Tag Archives: student success

Will You Be a First Responder to ITT Tech Students?

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Teaching and college administration has been my calling for well over a decade. From 2005-2009, I fulfilled that passion at ITT Technical Institute. When I read the news today, that they were no more, my first thought was, “Good! This is long overdue.” It was quickly followed by, “What will happen to all those students?” I am going to put aside the analysis of all the bad things done under the banner of higher education while the colors of ITT Tech flew high upon the helm.  I am not going to think about the fortunes gained and lost by shareholders, employees, and taxpayers.  Today, I want to talk about that secondary concern…the students.

Now that the school is closed, where will these students finish their education?  As outlined, some will seek loan forgiveness, some will drop out, the rest will seek a new college. My hope is that most of them will find another college. My fear is that many that wish to finish somewhere else, will find that there is no room at the inn.  State and private schools have record numbers of applications and not enough seats to accept them.  A similar scenario for different reasons awaits them if they remain in the market driven college realm. Those systems have experienced significant slowdowns, with several meeting the same fate as ITT Tech, or operating as a much smaller college.

If you are like me, you look at that data and ask yourself – “What can I do about this?” My brief answer, in two parts:

  1. I will prepare myself to meet more students who have had a negative education experience, or hear more negative than positive these days regarding college overall. It is more than school closures – it is noticeable safety issues, degrees with few marketable skills, high debt, the list is truly without end. When I hear these issues in class, I will actively listen and not try to defend. I will facilitate understanding.
  2. I will support local movements that seek to meet with students and provide options to them. Even though these students are not “mine”, I am pledging my willingness to educate any one of these affected students. I will do so formally through my University, but also ask other education leaders in the region what can be done. I think about the RED teams that a city will dispatch to court an employer or secure a regulation that will facilitate solid job creation and economic development.

I choose these two actions because they are within my area of control. I proudly work as an associate professor at University of Phoenix. I have been active in causes supporting business and education for two decades in and around Riverside, CA.

One thing I teach first year students is that they need to assess their skills and abilities, then apply them to the problem at hand. I can imagine no better service to students than to follow my own advice and work tirelessly until I make a positive difference in their lives and help them reach their career and academic goals.

What will you do? #ITTTechstudents

Note – Bruce Baron and the San Bernardino Community College District are already doing great work, see the article here

 

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Looking for Stories

Metrics!  No matter your job, there are data available to validate, educate, or eliminate you!  A solid organization will utilize all three purposes while managing the people side of the operation. During my decade in higher education, “educate” would seem a natural fit, but metrics applied in higher education can make people wonder just what they taught us at our alma maters.

If you were ever a college student, you know that the preferred method of gathering metrics from students is through the end of course survey.  One concern is that they tend to attract your most ardent supporters and frustrated detractors.  To be fair, that is an unscientific opinion supported by personal experience over several years.  I would be pleasantly surprised to find otherwise, so if there is good evidence to the contrary, please let me know.

A second concern has to do with the psychological effect looking at my scores has on me.  As much as I say and believe that I am not competitive, I sure find plenty of evidence to the contrary. Since I teach a class on thinking critically about data, I should know better. Actually, I do know better.  I also know that if Vegas ever offers betting options on what motivates decisions – emotions or evidence – put your kid’s college fund on “emotion”. But I look at the score, then immediately see how my score compares with the University average. Above average means I have been validated and I am a great teacher and should keep on keepin’ on. Below average and I may need to revise my syllabus, dust off the CV, or both.

Now that I teach several times per week instead of a few times per year, I am on campus a good deal. Which means I get to run into students from my early courses on a regular basis.  I like these student interactions because they tell a story better than the data sets.  As someone who teachers with a philosophy that we all enjoy stories and should tailor our communications to that reality, it makes sense for me.

Recently I ran into three students from three different classes on the same day!  First, I enjoyed the fact that enough of my students persisted through their early coursework in order for me to run into them!  Second, I remembered two of their names!  More importantly, the short conversations we had between classes left me feeling that I am making a difference.  One talked about his tough but survivable Math class, and how it related to some of our discussion topics in English. The other warned me that there are still plenty of teachers still doing the “Death by PowerPoint” thing.  He said if the military could not break him with months of jargon-filled slides, an occasional four hour session of them was not going to stop him either.  The third conversation was the most supportive and it came from a student that really did not like my class all that much.  We talked about work stuff and parted with a friendly handshake.

All three interactions came about by chance.  A chance that happened only because they chose to stick with the program and I chose to be out and about at my campus.  For me, it was validating.  To see them still at it, to see they wanted to continue the conversation long after they had to, helps me understand my goal as a professor.  It is not to get a higher score than my peers. If I truly wish to help them “Rise”, I must make it a point to see them, and hear them, long after they have passed my class.

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Your Career Memoir

Going into the final weeks of my University Studies course, career development gets some well deserved attention. One of the skills a successful student (and student of teaching) must have is intrapersonal intelligence.  For me, it’s the ability dial in your GPS career coordinates in the now.  Then, look back to understand the motivations, people, and circumstances that brought you to this moment. Then use that data to glimpse potential futures.

I’ve had my fair share of juicy plot twists along the way.

I worked for my first employer from ’86 to ’96. In ’93 I had my first son and took three weeks vacation to be home with him and my wife. Result? My old-school boss wrote me up for “lack of dedication” to my job. Human Resources helped my boss understand that the world had changed since he worked for Sterling Cooper.

Lesson learned? Take nothing for granted – not your legal work rights and certainly never assume your employer has your best interests in mind.

