Open Education and Our Students

Last week I attended the annual OpenEd Conference that focuses on the work in and around developing open educational resources (OER), offering Z-classes, and crafting Z-degrees.  ACC systematically started down this open education road in the Fall 2016 semester, building on small pockets of OpenStax textbook adoptions.

In the current Fall 2018 semester ACC is offering more than 400 Z-classes with an enrollment approaching 10,000.  As this article and this report indicate,  adapting/curating/developing/remixing openly licensed, high quality course materials supports not only our students but our own interests in refreshed and engaging pedagogy.

The OpenEd conference allowed me to hear updates on both quantitative and qualitative research at particular colleges as well as a meta-analysis and summary of research on OER to date.  While the research designs are not always as rigorous as we might hope, the general results of the research point to multiple benefits for our students and for us as faculty.  The underlying message that supports open education is this:  “One’s learning limit should never hinge on one’s purchasing power.”

The OER “movement” requires support and sustainability.  OER stewards are key to supporting and expanding our ability to use academically appropriate and high quality openly licensed course materials.  Another session I attended at Open Ed discussed the CARE Framework, offering the framework as a compass to provide direction for supporting the growing OER ecosystem.

CARE:  Contribute, Attribute, Release, Empower.

To Contribute means to engage actively in finding and updating course materials under CC-BY licenses.

To Attribute means to always ensure that credit is given where credit is due.  While the beauty of OER is in their adaptability, we must still ensure attributions credit those who came before.

To Release means to craft open educational resources that can be used beyond the individual classroom.  That is, they aren’t hidden behind a learning management system or wrapped up in copyrighted materials.

To Empower means to widen the circle of participation and practice, to broaden the voices that contribute to OER and the topics that are openly licensed, and to share research findings, good practice, and recommendations for improvement.

As community college faculty, we understand and celebrate the diversity of our classrooms.  We celebrate who our students are and the assets they bring to learning.  The best work in the open education world reflects what we already know – that education is reciprocal, and that our students both learn from us and teach us.  The best elements of open education are in the reciprocity of the OER ecosystem.  And ACC will continue to support the development of additional openly licensed course materials and additional Z-degree pathways that we can share with our students, our colleagues, and the wider open education world.

A Day in the Life – the September Edition

“Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.”

Actually, with my curly hair, a comb is ineffective.  But still – you get the idea.

I thought I would pick Friday the 21st to tell you about in the September edition of A Day in the Life of an AVP.  I woke up, I fell out of bed, and I got myself out the door and on the road to our Elgin Campus by 8:00 AM.

Elgin Campus?  Yes. We are holding monthly leadership and management sessions with our newish and new department chairs.  Anyone who is in his or her first or second year as a department chair is included.  Among many other goals, one goal is to help folks get to know our campuses – so the September session was at Elgin, a charming campus approximately 20 miles from HBC.  Our Elgin Campus is home to our sustainable agriculture program, our veterinary technology program, our soon-to-be-launched Ag Science program, and some of our Early College High School programs (Elgin ECHS, Manor ECHS, and Colorado River Collegiate Academy).

I arrived at Elgin at 8:30 and visited with folks as they gathered.  At 9:00 I made some opening remarks and then stayed for a few minutes as the first session began.  About 9:20 I left to head to HBC.

At 10:00 I was in my seat in HBC 301 as co-chair of our college-wide Curriculum & Programs Committee.  This committee is one of my favorites at ACC.  It is composed of smart, dedicated, eagle-eyed, and committed faculty and deans who care about the nuances of curricular updates and revisions, new program or course development, and curriculum innovation.  They care because they understand that curriculum changes are at the heart of our mission and our focus on student access, persistence, and completion.  We had a lively meeting about things both large and small, and we finished around noon.

By 12:20 I was back on the road to our Elgin Campus.

