High-Impact Practices Create a Roadmap to Success at Brookdale Community College
High-Impact Practices Create a Roadmap to Success at Brookdale Community College
Like many institutions in the years after the Great Recession, Brookdale Community College was in trouble.
Decreased enrollment caused by a dearth of new high school graduates, low retention rates in introductory courses, and a drought in funding from state and federal governments were exacerbated by “turnover at the highest levels,” said Franklyn Rother, dean of academic and career transitions. “We’ve had three presidents in just the past six or seven years with a very unfortunate exodus of our president of nineteen years, . . . and that created a lot of turmoil.”
This turmoil led Maureen Murphy, Brookdale’s new president (currently in her fifth year), to seek “different grants that didn’t necessarily have a lot of money attached but would have the college recognized for the excellence of the . . . education that we provide,” Rother added.
In 2013, Rother and Carl Calendar, dean of humanities, wrote a grant proposal to join the second phase of the Developing a Community College Roadmap project, an initiative that the Association of American Colleges and Universities ran from 2010 to 2016, with funding from the Kresge Foundation and MetLife Foundation, in an effort to create academic support programs connected to learning outcomes at community colleges.
Bringing HIPs into Community College Classrooms
As part of their implementation of the Roadmap Project in 2013, Brookdale integrated high-impact practices (HIPs) such as global/diversity learning, writing-intensive courses, collaborative learning, and internships in eleven courses from six departments—history, philosophy, political science, education, anthropology, and psychology. Rother remembers choosing these departments because they included large faculties and were already “very amenable to high-impact practices in general.”
Rother recalled that he and Calendar were especially “interested in getting the faculty involved at the frontlines and actually leading.” Department chairs and faculty took ownership of the project and identified two HIPs to implement in each participating course. Though departments and faculties could change or add HIPs, each section of a particular course had to use and systematically assess the same two HIPs at the same time.
Many department chairs were skeptical about the purpose of adding HIPs to their courses and told Rother, “‘Well, I do high-impact practices.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you do high-impact practices, but how many of your faculty members do high-impact practices and clearly assess the impact of those high-impact practices in their teaching?’”
Faculty also discussed low retention rates and possible causes, “and of course one of them was the large number of students in the class,” Rother said. Because implementing HIPs requires more faculty engagement and labor, he made participation in the project more attractive by reducing the maximum number of students in participating courses from 30 to 27 in education, 28 to 25 in philosophy, and 35 to 30 in the social sciences.
Ave Latte, associate professor and department chair of education, chose two high-impact practices, collaborative learning and internships, to integrate in Introduction to Education and Introduction to Early Childhood Education. It was easy for education courses to integrate the new program with what they already did, Latte said, because, “to be quite frank, we use [high-impact] practices all the time in education because that is what’s done in K–12.”
Collaborative learning takes many forms in Brookdale’s education courses: concept mapping using data from various sources and perspectives, Socratic discussions where students research and write on a topic before coming together to discuss different perspectives, and technology- and game-based learning. Each of these collaborative activities, Latte said, can “model the effectiveness it has on motivation and structuring knowledge in ways that students can participate with one another socially to develop understanding.”
In the internship HIP, students earn credits by volunteering for sixty hours as a classroom assistant to gain hands-on experience working with children and teachers.
“The students come away with a much more realistic perspective of what it means to be a teacher,” Latte said. “Sometimes looking at teaching from a student point of view is difficult, because good teachers make it look easy. There are a lot of plates to spin as a teacher and that’s where [students] are starting to build an understanding."
Interdepartmental Collaboration Puts New Departments on the Roadmap
In 2015–16, Brookdale’s Roadmap Project added three new departments—reading, mathematics, and sociology—bringing total participation to nine departments and eighteen courses.
Latte believed that faculty in the education department, having honed their use of HIPs for two years, were in a position to assist a new program. She knew that education students often doubted their success at math and delayed taking these courses until late in their course progression. “And that’s why I chose the math department,” Latte said. “I thought, ‘How can we make it more inviting and more engaging for education students?’”
The math department joined the project with MATH 131: Statistics and Math 136: Math for the Liberal Arts. During the summer of 2015, Latte met with math faculty several times to introduce them to literature about project-based learning and discuss how the math department faculty could effectively implement their two HIPs, collaborative learning and diversity/global learning.
Because of an earlier collaboration with Brookdale’s International Center, both math courses already integrated diversity/global learning by using two UNICEF global data sets, one including 232 countries and 25 variables and the other including 172 countries and 13 variables. Variables included population, mortality, life expectancy, diabetes, and obesity rates.
According to Hanli Huang, assistant professor of mathematics and course coordinator for MATH 131, students examine correlations between variables such as obesity and diabetes rates or poverty and cancer rates. “For example, our students always think . . . if the country’s obesity rate is high then its diabetes rate is going to be high,” Huang said. While this may be true in North America, she said, students are surprised to discover that it is not necessarily true for Africa.
As part of the Roadmap Project, these courses added a new collaborative lab element and an in-class activity that allowed students to discuss their findings with their peers.
“What we did for Math 131 and 136 was quite unique and a really engaging experience for students,” said Rebecca Rozario, assistant professor of mathematics and the department’s curriculum chair. “The results were quite striking.”
