Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hi Abi

This is a quick message from the NetSkills workshop at the Computing Services Department at Oxford University.
A pity your blogs have ended since your return from Connecticut.
Welcome to the mundane world of everyday work routine.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Day Fourteen in America - 15 February 2008

The last supper! The pizza place near Sam and Sharon's! YUM!

Today is the long and tortuous journey home. I catch the plane at 5:30pm local time, arrive in Amsterdam and wait for approx. 3 hours (I think, I haven't worked out all the time zones yet; could be worse) and then a short flight back to the UK.

I will need copious amounts of understanding, particularly at MT on Tuesday, since when this starts at 8:30 am, I will be functioning at 3:30am in my head...

I will have to break it to our Director of Finance, John Owen, that I haven't been able to get him a Greyhound Bus anywhere, so I hope this doesn't go against me in the next budget setting round! I do, however, have a suitcase (no kidding) of Hershey chocolate. Maybe that will make up for it.

My last college to visit is Tunxis College. I will update the blog in two days' time.

Tunxis Community College - Farmington

Kathleen E. Schwager - Director of Academic Support Center

As I have found with everyone I met, Kathy was welcoming and open about all the work that she is involved in. We spoke about issues that appear to be hot topics at the community colleges, including graduation rates, retention, funding etc.

Kathy explained that the academic support center that she manages is involved in providing four main services. Firstly, the placement test is carried out here. Then there is the tutoring programme. This is something that they are very proud of, and they have gained international certification for their work with students. It shows that the service is of exceptional quality. The third service is to determine accommodations for learners with disabilities and / or learning difficulties and lastly, they provide a learning strategies service on a one to one basis. This can include time management skills development, study skills and test taking skills amongst other necessary learning strategies.

I was most impressed with the Connecticut online tutoring service provided. Basically, if a student is having a difficulty with any aspect of their study, they can contact an online tutor who will support them via live chat as well as by email attachments. This is offered 7 days per week up to 10pm each night! Tunxis has 2 e tutors that contribute to the service, and they pay these. However, the consortium have many tutors that provide for all the students in Connecticut. What a fabulous idea! This also extends to the schools, who also contribute tutors to this service. The service is growing all the time.

Last semester, there were 150 sessions recorded for over 70 students.

I particularly like the way that the Connecticut colleges have 3 semesters where courses start. There are three entry points within the year, and this makes learning far more flexible. There are also courses offered in the summer. They simply do not wind down for the summer.

Kathy loves her job. Her hours are from 11am until 7pm. This suits her well. The college is open Saturday mornings.

It appears that there are lots of grant initiatives in the college, for example there is an elementary algebra initiative being developed at the moment. These are usually sustained by the college thereafter.

Areas of learning:
  • Open Saturday AM
  • Fantastic e-support service
  • 3 points of entry in the year to join courses
  • no close down in the summer


I started my long and tortuous journey home, by filling up with gas. I then took route i-91 (route 91 and I are now very well acquainted). I admit, I listened to the country and western radio chanel, and Shania Twain sang loudly. My jazz pianist father would have been turning in his grave. It was sad to be leaving.

The airport was SLOW. The flight was delayed. I felt like a sardine on the plane squished next to two very big people who would need to struggle to let me out to visit the loo. This was an overnight flight and my company was an i-pod and the wonderful autobiography written by Mensimah Shabbaz (mentioned earlier).

The man behind got great pleasure in kicking my chair, it seemed. I was, by this stage, reminding myself that I needed to be tolerant of my fellow humans.

When we flew over the UK, it was so frustrating. I really couldn't understand why they couldn't simply 'drop me off!'

Arriving in Schiphol (Amsterdam), I had to wait three hours. I was becoming increasingly intolerant by this stage, and tried to avoid contact with other humans. I had missed my night's sleep and so had they.

Arriving in the UK, I was bearly coherent, and the usual delay in getting my luggage made my incoherence worse. (When I got home, it was clear that the security had rummaged)...

I had one whole suitcase of Hershey bars....

All in all, a fabulous opportunity, lots learned and my enthusiasm for strategy and change have been fired up again!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Day Thirteen in America - Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day...

Everyone here celebrates Valentine's day, so I would give cards to everyone I know. They call it a 'Hallmark holiday' after the Hallmark company. Valentine's day is REALLY big here! My host's sister sent her a card, they send them to their neighbours etc.!

Happy Valentine's Day!

About Shrewsbury town:

Many people that I have met have asked about Shrewsbury, so here is some information about the town here:

Wikipedia information about Shrewsbury

view from the front of Shrewsbury College

On the way to Middlesex Community College, Sam and I stopped off for a bagel at my 'usual'. The kind man there stated that for a small Fed Ex charge, and the normal price of bagels, he would ship some over to the UK for me. He won't be hearing the last of me!

Middlesex Community College - February 14 2008

Middlesex Community College is in a rural location in Middletown, and is therefore the closest in terms of demographics to Shrewsbury College. I was shown around by Mensimah Shabazz, the Director of Admissions.

Mensimah Shabazz - Director of Admissions

Mensimah is an incredibly interesting person and she told me all about how she arrived to the position that she is in today. She grew up in Ghana, has lived all over the world, including Italy, and is now a published writer. Her autobiography, "Sankofa; Learning from Hindsight" (ISBN: 0-9786193-0-7), will be keeping me entertained on my flight home tomorrow.

Mensimah took me around the campus; I saw the college shop, which was operated by a franchise who services many of the colleges in the USA. The shops sell t-shirts and hoodies with the college logos on.

We went into the student lounge. Here, students can hang out, or can receive talks, watch TV or play pool.

We visited the student counselors who give advice and guidance to learners wishing to join the college, transfer or who generally need careers or study advice. The centre was warm and friendly. I asked the two counselors, Emily and Gail, how they keep up to date with the many career updates, and they stated that they read a lot, but that they are also part of NACE.


Irod L. Lee - Director of Academic Support

My next stop was with Irod Lee. He stated that Middlesex CC was the third smallest community college with 1,200 FTEs. Many of the students were part time. We spoke about the differences between the UK and the US CCs, and Irod felt that retention should be evalutated in terms of quality practice. I spoke about the tension that can be fostered as a result of retention, and he agreed, however, it was felt that measuring retention is still a good quality measure that the community colleges are missing out on. Perhaps this should be a quality measure only, and not necessarily linked to funding?

Irod stated that in order to get a rounded understanding of all the community colleges in the USA, it would be good to visit Florida. (I am more than happy to do this! Greg, I hope that you're reading!) In Florida, there are 25 community colleges with a total of 45,000 students. There is less of a stigma in terms of using the community college route in order to get into university.

Irod explained that the New York community college system was very good, it was far more vocational in terms of approach and did prepare people for work as well as university. The state of Connecticut is mainly manufacturing in terms of industry, and it was felt that this is a factor in the offer being less vocational than in other states.

Again, Irod reinforced that many students come in with poor literacy and numeracy skills; it would appear that this is not only a UK problem.

In terms of standardising qualifications, like in the UK, there are non academic reasons why this isn't happening. The autonomy of the state is fiercly guarded in the USA.

Irod felt that I'd get more information about community college education from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

Irod explained that staff at community colleges do not enjoy the same number of days holiday as we do! For that I'm feeling grateful!

Back to Mensimah...

Back in Mensimah's office, we spoke at length about the addmissions process.

  1. Application: Students fill in an application form. This is now 33% online. They have to declare that they've had an MMR injection! All students pay a $20 fee to apply
  2. All information is processes and uploaded into the college's MIS system (Banner). This looks very much like our Eclipse system
  3. Students will get a letter stating, "CONGRATULATIONS! It is with great pleasure that..."
  4. Students choose to come along to one of a number of Registration events. Here, they do the Accuplacer and speak with an advisor (usually a professor) who will determine the route to their course; this could mean a developmental course if their Accuplacer results suggest that they'll struggle right now. There are, however, some components of a programme of study that can be done up front (with lower levels of English and maths) if they don't require higher levels of English and maths
  5. Timetabling is completed locally

Following our discussion about admissions, Mensimah took me around the other campus; there were some interesting initiatives. For example, I saw a room that was dedicated to retired people; they used it as a conference room for a variety of reasons. This was seen as a great way to reach the community. If the community elders support the college, the word will spread. This is at no cost to them.