Elgin Campus?  Again?  Yes – because the session with new(ish) department chairs ran from 8:30 to 2:30.  While I was at HBC they heard from HR, Purchasing, and Campus Operations.  They also had a few “seasoned” department chairs join them for lunch so they could pick their brains and learn from their experiences.

After I arrived back at Elgin, I heard the tail end of the Campus Operations and Safety presentation, and then listened to the Library Services presentation.  I was up next, to talk about schedule development (and Ad Astra) and curriculum development (and Curriculum & Programs).  We ended a little after 2:00, and they stayed for a campus tour while I headed back to HBC.

At 3:00 I was in my seat in HBC 507.9 as the convener of a Steering Committee put together to provide strategic vision and support for a grant we received from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.  This THECB grant was awarded to ACC sos that we can develop and provide training, professional development, and information about best practices around co-requisites to all public institutions of higher education in Texas over the next two years.

As  you may know, under HB 2223 all public colleges and universities must have at least 25% of their developmental education students enrolled in a co-requisite course pairing (developmental ed paired with college credit) this Fall.  Next Fall we must have 50% enrolled in co-reqs., and the following Fall we must have 75% enrolled in co-reqs.  The intent is clear – we are to help our students who need to beef up their reading, writing, and math skills in a way that moves them forward and helps them earn college credit thanks to the co-requisite supports that they receive while enrolled in a college credit class.

It’s a big grant with visible and consequential stakes, so we have established a steering committee to provide strategic thinking and serve as a sounding board for the faculty who are leading the implementation.  Our meeting ended around 4:30, at which point I went to my office to catch up on email and cross a couple of things off my “to do” list.

I eventually gathered up my work to take home and headed out to meet friends for happy hour.  Not a bad way to end another day, another week, and (almost) another month of interesting and significant work as an AVP.

SACS Has Left! SACS Has Left!

We did it.

After two plus years of planning, writing, rewriting, conducting surveys, pulling faculty rosters, double- and triple-checking faculty credentials and documentation, pulling data, organizing mock interviews, scheduling visits to five high schools and three campuses, organizing last-minute interview requests from the 5th Year Compliance Report visiting team after they arrived – and a whole lot more – we did it.  In the words of Dr. Cook, “Slam dunk!!”.

The same is true for our level change visiting team – another slam dunk for ACC.

We did it.

Both visiting teams had absolutely no recommendations.  The chairs of both visiting teams said it was extremely rare for a result such as this.  A full written report from the visiting team will likely be reviewed either at the December 2018 meeting or the June 2019 meeting of the SACSCOC Board of Trustees.  That review makes it official.  But in the meantime . . .

We did it.

Kudos to all involved.  The conscientiousness, dedication, and commitment of ACC’s faculty and staff is reflected not only in this result, but in the ongoing opportunities we provide to our students and our community.


SACS Is Coming! SACS Is Coming!

A team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) will be visiting ACC next week (September 17th through the 19th).  The team will be visiting with faculty, staff, and students at our Highland Campus, Hays Campus, and Elgin Campus.  They will also visit five high schools in our service area where we offer dual credit classes to interview faculty and students there.

As you already know, institutions of higher education are accredited by regional accrediting bodies, and we are in the Southern Region, so SACSCOC is our accrediting agency.  Accreditation is a decennial process that ACC went through most recently in 2013.  Mid-way through the decade, colleges in the Southern Association submit a Fifth Year Interim Report and are visited by a representative group of peers (faculty and staff) from other Southern Association colleges and universities.  All colleges and universities in the SACSCOC region must adhere to the same accrediting standards.  A visiting team is essentially tasked with examining whether or not a college is adhering to those standards.

The Fifth Year Report is an abbreviated document in which we respond to select standards and federal regulations.  It is a way for accrediting bodies to continuously monitor institutions to ensure compliance.  It is also a way for our accrediting authority to review any new sites that we opened since 2013 (thus the visits to Elgin, Hays, and Highland).

