Expanding The Funnel: Increasing Degree Attainment Through Teaching Innovations


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Michelle Pacansky-Brock discusses the opportunities teaching innovations hold in the quest to increase college degree attainment rates. Using a community college case study, she demonstrates how "flipping the classroom" through the use of web-based technologies like podcasts and VoiceThread can increase student success and retention rates and result in more meaningful learning for diverse student populations.

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  • Hello there. My name is Michelle Pacansky-Brock. I am here today to share an example of a teaching innovation from one of my own art history class that I taught while I was a full-time professor at Sierra College, a community college in California. I am sharing this unique teaching model with you today as a possible model for increasing student success in diverse student groups through the integration of web-based learning in a face-to-face class – a topic of interest to 21st century educators around the world. But I’m also interested in considering the role that teaching innovations may play in increasing college degree attainment rates. I will focus my presentation on higher education in the U.S., a backdrop that informs my career, but the issues and challenges facing US higher education are, by no means, US-specific.
  • Over the past ten years, college degree attainment rates have declined slightly in the United States. And in 2009, the United States was 12th in the world for the percentage of young people with a college degree.
  • But while college graduation rates are not increasing, it’s interesting to note that the number of young Americans enrolling in college has INCREASED roughly 16% in about the past 25 years.
  • When I envision college enrollment and the quest to increase degree attainment, the image of funnel comes to mind. There isn’t a problem enrolling students in college; in fact, the number of college students continues to rise year over year. The problem lies at the output end. And college leaders are exploring ideas and strategies for expanding this funnel.
  • But a closer look at the U.S. higher ed landscape reveals an intriguing shift. Not all higher education institutions are seeing the same influx in enrollments. The economic downturn has resulted in a dramatic increase in enrollments particularly at large colleges (that enroll at least 20,000 students). And the number of students enrolling in large 2-year colleges dramatically overshadows the growth that we’re seeing at public 4-year institutions. Community colleges are unique – their “open door” admission policy extends the possibility of higher education to everyone. They provide bridges to 4-year institutions through transfer programs, vocational training, career advancement and life long learning opportunities. But open access to college equates to a very diverse student population– many students are the first in their family to ever go to college, many in the US are non-native english speakers, many have learning disabilities like dyslexia, and community colleges serve a larger number of students with physical disabilities as well.
  • What I’d like to explore is whether or not our student learning environments in college classes are contributing to the funnel effect. If we have an interest in increasing the number of college degrees among our young people, we need to be putting a significant focus on innovating our teaching approaches to be more inclusive of our students’ diverse needs. And I believe the recent increase in online learning holds potential to transform the quality of learning in college classes.
  • In 2009, I embarked upon a teaching experiment. I was teaching art history at a community college in California with a student population of about 17,000. One of the classes I was preparing to teach, The History of Women in Art, was a class I had been teaching online for several years. My online classes were dynamic and very student-centered. But my face-to-face classes still felt relatively passive. I had an interest in transforming the passive lecture-based instruction in my face-to-face classes into the dynamic, active learning environment I had designed in my online classes. For a long time, I struggled with how to do this effectively until in the Spring of 2009, it dawned on me. It was time to do something drastic.
  • I flipped my classroom. My students were still coming to class twice a week for 80-minutes each time. But now when they showed up, I would not lecture. Rather, they accessed my pre-recorded lectures online before class – and they would be given a choice between reading or listening to them.
  • Now there’s an important reason behind this shift. When I look at the well known image of Bloom’s Taxonomy, depicting the six levels of learning in the cognitive domain, I situate the learning that occurs through lecture at the bottom – fostering knowledge and comprehension. These levels are critical and foundational to reaching the higher levels of learning – application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. And it is these higher levels of learning that I would assess my students on in exams. So it seems logical that my goal, as a teacher, should be to increase the amount of time I spend with my students on fostering these higher levels of learning. Therefore, I elected to move all of my lectures outside the classroom – to be accessed online before class – and we spent our classroom time applying, analyzing, synthesizing and evaluating the ideas and concepts from the lectures.