They have a wonderful conferencing facility, which is rented out frequently. This generates some revenue for the college.

Mensimah spoke about different celebrations of culture that she organises; for example, there is Black History Month, and this is being widely celebrated throughout the campus. Mensimah explained that she has lived all over the world, but the US was still the most racist. I asked what could be done, and one of her strategies is to bring in African American musicians etc. and have food events celebrating different cultures. As well as Black History Month, there are celebrations of women and gay/straight students, as well as other minorities. I felt that this was extremely positive.

Areas of Learning:

  • College shop is outsourced
  • Student lounge where talks can be given or pool can be played
  • Skills based education and literacy / numeracy is important
  • Very warm letter of acceptance
  • Students are accepted onto a chosen course, but the route to this may vary (i.e. they may have to do a developmental course first, in order to prepare them for their chosen course). Therefore, they don't fail to get in, they just take longer to complete it!
  • Facilities loaned out to community groups, e.g. retired people in order to reach out into the community and spread positive statements about the college
  • Celebration of cultural diversity ongoing and visible throughout the campus. All involved!

Arriving 'home'. This is an image of Sam and Sharon Brown's (my hosts) house in the sunshine, surrounded by snow. There are coyotes, bears and wild turkeys nearby!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Day Twelve in America - 13 February 2008

Manchester Community College - 13 February 2008

Today was my second visit to Manchester Community College, and the weather was against us all. Many of the colleges were closed today and some decided to open at 10am, including Manchester Community College. There was little visibility on the roads as the spray was so bad. This, compounded by the rain and fog, tested my driving skills to the limit. However, I arrived in one piece and there were no casualties along the way!

Georgette E. Hyman - Test Administrator, Centre for Student Development

I met with Georgette following a very wet, snowey journey to Manchester Community College. Georgette administers the assessment tests, using the Accuplacer software. The main difference between Accuplacer and our Basic and Key Skills Builder software is that Accuplacer does not tell where the skills gaps are, it levels the student taking the test.

(As we were talking, Georgette received phone calls that she was able to let go to voice mail; the interesting thing here is that the voicemail goes into her Outlook mailbox as a recording to be picked up later! Nowhere to hide!)

We discussed our issues; there are similarities in that students to come to college with school diplomas that contradict the Accuplacer outcomes. In the same way as the UK, parents often want students to go onto the higher courses, even though it would not be within their best interests. The term for these parents is 'helicopter parents' because they are continually hovering over their son/daughter and pushing them inappropriately! The staff here at Manchester do trust the assessment test and use it to determine the courses that the students are placed on. I sense that in the UK, staff are less willing to accept the test results, and are more likely to accept the GCSE results, even though the results are contradicted. There is an exception to this within Work Based Learning in the UK, where the assessment results are a big factor in placing students on to the relevant level of course.

Georgette stated that any assessment test, including Accuplacer, cannot always be 100% accurate, however, the further tests that are administered, where appropriate, do tend to reinforce the Accuplacer result. There are variables which can affect the outcome of the Accuplacer assessment, for example, mood, late night, if student was drinking the evening before, shift work and many other external factors. Georgette tries to set an appropriate tone for the assessment session; quiet, cell phones off etc.

Other Connecticut colleges refer to the Accuplacer as a 'placement test', however, Georgette prefers 'assessment test', since it is more professionalised and less cold.

There are certain exemptions to the Accuplacer test; if a student has completed a SATs or ACT test, and they have attained a certain result, they do not need to take the accuplacer.

Accuplacer also recognises ESL learners. An ESL learner would need to take a LOEP test (Level of English Proficiency). This would ascertain which level of course would be appropriate for the student.

Accuplacer is online, and each time a test is downloaded, the college are charged.


Students need to sign up to the test. Once they have applied, and they have received their ID number, they would go online and complete a form, designed by Georgette and a web developer colleague, and this gives them an option of dates and times. The whole system is streamlined. There can be no more than 16 students in an Accuplacer session at any one time.

I am impressed with the emplasis that is put on literacy and numeracy in terms of placing students onto courses, and I believe that we can learn from this.

Lessons to learn:
  • All teaching staff make use of the Accuplacer literacy and numeracy results; they take it seriously regardless of High School Diplomas!
  • A serious tone is set for the assessment test
  • Applying students 'book in' to the assessment tests and there is an online facility for them to do this
  • Students are placed on courses as a result of the assessment test

Joanne Russell - Division Director, Liberal Arts

I was collected by Joanne, to be taken to see an arts ceramics class. Joanne took me via the college's new build, and the resources are fantastic. There is current student artwork hanging EVERYWHERE in the college; not just the art block. The corridors looked bright and breezy and had an air of productivity. Here is an image of a typical corridor:

We arrived at the art wing, where I met Susan Classen-Sullivan.

Susan Classen-Sullivan - Professor of Visual Fine Arts / Director of the Hans Weiss Newspace Gallery

Susan showed me the ceramics studio; again, an enviable resource. All the students were on task and Susan had an assistant to help her with the running of the studio. Amongst a number of smaller kilns (shown below) Susan has a wonderful massive kiln that can accommodate really tall ceramics!

Susan also showed me around the facilities in the arts block. I saw fabulous photography resources, with traditional and modern developing facilities, printmaking studios, IT labs, drawing studios and the college boasts a gallery which exhibits work of acclaimed artists. This is a great inspiration for the learners. The college employs visiting lecturers (practicing artists) in order to further enhance the experience of learners. I was also impressed that students can use the facilities at the weekend too.

The Gallery

The painting studio

Joanne collected me and escorted me to a class in multimedia. I sat in the class, which had up to the minute Mactintosh computers running system 10, and watched a session on Final Cut Pro. There were approximately 10 students in the class and the teacher was friendly and informative. She stated that all the handouts that she'd be using would be on WebCT so that the students can access them later if necessary. I didn't see a register being taken, which made me wonder if attendance isn't recorded. However, when I enquired later on in the day I was informed that attendance is recorded. This time, it would seem that the teacher knew all the students really well and therefore the register was probably taken without me realising!

One thing that impressed me was that news was given to all students at the start of the lesson. It was college wide news, and not simply related to the lesson. I thought that maybe we could make more of this. The session which followed was lecture based.

I left the college about 1:00pm and battled the snow. Even though the weather conditions were appalling, the students were still attending and engaging in their learning.

Lessons to learn:
  • Current student artwork hanging in all corridors across the college
  • A public gallery within the college attracts the community and is an inspiration to students
  • Well appointed resources, with a teaching station in each studio with facilities to project resources and the internet onto pull down screens
  • Students can come in and access resources at the weekend
  • The college makes use of visiting lecturers
  • Lecturers (faculty) ensure that handouts are available on WebCT following the lesson
  • News items given to all learners in lessons throughout the day

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Day Eleven in America - 12 February 2008

Gateway Community College - New Haven, Connecticut - 12 February 2008

Wilson Luna - Dean of Students

I met with Wilson at 8:30am at the Gateway Community College and following introductions, we discussed our roles. Wison told me about a fairly recent (2001) government act entitled, "No Child Left Behind" which all schools are now bound by. Although this is supposed to increase standards and accountability, Wilson argues that there isn't enough funding to realise the results and the act does not recognise where the students have started from. The closest to this in the UK is the league tables. We argue that league tables do not measure distance travelled and can also encourage 'picking and choosing' when it comes to recruiting students. This US act is the same.

Wilson described the management at the Gateway Community College. He stated that it was 'decentralised' and that the faculties have a lot of autonomy. In terms of the organisation, there is a chancellor who works in Hartford and manages all 12 campuses across Connecticut. Each college has a president (principal) and then a cabinet (senior management team) which is made up from deans of administration, students, research and development, continuing education, workforce development, a director of human resources, public relations and finance. Wilson explained that 'no day is the same', and like us all, is experiencing more and more emails to deal with. On a day to day basis, he deals with personnel issues, student issues and programme issues. There are ten departments that Wilson supervises. He has to deal with funding, discipline, working with the president. Above all, he has to ensure that he is visible in the community; this is incredibly important to all the community colleges that I've visited to date.

