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A New Tradition: Winter Faculty Convocation

BMCC will start a new tradition in January 2017. For the first time, all faculty will gather for a convocation on Friday, January 27.

In the most general sense, a convocation is simply a gathering of people. Its roots are in the church, but academics have used them to recognize the scholarly aspects college life. Frequently convocations are held to celebrate the start of a new academic year for students and faculty alike.

teaching fellows photo
Teaching fellows at BMCC gather to reflect on their teaching. (BMCC Public Affairs)


In Academic Affairs, we often feel (and are told) that BMCC lacks opportunities for faculty to meet informally for conversations about teaching and learning. Additionally, it can seem that faculty and administrators don’t speak the same language when it comes to student learning.

Smaller groups of faculty meet frequently, such as the BMCC Teaching Academy (left). However, the size of our faculty and the limitations on space have meant that all-faculty gatherings are nearly impossible here. There’s only one space on campus that could accommodate all fulltime faculty—Theater One. With a capacity of 900, it will fit all the fulltime faculty and a good proportion of the part-time faculty. We hope to fill it with people and conversation.

The first annual Winter Faculty Convocation will provide an opportunity for all BMCC faculty to gather in one place to explore pedagogy and student success. Convocation provides an organized professional development opportunity on a day when faculty are not teaching or attending meetings.

The day will begin at 10 a.m. with an address by Senior Vice President and Provost, Karrin Wilks. We’ll also hear from a select group of faculty: the 2016 BMCC Distinguished Teaching Award Winners will speak about their experiences in BMCC classrooms. They are John Beaumont, Academic Literacy and Linguistics; Chamutal Noimann, English; and Nicolas Marino, English.

After lunch, workshops and discussions on high impact teaching practices will be led by BMCC faculty. Topics such as research in the classroom, experiential learning, flipping the classroom, and online learning will be facilitated by faculty who are using these practices every term at the college.

We hope that all BMCC faculty will join us for this conversation. To sign up and see more information, go to the CETLS web site.

Improving outcomes for developmental students

Recently, Karrin Wilks, Senior Vice President and Provost at BMCC, published an article about innovations in developmental outcomes at the college. Here’s the beginning of the piece:

Many of us have been working on developmental education reform for years with frustrating results, achieving incremental improvements, but not truly “turning the dial” in significant ways — until recently.

Improving developmental outcomes remains one of the most pressing issues facing community colleges, particularly in mathematics. Put simply, we will never improve retention and graduation rates without improving developmental outcomes.

Read the remainder of the article here.

Undergraduate Research

Involving students in research at the undergraduate level is one of the High Impact Practices endorsed by the AAC&U. (See https://www.aacu.org/resources/high-impact-practices.) Community college students frequently get the opportunity to engage in research but seldom at the level or with the frequency seen at BMCC.

BMCC has invested a lot in supporting research among our faculty–research that students are heavily involved in. Here are some images of our new research lab, with views of the Hudson River!

Research lab at BMCC.
Research lab at BMCC.

The New Active Learning

In the early 2000s, I led a program to encourage and support faculty at Minnesota’s community-technical colleges and state universities (MnSCU) to adopt active learning strategies. At the time, we used the most comprehensive definition of “active learning” that we could find, by Bonwell and Eison: “anything that gets students doing things and thinking about what they are doing” (Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom, 1991; ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports). To my knowledge, Charles Bonwell and James Eison were the first to gather data on active learning strategies to see what worked. There wasn’t a lot of data.

Now, fifteen years later, “active learning” is still a popular and broad concept. The evidence of its efficacy for college teaching and learning has grown, and some researchers are talking about strategies that have a demonstrable impact on learners. Rather than talk about ill-defined “best practices,” a consensus seems to have formed around High Impact Practices (often, sadly, called HIP).

As defined by George Kuh in his High Impact Educational Practices (2008), these practices “have been widely tested and have been shown to be beneficial for college students from many backgrounds” (https://www.aacu.org/leap/hips). Many of the practices that fall into the “active learning” category are among the teaching strategies Kuh documents, including undergraduate research, service learning, writing-intensive courses, and the more general collaborative projects.

To help our students to learn more and learn better, which is the promise of “high impact practices,” we need to engage students in their learning. We can give students classroom tasks and assignments that cause them to do things and reflect on their doing. And we can give them early and frequent feedback.

A common undercurrent to this discussion is the idea that traditional lectures are effective for some things and not for others, for some students and not for others. If we truly want students to learn the material, we can’t expect them to sit still for a 16 week lecture, take notes, and then simply take a mid-term and a final. There are ways to make learning more active in a lecture-based course, as well as quick and simple ways to give students feedback early and often.

At BMCC, many faculty are working to engage their students daily in research, service learning, writing, and other active learning strategies. BMCC math instructor Bukurie Gjoci wrote in the latest issue of Inquirer (Fall 2016) about how integrating active learning strategies into math classes improved student understanding.

We also encourage students to participate in common intellectual experiences and first year seminars through ASAP and the BMCC Learning Academy. The Office of Academic Affairs will be engaging with faculty across the college, including ASAP and BLA faculty, in learning more about High Impact Practices in the coming months as we make our way toward becoming a High Impact College.

Hello world!


bmcc-sm-sqThis is a new blog relating to teaching, learning, and scholarship at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). As Associate Dean of Faculty, I work with faculty across the college to support teaching, improve learning outcomes for students, and contribute to research, scholarship and creative activity.

Community college faculty in the City University of New York (CUNY) are engaged in scholarship and research to an extent that most community college faculty are not. At BMCC, our faculty are highly engaged in their own research as well as working with undergraduate students on research.

Watch this space for news and views about teaching and learning at BMCC.


Dean Jim Berg on Twitter

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