In 1996, I cashed in my 401(k), left the only company I ever worked for, and joined the entrepreneur-class. I was a third generation printer; what could go wrong? Eighteen months later, I joined the ranks of the failed business owner. I even sold my car to keep the business alive a few more months.

Lessons learned? One, don’t go into a business just because you think it can make money. I did not like printing but it was all I knew. I probably would have failed in another business though because I also learned…I prefer to work for other people. There! I have outed myself. In this vague period of self-directed and self-employed and completely empowered version of work we see today, I say “no thanks”.

I like being part of a group, I like not having to make all the decisions, and I really like a dependable paycheck!

The rest of the 90’s and early 2000’s were various sales jobs. Good jobs sure, but the limited jobs available to a person with hustle, the ability to wear a tie, and NO COLLEGE degree. So just like in 1992, when I realized how much more career advancement was possible in an office vs a production line, I leveraged my relationships and experience and vaulted onto a new path.

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My volunteer efforts landed me an interview for a Director of Career Services job with a 9-month certification school.  I was not qualified but got the job anyway (see previous paragraph, re: Hustle). This was six months after earning my English degree. Then I did some calculated jumping, similar to what James Citrin advises in his blog, How to Move From Job to Job.  My goal? To get a job at a degree granting college.

Over the next ten years, I stayed in the same role (Director), in the same field (Career Development) in the same industry (Post Secondary Education). But I learned about the many ways education is delivered. I worked at nationally accredited colleges, market-driven colleges, and a state college. It was not always pretty, but I also was fortunate to serve a similar student cohort everywhere I worked – first generation college students from Inland Southern California.

So, flipping to the last chapter, I gear up to break into a new career in Summer 2014. My gift arrives, just at the top of the story arc, 3 days after Christmas: An interview to teach first year college students full time. I get the job! How? Patient and deliberate (somewhat) planning. It was the culmination of my effort and intentions over the last two decades. It was setting up a SMART goal. It was using the tools at hand.

I wrote, revised, and edited that story for years.  Lots of blank pages left. Time to get to class and write some more.

What’s your career story? Ready to tell it? Better yet, are you ready to live it? If not, today is a great day to start.

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Using the “F” Word in First Year Student Experience

Like the other popular “F” word, feedback can be used in many ways during a college students’ first year. A mindful conversation about how to make the most of this complex word may improve the classroom experience.  Contextual feedback fans a burning interest in the material. Timely feedback provides encouragement to keep going! But specific feedback improves the lives of students and faculty members in equal measure.

My students and I just completed week 4 of our 7 week University Studies class.  We use the time in class to get to know each other. A variety of in class assignments provide chances to craft and deliver a message that engages the learning and listening styles of your audience. Learning about the styles is one thing. Putting them into practice is a true achievement that furthers the goal to earn a Bachelor degree.

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Learning curve item of the week – Weaving reminders of what was covered in class into the written feedback to students may improve retention. For example, instead of saying something bland like “Good progress on applying the learning styles to your note-taking“, a better sentence may read –  “When the tech support person came into class to help us hook the laptop to the projector, creating the chart of the steps she used is an example of Visual-Spatial Intelligence.”

The halfway point is a great place to provide feedback. Since feedback must be timely, it is a good thing we started the practice of feedback on Day 1. That way, the feedback now can be compared to last month and progress can be clearly measured. Two encouraging signs at this point:

1. Students are modeling in class behavior to the reading and activities. Many have written plans of study and as a result, assignments are getting in on time and properly formatted.

2. The feedback they give me is also contextual, timely and specific! What they are sharing with me shapes how the next 3 weeks will go.

Returning to the title of this post, overusing the “F” word, both of ’em, makes communication boring and less effective. Being mindful of when it is time to speak, when it is time to listen, and when it is time to act improves the first year experience significantly.

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Speaking of the First Year Experience…

Whew! I just completed week 3 of my first 7 week course as a full time faculty member.  Teaching University Studies, University Writing, and Critical Thinking to students just starting their college experience – or perhaps back from an extended break – is a true joy and privilege. Over the next year, I intend to share my experiences here. I will leave the data crunching and success metrics to the experts at University of Phoenix.  What I wish to share are impressions, interesting anecdotes, and light advice for anyone interested in the college experience, particularly that fraught first year.

My first piece of advice?  Work in a community you care about. I am fortunate to say I have been able to serve students from Inland Southern California (aka – Inland Empire, aka – Inlandia, aka “that place east of LA”) since 2004.  I tell my students the first day:

“Listen, I’m here for selfish reasons. As members of my community, if I help you finish your degree, you will likely be happier with your career. That career happiness translates into economic improvements for where I live. Which in turn improves revenues which can be used to improve schools, services and infrastructure.  I help you, my community wins, I win!”

My first observation? The less I talk, the more they listen. When I start the discussion and pass it off to them, they pay attention to each other.  Here’s how they helped me build MY faculty schedule. At the third hour of a four hour class!

larry's schedule

My first lesson? Set your expectations high. I erroneously assumed that since I would be teaching freshman, they may not be well prepared and need MANY HOURS of work just to get them up to speed. I have found myself in the enviable position of seeking out advanced activities to bring to the classroom to keep them from becoming bored! Thanks to the book, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi (free plug, I am not a paid hack – www.bookofbadarguments.com) I know that was the logical fallacy of a Hasty Generalization. Thanks Ali!

I could go on, for pages, but will stop here. Thanks for listening!  Next week we are discussing learning styles, study habits and ways analyze and discuss the writing of others.  Any suggestions to help those topics? Most welcome!

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