I attended my first meeting relating to the Fifth Year Report in February 2017 (two months after I was named AVP), but other preliminary meetings date to May of 2016 – so ACC has been working on this visit for more than two years.  I was tasked with writing two elements of the Report.  The first is CR 2.8.  In 2017, Core Requirement 2.8 said this:  “The number of full-time faculty members is adequate to support the mission of the institution and to ensure the quality and integrity of each of its academic programs.”  I wrote approximately 25 pages illustrating our compliance with this requirement, including tables, survey data, and charts provided by OIEA.

In December 2017 SACSCOC adopted updated principles, so now this core expectation is stated this way:

“SECTION 6: Faculty Qualified, effective faculty members are essential to carrying out the mission of the institution and ensuring the quality and integrity of its academic programs. The tradition of shared governance within American higher education recognizes the importance of both faculty and administrative involvement in the approval of educational programs. Because student learning is central to the institution’s mission and educational degrees, the faculty is responsible for directing the learning enterprise, including overseeing and coordinating educational programs to ensure that each contains essential curricular components, has appropriate content and pedagogy, and maintains discipline currency.

Achievement of the institution’s mission with respect to teaching, research, and service requires a critical mass of qualified full-time faculty to provide direction and oversight of the academic programs. Due to this significant role, it is imperative that an effective system of evaluation be in place for all faculty members that addresses the institution’s obligations to foster intellectual freedom of faculty to teach, serve, research, and publish.

1. The institution employs an adequate number of full-time faculty members to support the mission and goals of the institution. (Full-time faculty) [CR]

2. For each of its educational programs, the institution

a. Justifies and documents the qualifications of its faculty members. (Faculty qualifications)

b. Employs a sufficient number of full-time faculty members to ensure curriculum and program quality, integrity, and review. (Program faculty)

c. Assigns appropriate responsibility for program coordination. (Program coordination)”

I was also tasked with writing our response to FR 4.2.  Federal Requirement 4.2 says this:  “The institution’s curriculum is directly related and appropriate to the purpose and goals of the institution and the diplomas, certificates, or degrees awarded.”  I wrote approximately 15 pages documenting our compliance with FR 4.2.

Dr. Gretchen Riehl (AVP of Workforce Education) and I wrote the key instructional pieces of the Report.  Other writing assignments were given to various teams in Student Services, Campus Planning and Operations, and Institutional Planning and Evaluation.  The entire effort was overseen by Misty Rasmussen, our Director of Accreditation, and Dr. Mary Harris, our Vice President of Institutional Planning, Development, and Evaluation.  They deserve applause for the planning, forethought, organization, and support that they have provided as we have written our report and prepared for the visiting team.

I should tell you that we’re actually being visited by two teams next week. One is focused on the Fifth Year Report, and the other is focused on our recent level change.  In addition to preparing for the Fifth Year, we went through a level change process this year so that we could be approved to offer the RN-to-BSN program.  If you see Misty or Mary, give them a hug or a high five and tell them they should both go on vacation in October.  They will deserve it!

Now you know.  SACSCOC is coming, and we are well prepared.  But keep in mind – 2023 will be here before we know it, and we’ll be working on a full reaffirmation report.

I can’t wait 😉

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

“Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head . . .” (Lennon/McCartney, A Day in the Life)

Many folks wonder what administrators do all day – there is a perception amongst some that we are superfluous.  While that’s a different conversation (!), I thought I would offer up a sample of the work that I am doing with this August Edition of A Day in the Life of an AVP.  This is a sample of a typical day for me in the month of August.

Across the normal nine to ten hour work day, my work touched on the following issues and projects:

  • First Day Access.
  • Ad Astra and the proposed strategic scheduling vision, principles, and operational guidelines.
  • SACSCOC 5th year compliance report.
  • Equity in Faculty Hiring Steering Committee.
  • Off-cycle pay requests. (Always – like clockwork, the day or two following a payroll deadline I receive emails and off-cycle pay request forms from folks who missed the deadline to approve time sheets.)
  • Personnel complaint.
  • Student complaint.
  • New(ish) Department Chair boot camp.
  • New full-time faculty orientation.
  • Emails, drop-in visits, and phone calls seeking help, information, advice, problem-solving, or a listening ear.

