Ball State University
Below, the evaluations from Carol Simmons, English Department Director at Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington and Patrick Harned, English Specialist and Instructor at Southwestern Illinois College, describe strengths and areas for improvement within the Accelerated Program for All Learners (APAL).
In response to the question, “What do you like most about your design?” Carol Simmons replied:
"From a developmental education point of view, the cohort element is the strongest aspect of the design. Developmental students often fail to thrive because of affective elements that have interfered in their ability to succeed in an academic environment (chaotic home life, lack of teacher support, unaddressed learning disabilities). The cohort element provides a sense of community, shared experience, shared purpose, support, and structure that can enhance a developmental student’s learning potential. In a cohort, students can create connections with others and discuss the learning process in depth. These emotional/educational connections will incubate a sense of belonging that I believe will help retain these vulnerable students and reinforce a sense of social identity as well as self-understanding in relation to the group as a whole.
Designating that these classes be taught by experienced faculty is also a strong design element. These teachers will need to produce instructional designs that engage both program-ready and developmental students. Such a mixed classroom population creates a very challenging environment for even the most experienced educator. Also, experienced teachers are more effective with developmental students, who are notoriously difficult to engage and retain."
In response to, “What do you think should be improved? Why? And how?” Carol Simmons replied:
"I would recommend adding caseworkers to the model. Each caseworker would be assigned a certain number of students and would be responsible for those students from entry into college until graduation. Caseworkers should be integrated into the design because community college students often face issues such as lack of transportation, homelessness, domestic violence, and drug use. As a result, some of these students drop out of classes. These caseworkers would have weekly meetings with each student and discuss the student’s progress as well as any problems or obstacles the student might be encountering both inside and outside of the classroom. A caseworker could enhance student retention by supplying referrals to appropriate social welfare organizations. These caseworkers could also check up on any students who quit attending class and report their findings to the instructors. In fact, it might be useful for caseworkers and instructors to meet monthly as a group to discuss and brainstorm shared challenges and potential solutions. (Of course, I’m assuming that money is not an issue. But increased retention and resulting revenue could help address the issue of the cost of these positions."
Carol Simmons is an educator with decades of experience and has been part of many initiatives at the community college level designed to increase retention and improve student success. Simmons’s comments were considered with great care. Concerning her praise, I was happy to see a confirmation of the strength found within localized cohort student groupings, especially as it relates to 50% of APAL’s student base (developmental students). Likewise, my desire for full-time, experienced educators rather than part-time adjunct instructors was also met with praise. However, the addition of a small group of caseworkers to essentially monitor and advise students throughout the program was a recommendation that I had not considered during the initial drafting of the APAL program design.
As I revise, I could expand the description of “Faculty” within my program design to include “caseworkers” who might be advisers at the college. Using Simmons’s idea to utilize another support system within this fast-paced program would certainly be beneficial; if students have more support, they should meet their goals more successfully.
In response to, "What do you like most about your design?" Patrick Harned wrote:
"What I found most compelling was the focus on students as not blank templates, but quickly-changing and somewhat-unpredictable attributes of a given class. As no two classes are the same, it's important to have something built into the program structure to accommodate (and as it seems here, even to make essential) the mercurial nature of student interaction. This is in particular highlighted under the section "learning assumptions." Focusing on the continual challenging of student knowledge and the re-affirmation of concepts is a good way to get developmental and seasoned students to develop their own base of learning, in my experience."
In respone to, "What do you think should be improved? Why? And how?” Patrick Harned wrote:
"I think a little more time should be spent justifying the diverse selection of experience ranges between the different groups of students. I think educators are used to hearing about the (very good) reasons for including members of different sexes and race and so forth, but often, grouping people with "higher" or "lower" experience is frowned upon or misunderstood. A few more sentences zeroing in on this justification could go a long way."
Patrick Harned is an instructor at an Illinois community college, and he is also an adjunct instructor within the St. Louis Community College system. He has several years of experience both in the classroom and within writing labs, providing personal assistance to inquiring students. He is a valuable voice to critique APAL’s design.
Concerning Harned’s praise, the focus on valuing all students regardless of age, race, or ability is validated. He writes, “students are not blank templates,” and APAL’s goal is to acknowledge and appreciate the resource bank each student brings to the class, allowing an individual’s experience and wisdom blend into the cohort. However, Harned’s concern that the justification for having such a diverse group of students within the program troubles me. I will need to add more research validating the success of mixed classrooms (related to ability) and will likely dig back into the Accelerated Learning Program’s (ALP) descriptions of success. ALP uses the 12 college-ready to 8 developmental student ratio and has found success with that mixed grouping. I will perhaps need to expand outside of ALP and find another program or source that highlights the benefits of multicultural and varied ability classrooms moving forward.
Name: Carlynn Moore
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Message: Great Job! Your evaluators were well qualified. Their constructive criticism was very respectfully. Constructive criticism is a great way to improve.
Name: Bo Chang
Email Address: email@example.com
Message: However, Harned’s concern that the justification for having such a diverse group of students within the program troubles me. I will need to add more research validating the success of mixed classrooms (related to ability) and will likely dig back into the Accelerated Learning Program’s (ALP) descriptions of success. ALP uses the 12 college-ready to 8 developmental student ratio and has found success with that mixed grouping. I will perhaps need to expand outside of ALP and find another program or source that highlights the benefits of multicultural and varied ability classrooms moving forward.
----- I think both of you are right about this. It is important to have diverse group of students in a cohort. However, if you do not design the activities and discussion questions well, students may not feel comfortable to discuss critically in front of other students who have different assumptions and backgrounds, and you may not achieve the goals you set up. Therefore it is important to be aware of the difficulties of having diverse group of students in a cohort, and think of how to design the activities to inspire productive and Intelligential conversations among the students.