Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Across the Wide Divide

by Shirlee Geiger

Lots of PCC people attended the annual convention put on by the American Association of Community Colleges, held this last week in New Orleans. Although this is a conference primarily for administrators, PCC paid for a number of faculty members to attend. Three members of the Learning Assessment Council were there, including me, with our presence paid for by Chris Chairsell, our Vice President for Academic and Student affairs.

I was surprised -- and happy -- to see that reliance on adjunct faculty all across higher ed was brought up in lots of different sessions, and in lots of different contexts. Generally speaking, colleges and universities are being asked to expand our access to non-traditional students, graduate an ever-higher percentage with meaningful credentials (known as "the completion agenda") and do it all without increasing our costs. And how are we to do this? By staying clear on our learning outcomes, collaborating around meaningful assessments (which help us identify which practices get results and which do not), and then rolling out our evidence-based best educational practices.

This is all requiring a new and unprecedented level and kind of collaboration between educators. The Learning Assessment Council is trying to be of help by creating some new opportunities to engage in respectful and productive peer-to-peer interactions. We will be part of starting lots of new Critical Friends Groups in all our major campuses. And we have another group (the PALs --Program Assessment for Learning) ready to come to the SAC sessions where people look at assessment results, to help keep the conversations directed and productive as SAC members talk about what the assessment results imply about needs for program improvements. (It is always easier to talk abut what a SAC is doing well than what is not going well....)

Members of the council are also in the early stages of discussion on how to help get productive conversations going across the adjunct/job-insecure and full time/job-secure instructor categories. This division makes collaboration tricky in lots and lots of ways. The inequity is clearly unfair -- but the justice issue is not going to be addressed in any satisfactory way any time soon. (The resources are not increasing, any time soon!!) The question is how to keep the unfairness from getting in the way of successful collaboration regarding our common goal -- to serve students, and to serve them well.

I will be talking more about one session that I found especially valuable at a later date. Until then, if you want to read the white paper out of which the session came, I suggest reading:
Engaging Adjunct and Full-time Faculty in Student Success Innovation.

It is a remarkable read.



  1. Thanks for the quick update. I read most of the ATD 23 page report. Shirlee, I'm wondering what part you found remarkable? I found it good, but not mind blowing. I'm also a bit tired at the moment. Can you throw me a hint?

    One quote "Faculty were actively involved in the initial data collection work that was part of the early ATD planning process, and most attended a college-wide professional development day that focused on conducting a SWOT analysis of the college."

    Has PCC done a SWOT analysis of our assessment reforms using faculty and students? The report leaves out the student role in South Texas College?

    It might be painful, but we should ask students who've dropped out of PCC to help with a SWOT.

    If the role of college is to do less weeding out, and more skill building then we need to include the students who are "weeded out" in our SWOT of programs that seek our goals.

  2. From Ann Sitomer, Math instructor:

    I am overwhelmed my the amount of work contributed by part-time and temporarily-appointed faculty to learning assessment. The number of full-time, continuously appointed faculty members committed to this process is embarrassing. (Okay, I am only speaking about mathematics faculty; I must assume that other disciplines are different.)

    Those of us who recognize that many (including you!) are doing a tremendous amount of work to focus faculty attention on important issues commend your efforts and wonder what we can do to get more colleagues involved.


  3. Joe.

    Thanks for reading the report!! I think what I found so amazing was the authors' neat and tidy, organized rendition of major points from conversations I have been engaged with these last three years...

    The Public Agenda people have also been immersed in conversations with faculty at CCs, and condensed stuff down. For example, if you look at page 6 (obstacles to faculty engagement), you will see a list that mirrors many of the points from this blog, expressed by instructors concerned about the whole assessment shindig. Likewise, the framework found on page 8, reads to me like an aspirational to-do list. So what amazed me? The attention to a faculty perspective on assessment, with a recognition both of obstacles and ways around them....

    Also amazing: their recognition that adjunct faculty are faculty, too.... along with their attention to the way the adjunct/FT faculty divide creates a whole set of complicated problems around faculty ownership of assessment... I have not seen that ANYWHERE in the mountains of assessment stuff I have read in the last three years.

    but maybe i amaze easy these days......