Below is a little more information about a few of the issues in the list above.

First Day Access

What were the issues with FDA, you ask?  Myriad.  And we’re still working through the process, practices, timelines, and communication issues that this new project has presented.

Faculty who sign up for First Day Access to help their students lower their costs of textbooks and have electronic access to the textbook on the first day of class must ensure that their course Blackboard page is set up properly.  And it must be set up when rosters are loaded into Bb, which is typically two weeks before the start of a semester.

FDA allows students to “opt out” if they want to go a different route in obtaining their textbook.  Opting out occurs via Bb so that BN College can track the total bill for FDA each semester and so that we can refund students who opt out.  I spent some time crafting and sending email reminders to FDA faculty – which also meant I spent some time responding to email inquiries from faculty about process and technology.  (And no, I’m really not the Help Desk for FDA, but you have to start somewhere in asking questions, don’t you?  So why not start with the AVP who sent the email?)

Department Chair Boot Camp

What?  We have a Department Chair boot camp for new and newish department chairs?  Yes we do – as of August.  We do a lot of things well here at ACC, but we can always improve on what we do.  In recent years we’ve offered periodic sessions for new department chairs on various aspects of the college and their job, but we are trying to be more intentional about helping new DCs learn the ropes this year.  We had an introductory all-day session with approximately 20 new(ish) DCs (those in their very first year, or those who started in the role last year), and we’ll have more sessions as we move through the academic year.  In addition to prepping for my slots on the agenda, I was also trying to recruit a few current department chairs to come to lunch and offer some of their wisdom to their new colleagues.

SACSCOC 5th Year Compliance Report

We go through a decennial reaffirmation of accreditation with our accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges – otherwise known as SACSCOC.  And their new practice is to require a 5th year compliance report mid-way through the ten-year cycle.  In the last few months I spent a good deal of time drafting certain portions of that 5th year report.  In August it was decided that we would put together a packet that helps the visiting team (coming in mid-September) know what our institutional goals are, how we’re measuring those goals, and how we’re responding to our measurements.

A number of us were asked to write one-page overviews of each of our “college success snapshot” goals.  So, for instance, I was tasked with writing one-page overviews of our work in developmental education (one for INRW, one for DEVM), our Adult Education work, our co-requisite work, FTIC required remediation, FTIC college-level Math course completions, and FTIC college-level English course completions.

New Full-Time Faculty Orientation

Each year new full-time faculty spend the Monday before the start of the Fall semester in a day-long orientation.  They hear from various folks, they learn about the College’s organization and strategic goals, they move from table to table in a “meet the administrators” hour, they get acquainted with each other, and they spend some time on the paperwork required for their benefits.  My task – in addition to preparing to speak for a few minutes – was to work with department chairs to get a list of the mentors for our new full-time faculty so that I could invite the mentors to join us for lunch to visit with their respective mentees.

Equity in Faculty Hiring Steering Committee

Earlier this summer I was asked to be a “tri-chair” of this Steering Committee along with Gerry Tucker (VP Human Resources) and Suzanne Summers (Professor of History).  As you know, the college has been working more intentionally in the last few years to put issues of equity front and center.  For instance, we try to always disaggregate our student success data to see where the inequities are across race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status.  We want to be more intentional about this equity focus in our hiring processes so a steering committee has been formed to look at every aspect of our full-time hiring (postings, advertising, hiring committee manual, hiring committee training, sample interview questions, evaluation rubrics, etc.)  Periodically I am asked to report to the President’s Cabinet on this work, and August was one of those months where I had to prepare an update for the Cabinet.

“Found my way downstairs and drank a cup . .  .”
As always, thanks to John Lennon and Paul McCartney for the inspiration.

