Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Impacting Students for a Lifetime - Part 2

Continued blog post series by Sally Heilstedt, Associate Dean of Instruction - Engagement and Learning at LWIT 

Interact with Students By Name

The first of the 4 Connections is simple but for many, not easy: Learn your students' names and begin using them on the first day of class and throughout the quarter.

I have the very good fortune of having an excellent memory, if I see names written down and associate them with faces. I relied on that ability a lot as an instructor and felt pretty good about myself when I knew and could use all of my students’ names after the first day of classes. It wasn’t until my second or third quarter of teaching that I realized something was amiss. I assigned students to in-class groups about three weeks into the quarter, and it became very apparent from the “hey, yous” and “you theres” that the students did not know each other’s names. Even if you are great at learning and using your students’ names, there is still room to improve the practice of the first Connection.

What follows are a few practices faculty have adopted to better memorize and/or utilize students’ names and to help students get to know one another:

  • Name Plates - Provide printer paper or cut-up old file folders and have students create name plates to stand up on their desks. Collect them and pass them out each class session for the first few weeks as a self-assessment of your learning of their names.
  • Introduction - After I discovered that students did not know their classmates’ names – and realized I has failed to give them that learning opportunity – I began a new practice in my face-to-face classes. On the first day of class, I asked everyone to share their names and one activity each that they enjoy doing. On the second day of class, I asked them to do the same (but to share a different activity). On the third day of class, they once again shared their names and this time, an accomplishment of which they are proud. I noted all of their responses on my attendance sheet and used them throughout the quarter to design examples and content, create teams, emphasize successes, encourage transfer of skills, etc.

    In the online environment, create a discussion forum where students are asked to introduce themselves and reply to each other (at least two to three other students). Provide introductory questions that connect to your course content or are simple like those described in the face-to-face activity above. Take the time to reply to each of the students, too.
  • Canvas Profiles - Ask students to add a photo and short bio to their Canvas account under Profile. Be sure to do the same. Note: Due to safety reasons, you may have students who do not feel comfortable participating in this option or are unable to post personal information to Canvas.

During any of these activities, encourage students to use their preferred names and note those on your attendance sheet or roster. As someone who went by a name other than what I had to use to register, I deeply appreciated when an instructor knew and used the name with the most meaning to me. Names carry such weight in our sense of value, belonging, and self. Learning and using your students' names communicates that you value them, that they belong, and that they can be themselves in the classroom community.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Impacting Students for a Lifetime - Part 1

by Sally Heilstedt, Associate Dean of Instruction - Engagement and Learning at LWIT 

A little over a year ago, I walked into a session at the Achieving the Dream (ATD) annual cohort kick-off event (LWTech was there to learn more about ATD). Now, I can’t recall the exact title but it was about faculty-student relationships and success. I was thrilled to see it on the agenda. When the session began, I felt like I had been duped – data, data, data…yadda, yadda, yadda. After only a few minutes, however, the session was handed over to Don Wood of Odessa College. He began to share his journey, and the college’s, as he discovered a profound truth about student success: connection to faculty members matters, a lot.

Don, then dean and now VP of Institutional Effectiveness, was worried about course success. Students at Odessa were dropping out at high rates. Odessa’s overall in-class retention was only 83 percent. Initially, Don investigated the impact of commonly identified variables that impact courses success: subject, course, time of day, rigor, and student preparedness. There was no significant correlation to high dropout rates (I was shocked by this, too!). Then, he looked at the instructional side of the equation. Do different teaching methods impact dropout rate? No, again. What?!? Don moved to a qualitative approach to try to understand why some instructors had very low dropout rates. He interviewed them and coded their responses and something wonderful emerged (my embellishment added). The faculty who had the lowest dropout rates demonstrated “a common thread of connectivity to their students” (Kistner & Henderson, 2014).

Yes! I felt reinvigorated in my commitment to teaching and to faculty development and to student success and to completion and all the work that had lost a little of its luster for me. Here was the core of everything. But, what does connectivity look like? Well, Don didn’t leave it there. He broke down the responses further into four common practices shared among the faculty with the highest in-class retention: 1) Interact with students by name; 2) Check-in regularly; 3) Schedule one-on-one meetings; and 4) Practice paradox. Over the next few weeks, I will write about each of the four and the different ways faculty at LWTech and across the Washington State Community and Technical College system have chosen to practice them.

Odessa asked all faculty to practice what they came to call The 4 Commitments for at least one quarter. Their in-class retention rate went from 83 percent to 95 percent!!! And, that new rate was “regardless of gender, age, race/ethnicity, or Pell status” (Kistner & Henderson, 2014). Incredible! Few practices in higher education have been able to increase student success AND close equity gaps – here is a simple (but admittedly, not easy) approach rooted in the hearts of students and teachers. I can’t wait to share more about what The 4 Connections (LWTech’s adaptation) has meant for the faculty with whom I work.