In terms of policy development, this ultimately goes to the Board of Trustees (Board of Governors) for final ratification.

The Cabinet Meeting - 9:00am

I was fortunate enough to be invited to a cabinet meeting to meet the president and members of the senior management team. The meeting started with an introduction from the president, Dr. Dorsey L. Kendrick ( Dr. Kendrick stated that all community colleges in Connecticut have 46,000 students in total and that the colleges are strategically located. The Gateway is, in fact, the second largest college in the region and has 5,944 students on its roll at present. Dr. Kendrick explained that the community colleges have not always enjoyed the level of respectability that it now does, as they weren't always seen as a credible route, however this perception has been changed through the fact that there are now robust partnerships with 4 year institutions in order to provide seamless routes through to degree education. This is seen as a major strength.

The college has 80 different programmes including more unusual programmes in health, motor vehicle, nursing and a culinary arts programme that provides catering facilities for paying customers.

Dr. Kendrick explained that the graduation day is exceptional. The students gain so much from walking across the stage to receive their graduation certificate.

The president's proudest news is the new build project at downtown New Haven. This is the largest project in Connecticut and all staff and students will eventually transfer to the new build in 2012. There are all the same issues that need to be faced as with our co-location project, including ensuring transport routes. Students and staff will have difficulty parking and therefore the culture needs to be changed in order to ensure that more public transport is made use of.

The college has been through change. In 1992, it merged with the vocational college. There are still residues of historical cultural practices, even now! However, the perception of the college has changed for the positive and this is testament to the excellent PR work that takes place in the community, reinforced by the seamless transfer to university. There is now established a very clear path for lifelong learning.

Dr. Kendrick ensures that graduates are showcased. There are photographs of them on the wall and some of these actually now work at the college which demonstrates that it is possible to gain an excellent career following the community college educational route.

School partnerships have been developed in order to tackle the poor levels of literacy and numeracy skills of new recruits. Common programmes are being developed to ensure that school leavers have the necessary skills in order to access the credit based programmes, rather than the developmental programmes.

The president talked about the changing needs of students and we touched upon the notion of personalised learning. She asked how we, at Shrewsbury, were developing teachers in readiness for this revolution in teaching and learning. I explained the training programme that we have, and the mandatory CPD of 30 hours that need to be maintained each year, by teaching staff. All staff in the UK now have to register with the Institute for Learning (IFL) and this body records the CPD carried out by teachers. Dr. Kendrick referred to an initiative that was in place before, where faculty staff were to take 6 credits every 2 semesters. This, she feels, was very good practice in terms of keeping teaching staff 'fresh' to the notion of lifelong learning as well as keeping their skills up to date.

I was asked about tutorial and explained the system in the UK of all full time 16-18 year olds receiving tutorial once per week. Although there aren't direct similarities between community colleges and UK colleges in this respect, at Gateway there is a system of peer tutoring which works extremely well. Dr. Kendrick referred to Dr. Brookfield's study of this.

A recent associate economic impact study was undertaken in Connecticut, which will soon be published, which looked at how many who studied in a connecticut community college now work in the Connecticut region. The impact on Connecticut is that those working back in the region generate $305 million for the region!

The cabinet were extremely welcoming to me and it was clear that they were student focussed and passionate about their work.

Areas of learning:

  • Strategically located colleges
  • Excellent attention paid to graduation day
  • Much use made of the success of graduates, in terms of PR
  • Successful change management post merger
  • School partnerships and common development of literacy and numeracy curricula
  • Peer tutoring programme
  • Impact analysis of college upon the revenue generated in Connecticut

David Cooper - Dean of Corporate and Continuing Education

My conversation with David focussed on the history of the community college and the nature of academic versus skills based education. David stated that New England was a very traditional area that dates back to a private education system. Historically, academies concentrated on developing religious leaders, accountants, lawyers and doctors. Community colleges started in the Mid West when the Morrill Land-Grant Act was passed in 1862. These were more vocational than the usual medicine, clergy and finance developing programmes. In 1960s the community colleges were bourne. These represent the first 2 years of a 4 year degree programme and are academic by nature. The tradition is still academic. David believes that community colleges should also offer skills based courses and sees skills as important as academic development. We spoke about Work Based Learning in the UK. David wants to develop a centre which specialises in energy systems, heating, ventillation etc. Noone else in Connecticut does this. This approach reminded me of our own Centre of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) in construction.

We spoke about the fact that skills are critical for the 21st century, and how the Bauhaus education was a good model which combined skills with theory. I spoke about Sandy Leitch's Review of Skills in the UK, and how this, in terms of Further Education, is a big movement. Leitch Review of Skills. David and I spoke about the notion of embedding critical functional literacy and numeracy skills within vocational education. A big movement in the UK. I promised David that I'd send some information:

David stated that academic education is less expensive than vocational education, because if colleges have workshops, you are less able to have large class sizes. Also, if theory is taught early on, there are more likely to be drop-outs, and this increases failure rates for the college and society. He also believes that integrating literacy and numeracy within the vocational, skills based education, is important. There are very few vocational labs within the Connecticut Community College systems.

David is thinking strategically about education within the 21st century as not only preparing students for university, but also preparing them for work.

Areas of learning:

  • Refocus educational programmes to include more skills based learning
  • Front loading the teaching of technical skills to ensure student engagement
  • Development of a centre teaching energy efficiency vocational skills
Clara Mena - Assistant Director, Centre for Educational Services

Clara explained what the centre in which she worked actually did for the students. It provides additional tutoring, at no extra cost. Students can enjoy small group work. I saw a group of three students who were benefitting from additional tutition in algebra. Students also use the centre to practice their skills. The strength of the centre, Clara explained, is the fact that the students can meet with their regular professors in order to receive more tutition on the subjects that they've been studying in classes.

The centre caters also for English speakers of other languages (ESL) and Clara explained that she too, was a student of the centre and is now a successful member of staff. She is a true advocate for learners within the centre!

There are a number of Macintosh computers within the centre, running system 10 (and a virtual Windows platform too). Clara explained that many of the students are developing their computing skills, and it was felt that Macs are more intuitive and less threatening than windows based PCs. The computers have pre-installed programmes including DVD tuition in maths, typing tuition (Mavis Beacon) and the Accuplacer software for placement testing. The Accuplacer programme does not have a time limit. Students can take as long as they like; the only goal is to find out which level they are at in order to place them on the most appropriate courses for them. The test works at three levels. Students (in groups of no more than 10) work on the first level. If they are OK at this level , they can progress to the next, and so on. All information from the Accuplacer is uploaded to the student information system (Banner) so that professors can pull down the results about their students.

There are programmes to help students to develop their Microsoft Office skills.

There is also a writing centre for composition and research activities. Students wanting to use the facilities generally sign in at the front desk, which is manned by a student worker, who is paid minimum wage for about 3 hours per day work. Student workers can also take advantage of the services within the centre and get on with homework / studies. It is a win win situation for them!

The one thing that really impressed me about the centre was that there was a popcorn machine! At about 3:00pm, the director fires up the popcorn machine; many students will be hungry and from poor backgrounds. This is a fun and caring touch to help students feel 'at home' and welcome. Students obviously feel cared for and the service is second to none here.

Areas of learning:

  • Student workers manning the additional tutition center
  • Addition tutition with familiar professors in small groups
  • Macs utilised due to the userfriendly interface for students with low levels of IT skills
  • Pre-loaded, interactive basic skills programmes in maths, typing, Office
  • Initial assessments with no time limit, carried out in small groups
  • Initial assessment results are automatically loaded onto the SIS
  • Popcorn machine in the centre!

Roberta Prior - Director of Student Activities, Office of College Life

Before I met Roberta properly, I was invited to a student luncheon. This was an opportunity for students to listen to a talk from a lecturer, which inspires debate, followed by a tastey lunch! The talk was presented by Professor Theresa Jeffries (email: and was entitled 'Addressing Oppression through Leadership'. An incredibly interesting talk about, mainly, racial oppressions. Most of the students withing the room were of colour, and following the talk, all had very interesting contributions to make over lunch!

