Faculty Development for Student Success at Bronx Community College

Faculty Development for Student Success at Bronx Community College

April
2016

Colleges and universities often have some form of first-year orientation to help both students and faculty become acquainted with the institution and learn about basic logistical procedures and key offices on campus. Many institutions are now expanding on new students’ orientation through first-year seminars—courses in which students work closely with faculty and focus on the academic skills they’ll need in college.

Bronx Community College (BCC), part of the City University of New York (CUNY), has gone a step farther. Faculty at BCC not only have designed a series of first-year seminars for students, but have also overhauled the college’s New Faculty Seminar, creating a year-long course in which new faculty they develop academic career plans and study new pedagogy and assessment techniques for working with BCC’s particular student population. Just as first-year seminars move students beyond the basic logistics of navigating campus and introduce them to the fundamentals of academic inquiry, the NFS introduces faculty to the culture of development and gives them a foundation to grow as educators and scholars, says Jordi Getman-Eraso, an associate professor of history and one of the creators and facilitators of the program. “We try to use these advances as an excuse to work with faculty beyond mechanical training and focus instead on developing successful pedagogical approaches.”

Teaching in a Local Context

The New Faculty Seminar (NFS) has existed at BCC for many years, but until recently its focus was limited to the reappointment process and other human resources procedures. Participation in the seminar was low—usually down to half the entering cohort by the end of the first semester, Getman-Eraso says. A few years ago, he and several colleagues proposed to shift the focus of the NFS—from learning about the institution to learning about the students and how to more effectively teach those students.

Most of the student population at BCC comes from groups traditionally underrepresented within higher education. Many are first-generation college students, and often first-generation Americans; English is a second language for most students. “Even though our students are very intelligent, most of them have experienced little in the past that has encouraged them to dedicate themselves to studying and taking advantage of the experiential intelligence they bring with them,” Getman-Eraso says. “Newly hired faculty are often not aware of this context.”

Getman-Eraso, along with biology faculty members Shylaja Akkaraju and Laura Broughton, proposed a revised NFS that would retain and enhance the career development aspects of the original seminar as one strand of work, with two more stands focused on pedagogy and assessment. Recognizing that support from department chairs would be crucial for getting all new faculty to participate, Getman-Eraso and his colleagues circulated their proposal to the chairs at BCC and invited them to a series of luncheons to offer their feedback. Many chairs were initially resistant to the idea, in particular because the proposal called for release time for new faculty; the proposal team convinced them, however, that release time was crucial to allow faculty to fully commit to the seminar activities, and the office of academic affairs approved three hours of release time per year for participants.

The revised NFS extends through the full academic year. Participants attend monthly meetings—four in the fall and four in the spring—that last about three hours each. In January, between the fall and spring semesters, participants attend an intensive winter session featuring three full days of workshops. The winter session is the most hands-on portion of the seminar, in which faculty share ideas, collaborate on classroom projects and teaching strategies, and receive feedback from the facilitators. In between all of these meetings, participants continue to communicate with the facilitators and each other online as they work on their development projects.

Faculty as Students

Each NFS meeting devotes time to the career, pedagogy, and assessment strands of work. For the career development section, new faculty learn about some routine tasks, such as learning to successfully complete their reappointment cycles, but also work on developing long-term career plans. They also have the chance to learn about best practices for student advising and different types of college service committees in which they can participate

Getman-Eraso leads the pedagogy strand, which focuses on active learning pedagogies in general and on finding the best techniques to approach BCC’s particular student body, with an emphasis on the high-impact practices (HIPs) that have been shown to improve the success of traditionally underserved students. “Our students bring a rich, diverse, multiethnic background” that faculty should be aware of and make use of, he says. “We’re also presenting them with different pedagogical approaches that have proved successful here on campus, so that we can acculturate our faculty and [they don’t have to] learn on their own all the best approaches for the classroom.”