  • Now the concept of “Flipping the Classroom” has sparked a great deal of interest in educational circles recently, particularly with the rising popularity of Sal Khan’s “The Khan Academy” which offers more than 2,100 free online lectures covering topics from developmental math to calculus to biology and world history.  If you’d like to  learn more about Khan’s innovative learning model, take some time to visit the general session in the auditorium where you’ll find him as the second keynote speaker.Online lectures promote an “Untethered Learning” experience – which is a growing preference that has been identified within the K12 population by Julie Evans of Project Tomorrow. Untetethering the college learning experience will be key to meeting the future preferences and learning needs of our increasingly diverse college student population.And it’s also critical to note that making lectures mobile provides opportunities for students to use the technologies they are more accustomed to using for learning. Mobilizing lectures allows students to learn from anywhere at any time – a significant point considering that smart phone sales are scheduled to outpace those of desktops by the end of 2012 and by 2018 the number one primary internet access point around the world is expected to be a mobile device. Many of my students noted their appreciation and excitement about being able to listen to a lecture while on the bus, at the gym, or cooking dinner for their family.
  • But the mobile lectures I shared with my students did more than just untether their learning. Students were given a choice to either listen to the lectures or read them. I provided two file formats for each lecture – an .mp4 file that could be accessed via a desktop, laptop, smartphone or iPod and a PDF that could be printed and read. I believed that providing options for my students was key, as we know students learn in a multitude of ways and we also know that the more diverse the student population, the more inclusive the learning environment must be to meet their needs. The mobile lectures empower students by allowing them to pause, rewind, and replay – as many times as needed – an experience that is impossible in a lecture setting. I realize that lecture-based learning environments prove to be particularly frustrating and challenging for students in my classes who are not native English speakers or who are dyslexic and struggle with note taking. Pausing and rewinding are key strategies in improving student learning.
  • Andone of my biggest concerns about employing this new model was ensuring that my students would really complete the lectures before class, as possessing foundational knowledge about the topics was critical to the success of the experiment. So I designed a “formative assessment” activity that students were required to complete before coming to class at the start of each new module. The assessments were designed with a web-based tool called VoiceThread. VoiceThread is free for students to use and it costs me $60/year. Using it does not require any downloads and it has a very shallow learning curve. The first week of class we met in a computer lab and I gave the students hands-on practice with VoiceThread to alleviate any anxiety about how to use it.The VoiceThread activities were comprised of a series of roughly 6-8 slides – like an online presentation. In the center of each slide was an image with a text-based prompt that aligned with a learning objective for that particular module. The VoiceThread environment is peer-based. Students were required to leave one comment on two different slides in each VoiceThread. But they had the ability to review the comments left by other students on the rest of the slides. The rich visual interface of VoiceThread supports the online learning needs of art history but the tool also provides students with a choice in how they comment. In a VoiceThread students may choose between leaving a comment in text, with their voice (using a microphone or a telephone) or with a webcam. This additional layer of choice further supported the students’ learning preferences. And the voice comments provided an opportunity for students to leave spontaneous visual analyses of works of art which prompted greater participation from students who were shy in the classroom.The VoiceThread activity was due before class started. This gave me the opportunity to review the student comments just prior to the start of class. I would take notes about areas that needed extra clarification and I’d also note outstanding student contributions. When we all entered class together, I had an overall understanding of the student’s mastery of the lecture’s learning objectives. I could tailor our class activities to the needs of the students.To start the class, I would project the VoiceThread on the screen and showcase student comments that demonstrated significant insight or take time to respond to questions that were asked in the VoiceThread.. I could leverage the skills of more advanced students, inviting them to reteach an idea or concept to the rest of the class. The remaining class time for that particular module would be spent analyzing and critiquing art historical images as a class or in small group discussion, and debating historical topics like the exclusion of women artists from art history texts. These activities were similar to the types of questions the students would respond to in writing on the summative exams.
  • At the end of the semester, I surveyed my students to evaluate the success of the experiment and to understand whether or not the options played a significant role in their learning success.I asked my students to respond to this statement, “By completing the lectures outside the classroom, the time we spent in class was more relevant to my own learning.” And 81% of students strongly agreed or agreed to that statement.
