David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Get On Course or Get Off the Road

July 25, 2012: Get On Course or Get Off the Road

SMC hosted an excellent workshop today based upon the On Course Strategies for engaging and empowering students.  You can check their website, which honestly doesn't do the "organization" justice.  The website is a little too dense and not visually appealing enough for me, but when one delves into more depth, one finds great value.  I can't speak enough about the modeling behavior of our facilitator, Dr. Teresa Ward.  I spent most of my day trying not to jump up in my chair to say, "Watch her!  This is how you do it!"  (Meaning, how to facilitate learning-centered environments.)

When I worked at Davenport and ever heard someone criticize a "delivery" model for education, I was always poised with my favorite line, "If you have a dedicated and committed student along with a dedicated and committed faculty member, that course could take place in a cave once a month and learning would occur."  Well, the On Course people have found a much better way to say that for me:  "At the intersection of an empowered person and a well-designed learner-centered experience lies the opportunity for deep, perhaps even transformational learning."  [In lieu of a footnote, see here. :-)]

One of the reasons I like this phrasing over mine is that the On Course people focus more on the intrinsic qualities of the student and the conscious design of a good teacher.  Those of us who teach in community colleges know that most of our students come with little of the skill set that makes empowerment (self-management, self-awareness, emotional intelligence and a real belief in themselves, to name the ones that I see the most).  And until 15-20 years ago, a learner-centered environment was an unheard of concept, and one that still struggles to take root among many educators. This "intersection" is frequently of two unpaved roads, or of a 6 lane highway and a country road. 

A couple of universal truths were reaffirmed for me today. 

1)  The beauty of education really is about recognizing that there are almost no universal truths!  It's the old adage of the more I learn, the more I don't know.  I say this because many of the strategies we worked on involve students critically thinking.  The end result of what they think is less important than the skills we can teach them about communication, listening, collaboration, negotiation, consensus-building, etc.

2)  Life-long learning truly is about adaptation.  Throughout the workshop, we were encouraged to write ideas we might have for our teaching in our "learner-centered tool box."  I haven't taught in almost a decade (egads!), but I saw applicability of many of these strategies for my role as administrator.  With faculty development days coming in August for all of our faculty, they might be surprised to see me employ some jigsaw, value line, or PMI+Q techniques.  (You'll need to bring an On Course facilitator to your campus if you want to understand my examples here.)

3) The success of every student is linked to a mutual responsiblity of the student and the teacher (see the intersection above).  We discussed a case study of a student who plagiarizes (with some interesting extenuating circumstances) and then fails the course.  Our spirited discussion revolved around the various "responsibility" different people in the case study had for the student's failing grade.  Needless to say, the most spirited focused on how much responsibility the faculty member bore.  Perhaps it is ultimately semantics, but as one faculty member pointed out there is a difference between "blame or fault" (of which the teacher bears none) versus "responsibility" (which I would argue the teacher bears some).  Neither Dr. Ward nor myself pushed this point very strongly, but I know I always considered some small percentage of responsibility for a student failing my class.  Maybe it was only 1% (as in, I could have encouraged him or her to drop way earlier in the semester), but it was always there.  I would hope that all faculty would feel something akin to this when a student fails.

So, this concludes the infomercial for On Course.  I will now remove my funny-looking sweater.