If you can’t wait for the next post, visit to learn more.
Reference: Kistner, N.A., & Henderson, C.E. (2014). The drop rate improvement program at Odessa College. Achieving the Dream’s Technology Solutions: Case Study Series. Retrieved from

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Getting Ready for Fall Quarter – Managing your time Part 2

Last week I wrote a post about time management. In that time I have worked on the to-do list, and am feeling pretty good about my efforts. How about you?

As I mentioned last week, I looked in my College 101 archives and found materials I used to discuss time management. I had a Top Ten list and shared 1 – 5 last week. Here’s the rest of the list!

6.    Combine Efforts:  Consider scheduling different tasks that can be done at the same time.  For example, while waiting in line or on the bus do some reading, planning or relaxing (it's important to schedule relaxing and other wellness activities).

7.    Avoid Perfectionism and Procrastination:  Often these common dynamics are rooted in a fear of results (i.e. failure, success, completion).  Examine your self-talk and/or try to temporarily depersonalize the tasks.  People often procrastinate by doing less important busy work instead of truly important tasks.

8.    Don't Overcommit:  Learn how to say NO and focus on your priorities or you'll do a lot of things not very well with too much stress.  Delegate and negotiate with others and remember to focus on your prioritized goals.

9.    Limit and Control Time Bandits:  Identify things or people who rob your time against your wishes and be assertive against interruptions.  Take action to limit the temptations of television, telephone calls, unexpected visits, extra food breaks, etc. . .  If possible, try to study in the same quiet and prepared space.

10.    Include Rewards:  Which one will motivate you?  You can arrange your environment to have someone give you this reward when you finish your task(s).  The reward can be a more enjoyable activity you decide you won't do until the task is done. But the best reward is finding a personal rewarding feeling of satisfaction through your accomplishments.

This week my favorite in #7. This is me sometimes! It makes me feel really good when all my pencils are sharpened and lined up nicely, but that doesn’t help me get my next large task, like writing a program review, checked off my to-do list. Have you ever heard the phrase “the perfect is the enemy of the good”? That’s me too. So I promise that in Fall Quarter I will work on these two tips from the list. Let us know how you’re doing!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Getting Ready for Fall Quarter – Managing your time Part 1

by Peg Balachowski, Associate Dean of Teaching & Learning at EvCC 
Several years ago I taught a College 101 class. As you might expect, time management skills are an important thing for new college students to assess. Have they ever had to manage their time? Have they learned to manage it efficiently? And what, exactly, is time management?

Of course I went to Wikipedia:
Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities – especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity.
It is a meta-activity with the goal to maximize the overall benefit of a set of other activities within the boundary condition of a limited amount of time, as time itself cannot be managed because it is fixed.

A meta–activity. I love it! I never thought of time management in that way!

So…maybe you are about to start your first teaching job. Maybe you are teaching at multiple campuses, spending time commuting from one campus to another, possibly on the same day. Or maybe you work a full-time job, and teach part-time in the evening. Let’s talk about some ways to help you get through your day to increase “effectiveness and efficiency.” I pulled this out of my College 101 archives, but I bet you will find these reminders helpful:

Time Management Tips

1.    Discover How You Spend Your Time:  Keep a temporary 24 hour schedule recording how you live your life (i.e. habits, peak productive times, free time, and common distractions).

2.    Prepare Written To-Do Lists:  Make and update a list of specific tasks you want to complete, including the time you plan to start and finish.  It is very important to create a priority rating system by using numbers, ABC's or symbols (*,!,+).  Don't put it on your list unless you have a good reason to do it.

3.    Improve Decision-Making:  Develop your ability to prioritize based on many factors including your values, deadlines, resources, available time and consequences.

4.    Break Down the Tasks:  Often tasks are viewed as unmanageable and "too much".  To make them appear less threatening, schedule the tasks in divided parts that are easier to do in shorter time periods.

5.    Prepare Written Time Schedules:  Especially for visual learners, it's important to see your daily, monthly, quarterly and/or annual schedule.  First fill in all of your commitments and life necessities (i.e. work, class, meetings, grooming, eating).  The free space available is your time to schedule your to-do list items.  Make sure these schedules are placed where you can frequently read and modify.

My favorite, and one I have to remind myself to do all the time is the to-do list. Like many people, I get a lot of satisfaction from being able to cross something off of that list! My goal is to have a list for the day as soon as I get to my desk. I’m not always successful, but I find that on the days I accomplish this I get more done (like writing blog posts!) Pick one of these tips, and let’s practice!