Theresa's talk included 2 very interesting facts; the 'Willy Lynch solution'. Basically, he stated that in order to keep the slaves from revolting, if he segragated them (or encouraged segragation) based on tone of colour, nose shape, gender and any other differences, there would be less solidarity since there would be division. It worked. Also, Theresa talked about 'Juneteenth', called this because many slaves did not know that a law had been passed overturning slavery, and were still being used as slaves; no one told them! The act was passed some time in June, hence Juneteenth!

A handout that Theresa passed around can be found here.

All students of Gateway Community College pay $5 when they enrol which goes towards student activities.

I met with Roberta following the luncheon, and was guided by a very bright young man (student) called Tom. He was full of energy and clearly very interested in politics.

Roberta oversees the student government, activities and clubs and there is a very strong feeling that staff and students are equal. Roberta is very energetic and incredibly busy, having to cope with last minute cancellations (due to the snow) and students.

We go along to a student governance meeting, which is very formal! There are minutes, representatives, new members are sworn in, minutes are checked, agendas are followed and this is all chaired beautifully by a student (Chair's email:! This is excellent for encouraging student responsibility and all appear to be 100% engaged and involved with this activity. All clubs run by the student governance have to be reported on during the meeting. There are a lot of clubs and groups, and tonight there was a scheduled 'open mike' event (with a meal) that had to be cancelled (much to the students disappointment) due to the snow. Students also have to manage their budgets for the clubs and groups; again, this encourages responsibility.

At the college, within the state AND nationally, there are sports teams that play against each other. This is a serious sporting matter and students are really well involved. It was explained to me that this does wonders for bonding with students from other backgrounds (socio-economic and race).

Tom, the student who was showing me around, was preparing for a 'Family Feud' (Family Fortunes) event, based on the TV show. He was surveying 50 students on Black African questions, e.g. name a black african oscar winner. The event will attract many students, and I felt that this was a great way of getting students from different races together to talk about achievements. I believe that Shrewsbury College students could benefit from a similar type of approach!

Me with the student governors

Left Wilson Luna and right, Tom (sorry Tom, didn't get your surname!)

Areas of learning:

  • Student luncheon focussing on moral issues which encourage debate
  • $5 fee paid by students for activities
  • A strong student governance with official meetings, chaired properly!
  • Many clubs and groups with associated budgets managed by students
  • Sporting competition a big aspect of any college student's life, breaking down barriers!
  • Family Feud (Family Fortunes) event focussing on Black African achievements

The college had to close at 5:00pm due to the snow! I had a very slow drive back to Cheshire!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Day Ten in America - 11 February 2008

Naugatuck Valley Community College - 11 February 2008


Ben Mattheis - Associate Director of Admissions

I met with Ben and we started off our conversation by asking him to describe the admissions process. Ben described the roles that were within his office, and mentioned that there was a specialist post that dealt with applicants of colour; this is a very interesting concept and I would imagine would allow the post holder to forge very strong relationships with community figures and to build up trust amongst those where participation may not be automatic.

Prospective students can apply to the college using a variety of means; by hand into the front office, online, by phone etc. There is a rolling admissions system, and students can apply at any time. Ben explained that students are already applying for 2010 and presently, the college is dealing with applications for the fall session. They have just stopped accepting applications for the spring. Typically, in the fall, there are about 6,000 students, and this falls to 5,800 in the spring.

In terms of conversion rates, from those that apply, 60%-70% turn into enrolled students. Where students apply but don't turn up, the college will actively seek to find out why. As with other colleges, there is effective promotion of the college to community groups.

The college has a database called 'Banner' to collect information. This is essentially the college's student information system. The Banner software applies to all the Connecticut community colleges, and therefore duplication of information (where students enrol at 2 colleges, or where they transfer etc.) is avoided. The Banner database has 1,000,000 approx. entries at present. The system has three aspects; 1. Recruits (those that express an interest), 2. Applicants and 3. Registered students. I asked Ben about the conversion rate from those that enquire to enrolments and he stated that this was about 20%-30%.

There are instances of students who enrol at two or three colleges. This is due to the fact that there may not be the course on offer at the local community college, but the underpinning general courses are offered.

Students are encouraged to apply online; if they do, a lot of data input is minimised. However, there is still a data validation task to complete even if they do apply online. All students are encouraged to supply an email address, and this is then used to follow up.

Ben talked about the events calendar. There is a very good planned schedule of events in order to ensure good recruitment. The outcomes of the events are carefully analysed to measure their impact. Ben explained that this was useful in order to be as effective and as efficient as possible. Events were varied, for example, these could be in schools, community venues, careers fairs etc.

The college encourages parents to turn up at events. Here they have opportunity to talk about the process for seeking financial aid. If there are parents that haven't got a university legacy, there is the perception that application to financial aid is not necessary. The college works with parents to ensure that they have the most up to date and accurate information.

In terms of any legacy stigma, this is disappearing. Staff only need to remind any people with misunderstood perceptions of community colleges that they share the same accreditation with Yale, and this is effective in terms of changing perception.

Connecticut, as Ben explained, has the largetst concentration of colleges in the USA and is bound by traditions.

I asked Ben if those that had requested information were contacted if they hadn't become enrolments, and he stated that they did. The impact of doing this is about 5% success.

I asked what happened if students, who are on programme, don't turn up to lessons. This, again, was down to the individual instructor/faculty. There is a lot of academic freedom. The student does not necessarily have to turn up and if they are coping, then this is fine. However, if they are not, then it is in their best interests to access their classes.

The college is good at reaching out to minority populations. There is 30% of black, hispanic and asian students. The college does not discriminate on the grounds of citizenship status. If they are 'out of state', the students have to pay the out of state fee.

Lessons to learn:

  • Specialist admissions post to work with students of colou
  • Data collection of those who enquire
  • Email addresses used as a means of communication
  • 4 points of admission throughout the year

  • Impact measuring of recruitment events through data analysis

Patricia C. Bouffard - Executive Dean of the College

Patricia is a Dean of academic affairs. She has a wide remit, and when we started to speak, Patricia mentioned a number of initiatives that she is involved with, including the 'Tech Prep' programme, which allows school pupils to earn college credits and help them aspire to college life.
Patricia also has responsibility for curriculum development and new programmes and courses. This is an area that I'm really interested in, particularly as in the UK, all qualifications have to have national ratification if we are able to draw down funding. In the Connecticut state, this is not the issue, and therefore, colleges and staff within the colleges can develop programmes to meet the needs of the locality, however 'off the wall' or quirky. Patricia outlined the robust approvals process for these courses, albeit managed from within the college. This involves allowing the course / programme to run for one time only, to test for viability. Then the approval goes to the Curriculum and Educational Affairs Committee and they check against a set of criteria that have been predetermined. The committee is made up of peers across the college. Once this has been approved, there are open hearings for comment. Then professional staff are invited to vote whether the course should run or not. The final approval is with the Board of Governors. There have been cases where courses or changes have been voted down and Patricia gave the example of one such course that was seen as having too many barriers for students to enrol.

Patricia explained (and this has been reinforced by other colleagues from other institutions) that although there is much academic freedom for courses, there is an attempt at rationalising some courses across Connecticut to help students to transfer if they so wish. One initiative is to do this with the professional healthcare programmes. The success of this will be seen in 2 years time as it is still in the early phases of implementation.

I asked Patricia about her working day. It would appear that all managers back in the UK would relate to the type of day that Patricia has! There are many meetings, many emails, she signs many forms, deals with student queries and would very much like to get out onto the shop floor more to see the operation. She has 103 full time teachers within her faculty and knows most of them. It would be difficult, however, to know all of the adjuncts. She interviews for new staff and there is a lot of interviewing activity at present.

