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.

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Undergraduate Research

Involving students in research at the undergraduate level is one of the High Impact Practices endorsed by the AAC&U. (See 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.

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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” ( 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.

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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.


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