternoon 8-week Program Task Force meeting.

1:05  Look up and saw my boss in my doorway – so I invited him in (of course).

1:22  Returned to drafting the task force agenda.

2:00  Returned to emails and new issues that needed addressing.

2:12  Succumbed to temptation for a second time and had another donut brought work by my evil-but-not-really, fabulous executive assistant Rhonda.

2:29  Left the office to go downstairs for the Provost’s Council meeting.

5:12  Returned to the office after the Provost’s Council meeting and sent emails about some of the decisions/discussions we had there.

5:25  Did some more work on the draft agenda and on the supporting documentation and information that would be needed for the task force meeting Friday afternoon.

6:12  Decided – especially in light of the 7:30 breakfast meeting the next morning – that it was time to close up shop and head home.  Chose not to take any donuts home with me!

Picture #1:  Liz DeCoster [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Picture #2:  Amy from Newburgh, NY [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Mind the Gap

If you’ve traveled to England and ridden the London Underground, you are probably familiar with the phrase “mind the gap”.  While that advice is intended to make sure that passengers step over the gap between the platform and the train, it has always made me think about the gaps that we tend to ignore or overlook or think we can’t change.

ACC recently conducted a survey of our students with the help of the Trellis Company, and we found out that our students face a variety of gaps in their financial wellness.  Among the ACC students who participated, some said that they have run out of money three or more times in the past year, that they worry about paying off their student loan debt, that they financially contribute to their families while they are in school, and that they pay for college with credit cards.

Those are gaps for our students that we should be aware of and responsive to.  I attended the Texas Pathways Institute last week and heard from Sara Goldrick-Rab, a sociologist of higher education who reminded us that we are serving many under-resourced students from under-resourced families in under-resourced communities.  She reminded us that scarcity can have cognitive impacts – it can weigh students down in ways that make it difficult to study or make good decisions.  She told us that students enduring poverty spend as much time on college as other students, but more time working and less time sleeping.

Dr. Goldrick-Rab made the following recommendations while also affirming that our students are resilient and capable.  Her advice:

Step 1:  Remember, students are humans first.

Step 2: Commit to a culture of caring that goes beyond charity.  Change systems, policies, and practices where necessary (such as our new syllabus language that alerts students to available resources).

Step 3: Ask questions.  Learn what resources are available so that you can direct students to them.

Step 4: Share what you learn about available resources.

Step 5: Gather and share data (as with our Trellis survey).  But we must also share our students’ stories.  We must remember that a student who falls asleep in class isn’t necessarily being disrespectful – it could be s/he just finished a night shift, or is working two jobs, or was up half the night with a sick child.  We must remember that students are humans first.

So, to get you started on the resource list, here are a few links.

Did you know we have a student emergency fund?

Did you know we have food pantries?

Did you know we have a support center that provides help with childcare or textbooks?

Did you know we have a rainy day savings program for students that matches money saved?

Please take the time to learn about the resources that we make available to help our students.  Let’s all do what we can to mind the gaps that our students face.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving and a season of blessings.

Faculty Advising for Students – The Mentoring Role

My goal with this blog and with the webcast Academic Transfer in Focus is to let folks around the college know more about the good work that is embedded in our initiatives.  I am releasing a new webcast called Faculty Advising for Students.  This webcast was filmed several months ago, and some things have changed since then.  Nonetheless, the key ideas are the same.

There is much research out there that tells us students are more likely to persist and succeed when they make an early connection with someone on campus – particularly if that early connection is with a faculty member.  That is the key idea in our faculty mentoring initiative.

Why aren’t we calling it faculty advising?  Because we want this to be about more than what classes to take next semester, or how many classes are left to earn an associate degree.

We want this to be about relationships that matter.

We want this to be about connections around love of a subject and love of the possible career paths that come with studying something you love.

We want this to be about mentoring.

Have you had a mentor?  I expect we all have – someone with more experience, someone who has learned some lessons the hard way, someone whose wisdom made the difference for our choices or successes.  That’s what we want with this initiative.  We want our students to be mentored by faculty who can offer insights into how to navigate college, how to overcome mistakes, and how to focus on the love of learning and the transfer and career goals that can be transformational.

We’ll be providing more information about this initiative in the coming weeks and months, but for now I want you to know that we are moving forward.  In Spring 2019 we will have some designated faculty mentors for declared majors in the Liberal Arts, SEM, and Business.

Send good thoughts their way – and say thank you for the mentors who helped you get where you are today.