Patricia does manage a budget and allocates this to her reports. She has flexibility to manage her budget in the way that she sees fit. She explained that the college is funded by the state, but the state funding would not cover the costs of teaching alone, and therefore this has to be supplemented with tution fees. It is about half and half. The college, as far as possible, tries to keep tutition fees as reasonable as possible. This is to ensure that recruitment does not go down. Many of the students attracted are on financial aid.

Patricia has many meetings to contribute to and she outlined that she has to go to cabinet meetings (similar to our senior manager meetings), she holds her own staff meetings once per month, attends union meetings, curriculum meetings and attends many other external body meetings. She stated that every week is different. Patricia does not teach anymore.

Patricia explained progress measuring, in terms of student performance. Students are measured using Grade Point Averages (GPA), which are calculated using the number of credits being taken, divided by the scores that are given for each grade attained. GPS of 2.0 or above are considered to be OK in terms of the ability to graduate, whereas if they are below, then there are causes for concern. At risk students are dealt with out of Patricia's office. If students have a low GPA, and want to take a course a third time, only Patricia can authorise this. Students who are underperforming are put on probation in the first instance, and have to agree to certain actions, e.g. reduce part time work. If this doesn't work, then they are advised to do certain courses to help to raise their GPA. If this doesn't work, there can be suspension applied.

Areas of learning and interest for us:

  • Giving targeted school leavers the opportunity to earn qualifications to help to aspire them to college
  • Using calculations to ascertain the performance of students
  • Agreeing an action plan with an underperforming student to reduce PT work

Maritza Tiru - Director of Career Services

Maritza heads up the careers services within the college. I first asked Maritza if she could tell me more about the student workers within the college, as I was fascinated to learn that this was actively encouraged. Matritza explained that this incentive was funded through the financial aid office and it places students within the college campus. Maritza explained that each department probably has one or two student workers working for them.

Maritza explained the history to a significant operation within the Careers Service department. In 2005, the accreditation committee felt that a careers office was needed. The Coop programme was developed and this was about enabling students within the college to access hands-on work experience. There are many courses that now have, as part of the programme, a mandatory element of work experience within their programme. Students generally go on work experience for one simester, and are sent out with 5 agreed goals to achieve.

Generally, the employers offering work experience are very open to this; there is a 'win win' situation. The employers get good quality 'screened' students who aren't paid, and the students get excellent experience that enhances their resumés. During the work experience phase, the students take one class per week, and share their experiences with their peers.

The coordination of work experience has now been decentralised, and whilst this has shifted the responsibility back to the faculty, so they take ownership, there is no overarching quality standard check and this is seen, presently, as a gap. Therefore different faculties have different responses to work experience. Some are excellent and very passionate about making work experience happen, and some less so. This is an area that Maritza would like to develop. Currently, work experience attracts 3 credits. In terms of organisation, it is work intensive and there have to be visits to the placement provider in order to monitor student progress. Employers are also responsible for reporting back progress and, in the main, are candid about the performance of the student.

I spoke to Maritza about 'work readiness'. How did the college ensure that the students are geared up for the world of work. Maritza showed me a very comprehensive schedule of classes that can be attended on mock interivews, resumé writing, interview techniques, career planning etc. These are tools that can be given to students to help them with their success. All these are free to any student within the college, as well as graduates of the college. The careers service department also acts as a 'job centre'. Companies will post vacant positions within the office and students are encouraged to apply. This also enables the college to forge stronger links with the employers.

Maritza's office also carries out job type testing, for students who are unsure about the type of job that they want to persue. Career counseling is also carried out by the individual faculties and Maritza's department caters for the more general, cross college customer.

Maritza and her colleagues visit classes once per week to do workshops and talks. This is very popular and well received. Some areas even make the careers workshops mandatory, and this helps the students.

Again, Maritza, like her colleagues at the Connecticut Community colleges that I've visited so far have been incredibly passionate and eager to make a differenct to the student experience.

Areas of interest and learning

  • Student workers are employed into administrative roles within the college
  • The careers service office posts vacant positions and acts as a 'job centre'
  • Students on placement have to achieve 5 agreed goals
  • Job type analysis carried out
  • Graduates are able to utilise the service of the careers department

Lunch with colleagues at the Naugatuck Valley Community College

The geography of the building at Naugatuck Valley encourages much day to day interaction. There is a real feel of belonging and togetherness within the college.

Laurie-Jean Novi - Coordinator of Disability Services

When I met Laurie, my first question was about funding; how did she get funding to support students with additional needs? The answer was that it varied from college to college. Laurie did get funding, which was in the region of $10,000 per annum previously, but this has now been cut. However, if there is an individual need, she is able to apply for more funding and this is usually successful. I asked about signers; money for these comes from the administrator's budget, but the college is then able to claim the money back.

The college is very clear about its roles, responsibilities and remit. They don't provide personal care. Under American law, one to one tutoring is considered personal aid, and therefore this, too, is not provided. However, there are agencies that may provide this. Where adjustments are made for learners with disabilities or difficulties, (these are called 'accommodations') no change is made to the course content. However, sometimes parents can try to pressurise the college into admitting a student who simply isn't right for the course and Laurie has to have the difficult conversation with the parents to explain that their son/daughter simply would not pass if they were placed on the course.

We spoke about students with greater needs. Laurie explained that these students are usually clients of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Services (BRS). "We provide the classes, and they provide the personal care, transport etc. " The college and the rehabilitation services now have a joint partnership and the roles and responsibilities are very clearly articulated. Laurie explained that at the schools, everything is provided, and therefore the transition between school and college can be fairly difficult. "We have to tell partents what we don't provide as well as what we do!"

In terms of the types of additional needs within the college, there are students with ADD, ADHD, phychiatric issues, intellectually delayed with low IQs. Some students 'hit a wall'. They have been with the college for some time and reach their full potential. Parents can sometimes be unrealistic about what their son/daughters can achieve and complain if they are not registered into the classes that they want for their children.

The college doesn't have special courses, e.g. life skills. Manchester College has a life skills course. This type of provision is usually provided by residential fee paying schools.

In terms of IT accessibility, the college presently deals on a case by case basis at an individual level.

Areas of Learning:

  • Very clear college remit; roles and responsibilities clearly articulated between rehabillitation services (day-care) and the college

Larry J. Smotroff - Dean of community and Economic Development

Continuing Education
As soon as the conversation started with Larry, it was very clear that he was totally dedicated to his mission. The closest comparison to Shrewsbury College to his role would be ACL and WFD combined into developing full cost recovery courses. The work that Larry and his team did was extensive and the results enviable.

Larry explained that whilst much of the operation was paid for by tax dollars (via the allocation of funding) there are also many posts within his division that are paid for through full cost recovery. All continuing education within Larry's remit is full cost recovery. He explained that it was important not to have a zero based budget, but to build in a profit margin, to take care of some of the courses that are loss leaders, or that don't recruit well.

Larry's team are energetic, they do courses to meet the needs of the locality. This can be through dialogue with employers seeking to upskill their staff with the latest legislation, or through reading and carrying out trends analysis, through focus groups and work with the community to gauge what is needed. The work has a tremendous outreach due to the excellent transport links.

In terms of staffing capacity, in 1999, the team employed 52 people, now they have 25.

Every programme has an advisory group from the community, to ensure that the courses are indeed meeting the needs of the customer. Customer care is paramount, and Larry is passionate about quality. He has developed a set of quality measures and all courses are scrutinies in a number of different ways to ensure that the courses are well received by the clients. This can be through observations and students questionnaries. Staff are given training to ensure that they do meet the quality standards and Larry has an excellent staff orientation pack to ensure that the team function well.

In terms of student numbers, presently there are between 6,500 and 7,000 enrolled on continuing education programmes. Some of these are paid for through employers, some by financial aid, but in the main, they are paid for by individuals. Payment plans are flexible, for example spread out over the course and by credit card.

Courses range form short sharp 3 hour sessions to up to 17-18 weeks.

There are online course options though "Ed to go". This is a third party company. However, credit based courses are developing their own and hosting these via WebCT. Some courses require online portfolios, although I will have to ask for more information on this.

Larry produces catalogues of all the courses throughout the year. If a course is developed mid catalogue, mailers will be sent out.