I’ll be back sometime in September with another chapter of A Day in the Life of an AVP.

Education Deserts

What is an education desert?

I grew up in a college town.  I moved from that small college town (Stillwater, OK) to a big college town (Austin, TX).  I have never lived in a place where access to higher education wasn’t down the street or around the corner.  In a way, that is ACC’s philosophy – we have 11 campuses across our service area because we want to reach local communities and provide access to higher education that’s around the corner.

In this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, we learn that there are “substantial pockets of the country . . . where it’s difficult for placebound students to get to a college.”  If you are a first generation student, or an adult student with work and family obligations, you probably can’t “go away to college”.  You need access to higher education within a 50-mile radius.  If you don’t have that access, then you live in an education desert.  I urge you to read the article and explore the data via the maps that they provide – it is all very thought-provoking.

One of the key takeaways in the article for me was this phrase:  “proximity and access”.  ACC has access in its DNA, but we could still think differently about proximity to higher education.  Our online course options are a case in point.

We could make a small dent in the proximity barrier if we worked harder to make our online courses fully accessible online.  And of course we need to think beyond ensuring fully online classes – we also want our online classes to be as engaging and intentional as our face-to-face classes.  We want our online students to have the same learning opportunities and connections with their classmates and their professors as our on-the-ground students have.

We could also make a small dent in the proximity barrier if we saw our online courses as the foundation for online degrees and certificates, rather than just as disparate and disconnected courses.  Our access mission is tied to success, and for many students success is earning an award.  Can we do better in scheduling our online sections so that they support forward progress on certificates and degrees?  I expect we can.

If we value what we do – and I know we do – then we can be part of the solution to the education deserts that impede opportunities for a better life.  We can expand equal access, serve to reduce proximity barriers, and support educational attainment in ways that reduce the education deserts in our region and our state.

As you start a new semester and a new academic year, raise a glass to greater access and greater opportunities.  Raise a glass to the role of community colleges in minimizing education deserts.  Clink!

Helping Students – One Email at a Time

Can one email really make a difference for a student?  I’m pondering that question after reading this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

I will be teaching an online class this Fall – for the first time in several years – and I am spending a lot of time thinking about how I should craft my course.  Crafting a course means thinking through not only the assignments and assessments, the due dates and course rhythms, the policies and support links – it also means thinking through the communication plan.

I took the eight-hour Quality Matters training earlier this summer and found it to be very helpful.  While I have taught in an online setting for . . . probably 20 years, there are still things I can learn about effective, engaging, and active online teaching and learning.  I also took training in July on using VoiceThread – another interesting and creative tool for the online teaching toolbox.  Can I take advantage of these professional development opportunities to craft an effective approach to communication?  Absolutely.

It’s easy to be an effective communicator in the classroom – that’s why we love the classroom.  It’s more challenging to be an effective communicator in an online setting.  How do you communicate (effectively) about course navigation?  Learning objectives?  Course activities?  How you will measure students’ learning?  How students should use the available instructional materials?  How students would benefit by actively practicing learning in a particular course?  How students should participate in the course and engage in learning the materials?  How they can find help with their learning (e.g., learning labs, accessibility services, technical support)? There are multiple answers because I just listed multiple questions.  Course navigation can be communicated initially with a “Start Here” button.  Active learning can be instilled with a discussion board or a blog or a wiki or VoiceThread.  In some instances, the communication possibilities are numerous.

But most importantly, how do you communicate your interest in each student and in their learning?  How do you communicate when a student seems to struggle with a course assignment?  What do you say when a student fails to submit work?

The latest idea is “nudging”.  Can you help a student by a nudge?  A nudge is a gentle push, a reminder, a slight prod to action.  Will nudging make a difference?  Don’t we offer nudges in the classroom?  Don’t we say “this is only the first exam, and you can each learn from this experience so that you can adjust your approach to studying”?  Don’t we say “please come see me during office hours and we can talk about how you did on this assignment”?  Don’t we nudge by our very presence in the classroom?