Monday, August 7, 2017

What's a Five Star Consortium?

by guest blogger, Jennifer Howard, Vice President of Administrative Services at EvCC
The Five Star Consortium group started in 2009/2010 as a way for nearby colleges to work efficiently together to support faculty, staff and students. All the colleges in the state formed some sort of efficiency group, and in North King and Snohomish Counties, five nearby colleges formed the 'Five Star' Consortium.  The senior leaders met with their peers at the other four institutions and talked about ways to work together. The Human Resource leaders met for breakfast, and as HR leaders are known to do, they talked. A LOT. And they kept meeting and talking each month to figure out ways to make their work more efficient, effective and impactful.

Over the years, we have hosted an annual diversity career fair, published joint advertising, explored uniformity and shared resources around background checks; we have also enjoyed benefits from cost sharing as well as many other efficiencies. Among the discussion topics was “How do we get and keep excellent associate (adjunct) faculty? Is there something we can do to help them be better prepared when they walk into the classroom that first day? That first week? That first quarter? What are the things the Colleges valued when it came to classroom practices?” Everyone at the table was mindful of the fact that the “Freeway Flyers” (as associate faculty are often called) needed a little extra attention. This was the beginning of the Best Practices conversation.

In September 2015, the Five Star Consortium began joint quarterly trainings for new associate faculty. Since so many faculty are shared among the colleges, we realized that we had common best practice information to share. Instruction took on the training, and HR hung around to make sure the policy information was covered.

The Five Star Colleges care about continuous improvement, so if you attend a Five Star event, be ready to provide your feedback. We want to grow and meet the needs of our colleges into the future.

Thanks to everyone at Shoreline, Cascadia, Edmonds, Everett and Lake Washington Tech. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Getting Ready (already?) for Student Evaluations

Wait – it’s only August. Should you be thinking about this already? As you might expect, the answer is YES! It is never too early to start thinking about and planning for your fall courses, especially if you are going to do student evaluations in any or all of your courses.

One of the biggest issues that faculty deal with when it comes to student course evaluations is the response rate. Administrators think this is important because they want to know that the students in your class are engaged not only in the material but also in the class as a whole! Statistically, a larger sample size (i.e. a higher response rate) is important for the reliability of the evaluation results.  Think about that infamous site, Rate My Professor. It is often the case that the students who have the biggest beef with a teacher or the ones who love the teacher are the ones who post comments. In other words, the highly motivated! Your goal should be to collect information from every student because every voice counts. The most important part of hearing from as many students as possible is that these students can help you improve the student experience and will frame your work for the following quarter. So how do you get all students to be among the highly motivated, not only willing to complete student evaluations but ready to share their constructive thoughts? We’ll come back to the idea of constructive thoughts in a moment.

Begin at the very beginning! Include information about student evaluations in your syllabus. If you use an online evaluation instrument (as we do at Everett Community College), then you can post the link in your syllabus along with information about how to login. Talk to students on the first day to let them know why evaluations are important. Course improvement can only happen when students let you know in their feedback what went well (and what didn’t go so well). Let students know about any changes you’ve made based on feedback in previous classes. You might say something like, “I used to give daily quizzes in this class, but learned from past students that weekly quizzes worked best.”

Many people also believe that it’s important to remind students about any changes you have made during the term based on other types of student feedback (formative assessments such as PLUS/DELTA). As you get closer to the date of the student evaluation, you could remind students that you have responded to their requests for things such as different kinds of assignments or projects, or maybe changing dates of exams.  
Let’s get back to the idea of constructive comments from students. In my classroom experience, students don’t always know how to tell their instructors what is or isn’t working. And in many cases, instructors don’t ask. I got into the habit of asking a few times a term using quick formative assessments such as the Minute Paper, and definitely the mid-quarter PLUS/DELTA. In all cases student comments were anonymous. Sometimes I planned when I was going to do a formative assessment (such as after a particularly difficult lesson or unit) and other times, after teaching a lesson, I wanted to get a feel for how things went from a student perspective. I learned a lot about my teaching from students, and they helped me become a better teacher. But students have to learn what constructive comments are, so when I told them what I learned from their comments, I made sure to tell them which ones helped and which ones didn’t. These conversations helped both of us; it helped students to give helpful suggestions, and it helped me get a better read on how the class was going. And, to bring this home, in classes where I did regular formative assessments, I had better response rates on course evaluations.

So…now is the time to start thinking about and reflecting on student evaluations, past and future, as a way to improve both the student experience and student success.