The pedagogy and assessment strands, while still comprising two distinct sets of work, have become increasingly intertwined over the last few semesters, Getman-Eraso says. New pedagogical concepts and teaching techniques are accompanied by strategies for assessing the skills and knowledge these techniques are intended to help students acquire. It’s been a productive change, especially because assessment “can be a scary word for some faculty,” Getman-Eraso says. Shyla Akkaraju, who leads the assessment strand, has alleviated a lot of that discomfort by emphasizing learning- and student-based assessment. “It’s geared toward understanding whether we are helping them educate themselves in an appropriate manner,” Getman-Eraso says, “and understanding what’s really going on in the classroom. From there we can go out to the programmatic level as needed.”

One way Getman-Eraso and Akkaraju try to teach good pedagogy and assessment techniques is by modeling them in the NFS sessions. “We don’t lecture at them, but rather put into practice the pedagogy we know works with our students—peer-to-peer work, flipped classrooms, all these HIPs for the classroom. There’s a moment when they start to understand that they themselves are students, and are learning the way they want their students to learn.”

Like their students, faculty participants are also responsible for handing in assignments. For each of the strands, there are deliverables for new faculty—a written career plan, a teaching portfolio, and an assessment project that can be implemented in a future course.

 “At first we thought we were too authoritarian about it, but the faculty have taken to it quite well,” Getman-Eraso says, and some have indicated that doing this work has made them feel much more connected to their students and has even changed the way they think of themselves as teachers and mentors. Having deliverables also has helped to justify the release time for participants, as the projects demonstrate the significant investment of time and effort faculty have put into the seminar.

Similarly, the facilitators and participants engage in an ongoing assessment process throughout the NFS sessions. There are rubrics for evaluating teaching portfolios, the way assessment projects are subsequently used in classes, and how the career plans affect faculty reappointments. The facilitators also distribute surveys after each meeting and after the winter sessions so faculty can offer their feedback on what they’ve learned and what might be helpful for future sessions. “It reflects what we are trying to get faculty to do,” Getman-Eraso says. “We try to show that when you are thoughtful about what you’re putting together, you can get a lot out of it, so you’re not just talking about assessment, or pedagogy, but you’re closing the loop and having these processes influence the next element.”

A Culture of Teaching and Learning

Many of the department chairs who were initially resistant have become champions of NFS, Getman-Eraso says. Faculty come out of the seminar ready to engage with students as advisors, and after developing and implementing classroom assessment projects, they are ready to take the lead on departmental assessment initiatives. The program also has been successful in preparing faculty to teach BCC’s redesigned first-year student seminars (FYS), Getman-Eraso says, and some faculty complete additional development modules focused specifically on developing an FYS course section.

FYS courses focus on topics in the instructor’s area of expertise—Getman-Eraso, a historian, teaches a section focused on the history of immigrants in New York City, a topic that was also chosen for its potential to resonate with many of his students’ own experiences, he says. But the primary focus is on developing academic skills and, especially, academic confidence. The courses have only two contact hours a week, but small class sizes and the presence of student mentors ensure that each session can feature discussion and group work. “After our faculty go through NFS and engage in the HIPs and different approaches, they are much more receptive to the mission and objectives of teaching FYS,” Getman-Eraso says, even if they don’t complete the additional development module focused on FYS specifically.

BCC also offers faculty development modules focused on teaching online and on incorporating e-portfolios into the classroom. While these modules address the technical issues of teaching online and creating e-portfolios, they are more focused on the pedagogical issues related to the subjects, Getman-Eraso says. “E-portfolios are a tool, but there are concepts behind it that you can work on, just like they’re concepts related to online teaching that make it a truly different experience—this is not just transferring a regular class into an online one or throwing everything into an e-portfolio.”

The next big module Getman-Eraso and his colleagues are working on is the Continuing Faculty Seminar—a program addressing the same issues of targeted pedagogy and assessment that are addressed in the NFS, but geared toward more experienced faculty. It was developed specifically at the request of the BCC faculty, Getman-Eraso says. “They heard about NFS and said, ‘When are you going to do this for us?’”

Read more about faculty development at Bronx Community College’s Center for Teaching, Learning, and Technology. You can also find more resources on high-impact practices and faculty development from AAC&U.

Institution: 
Bronx Community College