So my question for myself is “how can I nudge” in a way that helps my students in an online setting?

I’m going be intentional in my communications plan for the semester.  And my plan will include some personalized emails.  Calling students by their names, helping them to connect with their classmates as well as with their professor, sending out reminders of due dates, gently nudging students to assess their approach to learning in the class – all of these things are something I can and will do this Fall.  And I’ll let you know how it goes.

This image is a work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain in the United States.

We ARE a public good

Are community colleges a public good?  Do we benefit the common weal?  If your answer is “yes” (as mine is), then here is another question for you.  What can we do – what are we doing – to tell the story of the public benefits of our community college?

Inside Higher Ed and others recently reported on some interesting survey results.  Community colleges are a public good, and the article makes the point – our work is not just about ROI (return on investment) for the individual, it’s also about the investment in our civic, cultural, social, and economic systems.  In other words, it’s about the work that we do that becomes an investment in the common weal.  Teachers College at Columbia University conducted the survey and presents the results  – overall, good results, but significant differences across gender, race/ethnicity, age, political persuasion, and other categories.  It appears as if we need to be more intentional about telling our story.

To adapt some language from Thomas Jefferson, community colleges are  guardians of “the public prosperity”.  Our open doors, our community focus, our belief in second chances, our broad scope of programs – all serve to support “the diffusion of light and education” that is at the heart of the community college mission.  I will always believe that the good work of faculty and staff at Austin Community College deserves “the reward of esteem, respect, and gratitude.”

My respect and esteem for the adjunct and full-time faculty at ACC is immense.  Please help me tell our story in every way that we can.  And thank you for your work in ensuring that what we do supports the common good.

Student Success and Z

How can we help our students engage in their learning, persist through the semester and into the next semester, and move along their chosen pathway?  I hope that one part of the answer to that question is embedded in the recent work of our faculty, work that was supported by a grant from Achieving the Dream.  The grant is known as the “OER Degree Initiative“, and it concludes in December.  As a result of the grant and the dedicated work of faculty across our transfer disciplines, I can announce that we are launching two Z-Degrees in the upcoming academic year.

What are Z-Degrees, you ask?  They are degree pathways that can be completed entirely with Z-classes.  What are Z-classes, you ask?  They are classes where students pay zero costs for their textbooks.  In most instances, Z-classes are taught with openly-licensed, freely available, high quality electronic course texts that students can access on the first day of class.  These texts are known as open educational resources (OER).  In other instances, Z-classes are taught with course materials that are in the public domain and/or available through JSTOR or EBSCO or other ACC Library Services databases.

The launch of two Z-Degree pathways is wholly the result of faculty work.  It is our faculty who crafted course materials for Z-classes.  It is our faculty who shared their course materials with their colleagues.  It is our faculty who recognized the barriers that many students face when confronted with purchasing textbooks and chose to respond in an active way by developing Z-classes.  It is our faculty who recognized that some students who could otherwise succeed in their classes were likely to fail because they were starting the semester without the required textbook, and often could not afford the book at any point in the semester.  Thanks to our faculty, we are offering students opportunities to learn with quality course materials for which students do not have to pay.

Our two Z-Degree pathways are available in the Associate of Science in General Studies in Science (I know – it’s an awkward title), and the Associate of Arts in General Studies in Arts (another awkward title).  And while not all General Studies students will precisely follow these Z-Degree pathways, many of our transfer students will benefit from the availability of core curriculum Z-classes that help them afford college.

If you’re wondering about the quality, rigor, or impact of zero-cost course materials, a recent article in Inside Higher Ed tells the encouraging story of the University of Georgia.  The report can be found here, the authors are Colvard, Watson, & Park, and the article was published in International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education.

Let’s hear it for the letter Z!

Picture credit: By Acf [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons. 

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