Larry mentioned that there was a comprehensive marketing campaign and that there is a marketing department within the college whose services are utilised. In terms of advertising, a range of vehicles are used, i.e. TV, radio, paper, posting direct mail and now a redesigned website that will be state of the art and will allow for a shopping cart type of approach. By far, Larry's experience tells him that word of mouth (due to excellent quality) and home mailers are the best in terms of bringing in customers. Also, many ways to enrol widen the possibility for the conversion of interest to actual enrollment.

Larry maintains that in order to be successful, a 'stellar' experience, each time, for each student, is essential.

In Connecticut, there is a 'Workforce Investment Act'. These are 'one stop shop' centres that supply all the services needed for those who need to seek employment or make the transition to new employment due to redundency etc. The continuing education team work with the WIA centres to forge links.

Another initiative that falls within Larry's remit is the 'Kids on Campus Programme'. This is a very interesting concept. It allows younger pupils (10-15) to come into college for short 1-2 week courses to do a class. It is a real educational opportunity that is also offered at time of vacation. Again, a win win situation for the parents. Holiday activities with a real educational benefit. The courses that I saw advertised were very exciting and if the students have a great experience whilst at the college, they are more likely to enrol later on in their lives. This is also a great marketing tool aimed at parents and the local community. The work in the community is essential in Connecticut as each state has its own very strong identity, and perceptions are incredibly important. Positive experiences at the college are critical.

We discussed the impact of the information age. Larry mused that he works more now than he did before, simply because of the wealth of information out there, and he feels like he might be missing something!

Larry concluded that each state in America is fiercely autonimous and developing a national curriculum would be difficult to achieve due to the differences within each state.

Larry's enthusiasm was contagious and we have lessons to learn regarding developing full cost recovery courses that engage employers and bring in revenue!

Lessons to learn:

  • Build in profit margins
  • Keep a very close eye on developing trends in terms of legislation changes and fashions
  • Robust and consistent quality measures for all courses
  • All courses have advisory groups drawn from the community
  • Excellent staff orientation process
  • Flexible payment plans to ease payments
  • Excellent word of mouth and home mailers, bringing in business
  • Working with younger children to give college course experience at an affordable price in the holidays

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Weekend in New York... Images only!

New York

Day Six in America - 7 February 2008

Housatonic Community College - Bridgeport - 7 February 2008

Hernan Yepes - Director, Student Development and Services

I met with Hernan in the afternoon, after an early arrival at the college. The college itself was light, bright, full of wonderful artwork, excellent facilities and it had a feel that the students valued it. As you can see from the image below, the corridors are expansive and large, vibrant paintings are hung on the walls. In Hernan's office, I had been speaking to him for half an hour, when he told me that the artworks on his wall were originals... they were Picasso originals, in his office! Hernan stated that it was a great place to work!

The President's office

Hernan and I started our conversation about the fact that the community colleges are now coming back into the city as part of a regeneration project. I asked Hernan about work experience; he stated that this varied as it was largely dependent on the college and the programme. There didn't appear to be a Connecticut wide policy on this, however, where appropriate, this was taken advantage of. For example, in manufacturing and accountency, which are prominent areas within Bridgeport, work experience did take place. Hernan explained that certain courses developed as a result of employers wanting to 'grow their own' and work with colleges to put on courses. At present, there is a 'career counsellor' post that is being developed to make stronger links with industry. The college responds to the needs of industry as best as it can.

I asked Hernan if IT restrictions were put in place (e.g. blocking MySpace etc.). He said that there are filters if there are virus threats, but other than this, the college tries to be as liberal as it possibly can.

I spoke to Hernan about the types of targets that the college found itself driven by. He explained that targets set have undergone several incarnations. At present, the state government in Hartford are allocating funding dependant on numbers of students who enrol. From the discussions that I had with Hernan, there was much less emphasis on achievement and retention, however, as I have already found out from other colleges, it is possible that this is set to change. Hernan explained that every 10 years, a 'self-study' is written. This is very similar to our self-assessment report. The self study is in readiness for an NEASC visit. The New England Association of Schools and Colleges sets out the standards that schools and colleges should maintain. They are a bit like an OFSTED body, however, they do not inspect in the same way, and they are state wide, not national. The 'inspectors' that come into the colleges, are peers. They are not paid to do this work. The college has a long period of notice and the whole system is more like a 'critical friend' than something to fear. All the colleges that I have spoken to, to date, maintain that this is far more helpful that the OFSTED regime that I explained.

Hernan and I spoke about the accountability that UK FE colleges are faced with, in terms of achievement and retention. Hernan feels that 'graduation' is not a great measure of success; the students that study here may well drop out for many reasons, however, they have travelled a distance. There is absolutely nothing to stop a learner, who has failed, in enrolling two, three, four times consecutively for the same course, until they pass. Funding is not penalised as a result of this. Good practice agreements between the colleges state that students should not enrol more than two times, but if Hernan has good reason to believe that the student would benefit from doing the course a third time, then he can override this. He has autonomy of decision making, far more than colleagues in the UK. He is not bound by the same restrictions. I asked Hernan if there was any pressure on the college to get good graduation rates, and he said that there was. It was possible that funding could be affected by poor performance (that couldn't be accounted for). However, a wide proportion of the student body that come to the Housatonic Community College are from very poor backgrounds, and it is therefore understandable that graduation rates are as they are.

In terms of NEASC's work, if there were significant problems with any aspect of the college, they would lose their accreditation for certain courses, and then numbers would fall. This would indirectly have an impact on funding.

NEASC inspect every ten years, and there is a requirement for a progress check every five years.

As I discovered in other colleges, the definitions of successful outcomes and entry requirements differ from institution to institution. What universities want by way of maths, differs in each establishment. However, in order to overcome some of these issues, the colleges do work closely with local universities in order to agree compact arrangements to ease transition of graduating students to their institutions.

Hernan and I spoke about online courses. He stated that these are more popular where travel is an issue, for example, in IOWA, there are many online courses. However, at Housatonic, there isn't a great demand.

We discussed 'study skills'. All applying students need to sit the placement test. This appeared to be the case at every college that I've spoken to, so far. Hernan recognised that there is a pattern; where students gain low results in an aspect of their writing, reading, maths skills, they also show lower abilities in time management, organisation etc. The developmental courses (pre credit courses) guide the learners through every skill needed for college; these courses raise students up to college level. There is also good access to academic support in the counselling center. These offer workshops in skills like time management, test anxiety, career advice, reading, writing, maths. There are 75% of the student body on the developmental courses and if students succeed, they typically progress. Hernan explained that many of the learners were ESL (English Speakers of other Languages) and strong links with community groups were important.

I asked Hernan about motivation, in terms of grades on developmental courses. There is a grade for 'maintaining progress', 'Grade M'. This is good for some students who need to see that they have been awarded something.

Hernan gave me the student catalog, which included all the policies that the students need to have. I felt that this was a useful idea, giving the students a set of policies from the very start. All the usual policies were in there; discipline, behaviour, academic progress, children in classes (which is an issue that has been mentioned more than once). I will share these upon my return.

I asked Hernan about discipline; was there an issue? He stated that there were only about 3 per month and these were usually really silly things that were easily dealt with. By law, all colleges are bound to publish all cases of discipline matters and these are in the public domain. This is known as the 'Cleary Act'.

I asked Hernan about his working day. He does work long hours, but this is out of passion for his role rather than any other pressure. He is in a union, which states that his working week is 35 hours. He does not have to do more than this, but chooses to because he loves his work. For example, this weekend, there is a Sunday programme to help inner city potential students to come and fill out financial aid forms. They will be fed too!

It was an interesting meeting with Hernan, and I was able to build more of a picture of how the colleges function.

Following my meeting with Hernan, I was invited to the college's museum for an arts opening. The college is in an incredible enviable position in that it houses some very sought after pieces of artwork, and also exhibits local work. This exhibition was called 'illustrating Connecticut'. The students within art and design are able to benefit from this wonderful set up!

