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

1 comment:

Richard Booth said...

Fantastic resources and buildings for the art gallery and ceramics/art studios. Good to see that they have all the right equipment to run the sessions for students.

Interesting that they have their own dedicated art gallery for learners and they make use of an exhibit of their work which can change throughout the year.

Good new build which is inviting for both tutors and learners!