Because the global data sets were the first unit of Math 136, this collaborative activity set students up for future success, said Sally Mulvey, assistant professor of mathematics and co-coordinator of Math for the Liberal Arts. “Oftentimes students in this particular course tend to be shy or insecure about their abilities, and it’s a great opener to get them talking and to get them interested and communicative about the mathematics. It helps to set a tone that opens students up and helps them to learn a little more.”
“I’m so impressed with the math department for that,” Latte added, “because traditionally math was taught procedurally. Not here. Not at Brookdale. It has a strong commitment to high-impact practices, which I think is a beautiful thing.”
HIPs Improve Retention Rates
As they integrated HIPs into their curricula, several departments measured their impact on student retention and completion. In the social sciences, retention and completion rates saw modest improvement, Rother said, while the reading department saw retention rates rise by an average of 5 percent.
The education department, which regularly integrates HIPs, retains “students well above what the college does [on average],” Latte said. “We’re usually at an 86 percent or higher retention rate in our program. . . . Within the education department, we’re sold on high-impact practices.”
The math department saw the largest improvement. To assess the impact of the collaborative learning HIP on student performance and retention, the math department assessed two groups of sections for each course. All sections participated in the same global data sets activity, said Olga Malpica Proctor, associate professor and assistant department chair of mathematics. “The only difference between the two groups is that one engaged in the collaborative experience and the other one didn’t.”
In Math 131: Statistics, 297 students completed the collaborative lab/activity and 71 percent earned a C or better. Of the 138 students (based on the tenth day of enrollment) that did not complete the lab/activity, only 13 percent received a grade of C or better. In Math 136: Math for the Liberal Arts, 184 students completed the lab/activity and 90 percent got a C or better. Of the 46 students (based on the tenth day of enrollment) that did not complete the lab/activity, only 13 percent got a C or better.
Mulvey said that while these figures are promising, there were other variables—including redesigned curricula—that could have affected these retention and grade data. The math department plans future study of these global learning and collaborative experiences to measure the impact of HIPs on student retention and performance.
Faculty Development Drives Success
Brookdale’s math department, with about two hundred sections and ninety adjuncts per semester, is one of the largest departments on campus. To maintain high professional standards, the department places a strong emphasis on professional development. Each summer, they hold a full-day professional development seminar for adjuncts that includes keynote speakers, training, and workshops in a conference-like environment. In her role as the HIP mentor for the math department, Latte participated in the 2015 summer session that included training on the benefits and potential pitfalls of collaborative work.
Dia McWalters, an adjunct in the mathematics department, still uses ideas she learned that day. “We discussed different ways to split up the groups—counting around the room ‘one, two, three, one, two, three,’ or ‘Those who like vanilla ice cream are over here, and those who like strawberry [are over there].’ I actually implement those in my classroom, and every day I try to do it in a different way so they’re not always thinking that they’re working with the same students in every class.”
Training workshops also discussed strategies to prevent students who “get it” from doing all the work while unengaged students zone out. McWalters learned to assign tasks to students: “‘You’re the note-taker, you’re the person that keeps everyone on task so you’re not having extraneous conversations,’ and so on.”
During the semester, the math department also holds teacher circles and adjunct lunches to offer opportunities for faculty support and socialization, pairs each new adjunct with a full-time faculty mentor to assist with topics such as classroom management and assessment, and has a full-time faculty member that coordinates each course and offers guidance and assistance.
“These [Roadmap] initiatives have been successful because of the fact that the faculty is committed,” said Malpica Proctor, who is also in charge of professional development for the math department. “We have really wonderful full-time and adjunct faculty committed. It’s hard work, because there are so many of us; it is a commitment to cooperative work.”
Rother hopes to make this type of HIP professional development available college-wide through the Innovation Center, an on-campus professional development office that currently offers workshops, mentoring, and videos about educational technology.
“What we’re going to do is in addition to the technology innovation which is being implemented now, we’re going to move the high-impact practices into the Innovation Center, and it will become part of the kinds of training that any faculty member can get one on one, in a group, etc., as part of their professional development,” Rother said. “After we get our own faculty trained, we would expand it to other community college and college faculty on a regional basis and become a regional professional development center that includes both technology and high-impact practices.”
Bridging Classrooms and Communities
The interdepartmental collaboration between Brookdale’s International Center and academic departments eventually led to opportunities for high-impact practices and signature work outside of traditional classroom settings.
According to Brookdale student Ikrom Ibrahim, the Innovation Network (TIN) began while faculty were “thinking of Socrates and a different type of learning for students rather than sitting in lectures and listening to the professor talk. Rather, this is more hands-on and research based, with the students learning from one another but still being able to learn about the information themselves by doing the research.”
TIN is now a faculty-mentored, student-led campus organization. Faculty nominate student leaders—often students who did well on the math department’s collaborative learning projects or excelled as researchers in an earlier TIN project—and help them identify a global health or environment topic (recent examples include composting, littering, or the EPA RainWorks Challenge) that affects a local community. Leaders then guide a team of student researchers though a hands-on research project that earns college credits.
Ibrahim led the group that participated in the RainWorks Challenge. They identified a campus parking lot that was a likely contaminator of the local Swimming River Reservoir and used a chemistry lab kit to test both runoff water and filtered water from campus drinking fountains for signs of contamination. They also interviewed community members, including employees at the reservoir and maintenance staff on campus, to gather information about the contamination and what was being done about it.
Ibrahim believes that her experience with TIN will have a lasting impact on her future major and career in forensics. “That is forensic work that’s being done, being able to test something and show that you are doing hands-on work rather than being in a lab all the time.”