Areas of interest and good practice to share:

  • Working with industry to develop courses
  • Liberal IT access
  • Good links with other language communities
  • Policies pertaining to students in the student catalogue
  • Strong security working side by side with an 'open door' feel
  • Very strong emphasis on basic skills as demonstrated through testing BEFORE students placed on courses
  • Strong compact arrangements with universities
  • Art gallery within the college

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Day Six in America - 7 Feburary 2008

Housatonic Community College - 7 February 2008

I have arrived for my first appointment very early today. This is due to the fact that I got very, very lost in Hartford two days ago, and this, coupled with a left hand drive car, made it quite an experience. Housatonic Community College has no security, a bit like ours. I have decided to go to the Bridgeport public library to type this blog entry. Tonight, I have an arts opening to attend at the college, and will be home late. I have driven with, and have overtaken, many Steven Speilburg 'Duel' type trucks! A real experience. More about the Housatonic Community College later.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Day Five in America - 6 February 2008

6 February 2008 - The System Office - Connecticut Community Colleges

Tobi Krutt: Manager, Tech Tools and Training

All the cross state community colleges of Connecticut have commonality in terms of systems. This is carried out at the Systems Office in Hartford. I visited Tobi Krutt at the systems office today. Tobi explained her role to me. She makes available common resources for teachers, and these are wide ranging from Camtasia videos for training on software applications, to common good practice guides on teaching.

Tobi and I started our discussion using the Shrewsbury College ILT strategy as a starting point. Tobi was interested in our minimum standards for staff skills. This is not as straightforward in the Connecticut Community Colleges, since lecturers are very unionised. Therefore, all minimum skills levels are negotiated very closely with the unions; it would appear that unionism is very strong here.

Tobi's role includes a significant input into faculty staff training. She develops, carries out and commissions training events for staff. Training, however, is voluntary, although it is well taken up. Tobi's target audience is all the faculty staff from all the 12 sister colleges in Connecticut, and there are approximately 3,000 staff. Tobi also develops new resources to help faculty staff with their roles and developing online resources is a significant part of her role.

Most of the colleges are operating using Windows XP, however, there are exceptions to this.

The VLE that the college uses is WEBCT Vista. The college's database system is linked up with this, and therefore all students can be automatically enrolled to basic courses which will help them with orientation of the system and basic IT literacy courses. Tobi is in the process of rationalising the common resources and she recognises that because most of the teaching staff are part time, there is a real need for good, accessible resources.

Faculty staff are using the Camtasia software in lots of different ways. For example, some will record work carried out as if on a blackboard; students can then revisit this lecture at times convenient to them. Some staff do Powerpoint presentations, and record these via Camtasia. This is very useful for students who wish to revisit their lecture. Tobi trains staff to do this.

All staff have access to Camtasia; Tobi has not experienced any issues with accessibility. Faculty staff are able to upload the movies recorded in Camtasia to their own WebCT area.

There is online training available to help staff to develop best practice. For example, "Integrating Best Practice in an Online Course".

There is good uptake in training, although not mandatory. Tobi believes in short, "quick hit" training movies, to get staff up and running fast. Staff are using Camtasia all the time now. Tobi's training catalogue includes how to utilise Second Life in education (and Manchester Community College have already leased part of an island for educational purposes!), Wikis, blogs, podcasting etc.

All students enrolled and staff at any of the 12 Connecticut Community Colleges have access to ''. On here there is a wealth of training materials and resources available to anyone with login access.

Tobi ensures a healthy training uptake using a variety of methods. Two tempters are giving out small gifts (like a pen drive) and ensuring that the delegates are fed!

Some teaching instructors will train students on how to access WebCT Vista and show them how to use certain features, e.g. bulletin boards. A 'student orientation course' is automatically generated for all learners who enrol. Students have access to their VLE from home. They have a 'single sign on' through

Tobi can track who has been in. If it's apparent that there are areas of non activity from staff, due to unionisation and the fact that this is not mandatory, Tobi puts out a general announcement to remind ALL staff that the facility is there and that training is available. Out of 3000 staff, about 400 have checked out the orientation, and this is increasing by about 3% per term.

When WebCT was launched about 3 years ago, there were approximately 671 faculty using the system initially; now, there are 1,175 faculty using it system-wide. Utilisation of WebCT tends to be growing as a result of positive word of mouth.

A mentoring programme was launched a while ago, this attracted release time for those who volunteered. Tobi believes that this would not have been successful without that release time.

In terms of the types of courses, Tobi explained that there were 3.

  • Fully online classes; students do not meet in a classroom
  • Class based or 'web enhanced' classes, where students have normal classroom classes, but this is enhanced by online resources
  • Hybrid classes; some in class but some online.

There has been a huge increase in fully online classes; Tobi showed me a graph showing a growth of 72% over 4 years of recording, for all the community colleges in the state. Some colleges had increased by nearly 400%!

All trainees that come for WebCT training receive a paper manual, and online resources, so that they can refer to lessons in a format of their choice.

Tobi works with a system-wide council, called the "Teaching and Learning", which is considering a new initiative, using SurveyMonkey. She is going to be asking the students to fill in a survey about what skills they'd like their teachers to have. She'll use this as a driver for increased training! She believes that this will be a real motivator!

Tobi is developing an online scheduler for staff training. As she manages the training for 3,000 staff, there does need to be a system to manage this. She's working with IT colleagues in order to complete this work. There is online registration for staff now and this is working very well.

Podcasts: There are probably about 52-100 staff making use of podcasts within their teaching and learning. Most of these are audio only at present. Podcasts are usually uploaded to WebCT Vista, thought they could be uploaded to other podcast delivery systems such as iTunes U.

Tobi is in the process of redesigning the faculty and staff training offer. She wants all resources to be linked to other related resources so that there is a clear pathway of training for staff, rather than lots of standalone products.

I asked Tobi how training was evaluated. This was difficult, and evaluation is a difficulty, due to unionisation. Tobi's training products are a resource only. Staff can get feedback if they wish, and many want this. If a member of staff wanted an assessment for their personnel file record, this can be done too. However, to define standards against which to evaluate is a sensitive issue.

Tobi and I talked about the courses that the students enrol on in the community colleges themselves. It was interesting to note that all courses are designed by faculty members; there is no national standard. In some areas, e.g. nursing, there are attempts afoot to ensure a common approach to the courses where these take place at different colleges.

Areas we can learn from:

  1. Wide use of Camtasia movies to enhance learning
  2. Orientation courses automatically loaded for new learners, including basic WebCT and IT training resources
  3. Student records system link with WebCT for auto enrolment on courses
  4. Extensive growth in fully online courses
  5. Blended 'hybrid' online courses (with some classroom contact) in operation
  6. Second Life presence
  7. Podcasting using Itunes U
  8. Rationalisation of all training offer, with clear progressions for all types of training from pedagogy linked training to ICT based training

Tobi's essential resources:

Essential Pre-Vista Skills for Faculty:
Technological Skills Comprehensive Guide Faculty
Desktop application tutorials
60 Second Vista tutorials
Current list of training classes available to faculty and staff systemwide (from IITT Course Cart)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Day Four in America - 5 February 2008

Capital Community College - Hartford

Carl Antonucci - Director, Library Services

My first meeting today was with Carl Antonucci who manages the staff and day to day operation of the library at the college. He explained that his main mission was Information Literacy and that the college needed to comply with the NEASC (see standard 7) standards for library functions.

How does the college measure information literacy? They have devised library workbooks that are assessed by library staff and works as an information literacy assessment tool. There is an information literacy test before and after to measure the effectiveness of learning.

Most students are from poor backgrounds and schools in poorer areas do not have the resources to prepare students as well as they'd like. Therefore, many of the students come in without the necessary skills of independence to cope with the study at higher levels. In order to widen participation and have an impact on retention, the college has opened a 'black and latinos men's centre' which was part of the 'Achieving the Dream' project. This was a grant to help with retention.

Carl explained that a common curriculum is being developed between the 5 colleges that are offering nursing. This seems to be one of the biggest differences; there is no common curriculum within the state or the country. It is down to the staff within the colleges to agree to develop common practice. Carl explained that if a high school teacher wanted to transfer to another state, they would probably have to take the relevant courses within the state in order to meet the criteria for the post! It is difficult to transfer qualifications and it is up to the receiving institution as to whether they'll accept them.