  • I also asked, “Having the option to read or listen to a lecture increased my ability to achieve the learning objectives.” Strikingly, 92.5% of students strongly agreed or agreed to that statement.
  • And the results of this question were of particular interest to me to understand whether or not students actually accessed the two different lecture formats. When asked, “When given the option to read or listen to a lecture, which option did you choose?” 40% of students chose to read15% of students chose to listen30% did both (meaning they read and listened simultaneously) and15% toggled between reading or listening throughout the semester. These results, to me, validate the value of providing learning material in alternative formats to support the learning preferences and needs of diverse student groups. Consider this: in a traditional lecture – one’s only option is to listen. But when given a choice, only 15% of students chose that option.
  • And as you can see from this chart, the majority of students confirmed that they chose their preferred lecture format not because it was what they were used to or because it was the most convenient for them but because it “met their learning style.”
  • And 100% of students strongly agreed or agreed that the variety of learning materials played a role in helping them reach the course learning objectives.
  • And finally, when I compared the success and retention rate for this face-to-face class with the rates of the same class when I taught it through traditional lecture format, it revealed a 10% increase in success and a 12% increase in retention. This means 90% of the students who were enrolled at census in week three were still enrolled at the end of the term and 83% of those students earned A, B, or C.
  • In closing, as I reflect on this teaching experiment, I can honestly say that by removing the pressure of “covering content” from my shoulders, I felt empowered to really teach my students. I worked closely alongside my students to facilitate their inquiry through a participatory learning environment. We also had time to take a field trip to the studio of a woman artist and watch a feature length movie about the life of 20th century painter, Alice Neel. These learning activities, which were only possible because the lectures were shifted online, made the subject matter come to life for the students. The sense of community that was fostered in the class was outstanding.I also want to convey how utterly scary it was for me to make this leap. There is very little within the culture of college teaching that inspires, motivates, and incentivizes professors to take risks. If there is one thing you can do as a college leader to inspire innovation, it’s finding creative ways to cultivate rewards and incentives for professors who share the results of their teaching innovations – and keep in mind that innovation does not occur without failure. Mistakes have to be expected and accepted. Additionally, the recording of lectures is incredibly labor intensive and completing the recordings while teaching a full load is a great deal of extra work that should be incentivized in some way. The use of media and web-based tools demands technology training workshops and professional development. And I learned so much about the success of my class through the feedback of my students. Careful integration of student surveys is highly recommended to evaluate the success of the teaching approach. If you’d like to learn more or contact me directly, please visit my blog at mpbreflections.blogspot.com
  • Expanding The Funnel: Increasing Degree Attainment Through Teaching Innovations

    1. 1. Expanding the Funnel:<br />Increasing Degree Attainment <br />through Teaching Innovations<br />Michelle Pacansky-Brock<br />mpbreflections.blogspot.com<br />
    2. 2. 25-34 Year Olds with a College Degree(2-year or higher)<br />Organization for Economic and Co-operative Development, 2009, Courtesy of The College Board. <br />
    3. 3.
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    7. 7.
    8. 8.
    9. 9. Increase face-to-face time <br /> engaged in active discussion,<br /> critique, analysis and evaluation<br /> with students.<br />Reduce<br /> face-to-face <br /> time lecturing.<br />
    10. 10. “Untethered Learning”<br />Julie Evans, Project Tomorrow<br />
    11. 11. Mobile Lectures<br />Listen…….or…….read.<br />Image by: Taminator<br />
    12. 12. Format Assessments<br />
    13. 13. 77% response rate.<br />
    14. 14.
    15. 15.
    16. 16.
    17. 17.
    18. 18.
    19. 19. Reflections<br /><ul><li> Teaching was more rewarding
    20. 20. Risk-taking is scary
    21. 21. Labor intensive
    22. 22. Technology training
    23. 23. Integrate student surveys</li></ul> Visit me at:<br />mpbreflections.blogspot.com<br />