Capital College has 1,800 FTEs. Lots of these students do information literacy courses; there are also a lot of ESL (ESOL/ EFL) students, particularly Hispanic.

Carl demonstrated 'Info Anytime' a fantastic resourse, available 24/7 to help students with research issues. They can access online chat with a librarian in order to be pointed in the right direction. Also, there is access to 'MyComm Net', which is a rich resource with online learning support, study skills/research guides, WebCT (their VLE) and information about financial aid, amongst many other things.

Jacqueline Phillips - Director, Welcome Center

Jacqueline heads up the 'Welcome Center', which was formed 7 years ago in order to retain students and improve retention. Jacqueline explained that the Welcome Center was an 'open door' to the college. Before, there was no such thing. This was now a 'one stop shop' to deal with anyone who walks in, and deals with enquiry right through to the classroom. The Welcome Center gives potential students everything that they need.

Jacqueline explained two initiatives, Student Orientation and the workshops that take place. Student Orientation happens one week before classes start and is like an 'assembily'. During this, students can catch up on missing documentation, financial advice, carpark, expectations of the course, meeting the Deans, they have a motivational speaker and registration also takes place. The workshops are like mini versions of this in smaller groups and are focussed on the expectations of the faculty.
The Welcome Center does high school tours, and workshops with students, and develops strong partnerships with the community. One particular interesting strategy was to buddy college students with 5th graders and offer one credit to do so. This helped the transition process from school into college. Other initiatives include the 'Concast' programme. This is state funded and its goal is to increase retention and graduation. 50 learners come in, in the summer to do a 6 week bridging course and Jacqueline explained that all learners stay!

There is an academic alerts system. If students are presenting with difficulties, early warning letters are sent home outlining the issues and what the expectation are. There is a typical 50% resonse to these letters. Personal tutoring is not mandatory, unlike ours.

Ray Hughes - Acting Academic Division Director
Ray explained that students who do not come up to the required standard in their placement tests (like our initial assessments), can only access 'development programmes'. About 90% of all students need to access development programmes before they can access credited programmes, as the college has an 'open enrollment' status. Credit courses last for 2 years and are full time. Typically, students take 4 courses, worth 3 credits each. If a student is a 'high flyer', they can do 15 credits.
Ray and I spoke about funding, and he explained the difference between continuing education (where students pay) and community college education (where there is funding from the state). There is an allocation given to the college, from the Connecticut state. The amount that is given depends on the number of equivalent FTEs. The college does try to augment the amount of money that it gets, through fees. If the college comes in over FTE target, they get more money!

Adjuncts (Part Time fixed term contract teachers 'instructors') are paid approximately $34,000 per annum. If recruitment goes down, funding would drop, but at present, there is no issue with lack of retention or achievement. It was apparent that many of the college staff weren't saddled with the worries and woes of the funding issues that UK colleges are.

There is a high reliance on adjunct teachers. I asked about teaching observations. It is apparent that this is done, however, I'm not sure whether this is a college wide initiative. Ray said that this happens if there is a promotion opportunity for an adjunct. Full time teachers are required to teach 4 classes (12 hours) per week, with an additional 3 hours of responsibility!

Ray Hughes (left), Jacqueline Phillips (right)

Glisma Pérez-Silva, MS - Learning Disabilities Specialist

Glisma has a background in special education. She explained that after the age of 21, people with special educational needs want to come to college, and the law (ADA) allows them to come to college under the section 504 rehabillitation law. It's part of the civil rights of the individual. Glisma sees her role as an advocate for people with special needs. The law states that the person can seek reasonable accommodations and they need to disclose any disability for these to be taken into account. It has to be the student who discloses, not a parent or anyone else. Glisma is then required to review documentation to prove that the learner needs special accommodations. The expectation is that the accommodations are 'reasonable'. Whatever accommodations are given, the student is still required to meet the requirements of the course; the course content does NOT change. A confidential disclosure letter is then sent to the professors to alert them to the fact that accommodations have been agreed. If it is ascertained that, for example, a laptop is needed, this has to be provided by the student. There is no pot of money for this from the college.

To begin with, only 35 students disclosed, but due to positive PR, now there are 70. The student body is tolerant of physical disabilities and sees peers with a disability as no different to others. This is due to the laws of America that have been in place for the past 25 years. Equality of service has been in force for this length of time already.

If there is an issue with behaviour, the Dean of Student Services deals with this; if it is a serious matter in the classroom, security is called immediately and students can actually be arrested by on site community police officers. Training in discipline control is not something that is ordinarily given to staff.

Glaisma's team find getting information from schools very difficult. If information is needed, the student themselves have to request it from the school due to the law on confidentiality.

Poor performance is tackled in 3 stages; a warning, followed by a probation period, and then suspension. Also, the majority of students study with financial aid; this is compromised if there are issues with performance.

The Career Centre within the college focusses on students developing skills in resume writing and identifying potential employers. They also provide a job fair where companies are invited in and mini interviews can take place.
Service Learning is a new strategy where learners gain credits for working in the community. This is a big movement within America in terms of contributing to the community. Students aren't paid, but earn credits. This is something that a student would elect to enrol on.
Glaisma stated that every student receives learning in, 'Introduction to Software Applications.' This is especially beneficial for older learners.

Childcare is limited for learners with children, and it is an expectation that students will make their own arrangements. There is a service within the college, but it has limited hours. Students pay for this service.

There is a 'lunch lecture' service. This is where lecturers or outside speakers give talks on interesting subjects during the lunchtime (12-1pm)

Glaisma does presentations about disabilities to staff within the college, in order to help them understand what it's like to work with a population with additional needs.

There are many distance learning opportunities. This is a growing area and there is a real demand for it.

Marie Basche - Acting Director, Academic Success Center
Marie works in, what I would call, a basic and study skills centre. She has a caseload of support tutors, who are professional. At the Success Center, there is a Math Center and a Writing Skills Center, and these are 'drop in'. This support is entirely voluntary, however, 27% of students do come into the centre, which is open, airy, professional looking and fresh. Marie has software called 'Tutor Track' in order for her to analyse what support is being given where. There is a 1 hour per week, per subject amount of support that can be allocated to a typical student, and this is increased if there is a learner with special needs. Marie uses surveys to ascertain the effectiveness of support; she sees this as the most reliable measure. The math center is open 60 hours per week, and the most difficulties are with mathematics, the same as the UK. It appears that low levels of basic skills are an issue for those in the US too.

One of the main aims is to get the learners to take responsibility for their learning and to become more independent. They want independent, active learners.

Dr. Jai E. Smith - Director of Student Activities
Jai is the equivalent of our enrichment coordinator, but the difference is that the student body is really very much encouraged by Jai to become part of the student Senate! There are so many different initiatives which develop the students' management skills; they have an office, a board room, games rooms, television rooms, sports teams and those that are successfully voted for are given a small budget to spend on the activity that has been elected. In order to be elected, the student needs to get a petition of 50 signatures and this is carefully monitored.
As we walked around, it was clear that the learners knew and respected Jai. He clearly had a rapport with them and this was part of the strength of the work. The whole of one floor has been given over to students and their management of enrichment programmes!

Learning Opportunities for us so far...
  1. Robust assessment of information literacy skills
  2. Active development and assessment of information literacy skills
  3. Widening participation; the Black and Latino Men's Center
  4. College in the middle of the town
  5. Courses offered to businesses for upskilling in ICT
  6. InfoAnytime real time chat study support
  7. One stop shop for enquiry thru to classroom - the Welcome Center
  8. Student Orientation for whole college intake
  9. 5th Grade buddying system from college students
  10. Early warning letters sent to students with potential performance problems
  11. Strong emphasis on basic skills within development programmes and through success center
  12. Excellent disclosure rate for learners with disabilities through positive promotion
  13. On the spot security if needed from telephones from classrooms
  14. Specialised Careers Center
  15. Service Learning initiative across America
  16. Lunch lectures of interesting topics
  17. Excellent enrichment take-up