Monday, March 26, 2018

Another Paper for the Retention Conference

**Update - This has been approved at the first stage. Once we write the paper, we will know if it is to be published.

Once again, any help would be greatly appreciated :)

We’re Up 17% - What Now?
From 2010 to 2017, we have raised our developmental education success rates at Moraine Valley Community College by more than 17%, while lowering our withdrawal rates by 30%. More importantly, we have done so while we simultaneously increased the acceleration of some of our programs and created bridge courses, often skimming the stronger students off of our upper-level courses. Initially, we utilized global data (i.e. our success rates, the success rates of our students at the next levels, our attendance rates, our grade patterns, etc.) to suggest policies and curricular alignment. At this point in the process, we are attempting to turn to more local data, focusing on individual performance and the appropriate resources we can provide our faculty and staff. This paper will address the strategies we developed to address our low success rates, as well as the next steps we plan to take in our continuing improvement process.

Description and Learning Outcomes:
In the course of the past seven years, we have raised our developmental education success rates at Moraine Valley Community College by more than 17% (i.e. those students earning grades of A, B, or C, as opposed to D, F, or I) and have lowered our withdrawal rates by 30%. It has been a systematic, “soft data-informed” process. We began by confronting our general retention data and reviewing our policies and procedures. For instance, in order to introduce the possibility of adopting a departmental attendance policy, we first conducted a survey with our faculty asking them to code all their assigned F grades and to note which instances were due primarily to attendance. Our faculty reported that more than 70% of the F grades we had awarded were due to low attendance. This began a gradual implementation of data into our analysis, planning, and evaluation processes.
As we began to work on our retention plan, we were faced with an impending migration from COMPASS to ACCUPLACER as our primary placement test. We capitalized on this challenge by analyzing all of our available data in regards to student placement, matriculation rates, and future success. In doing so, we discovered large overlaps in curricula between academic levels, severe compression of grades in some courses, and the “over-success” of our “A and B” students moving to credited coursework. As a result, we have developed new metrics to track the efficacy of our placement instruments, how well we transition students from lower levels in the curricula, and how well they persevere into and through their credited sequence.
While evaluating our programming, we discovered that we suffered from some unusual side-effects of our efforts to be innovative: We began to develop so many interventions that we lacked the ability to assure that the right student entered the right intervention (RSRI- Right Student, Right Intervention). Subsequently, we began to work with advisors and other stakeholders on campus to help delineate our offerings and to ensure students would know if they were a right fit for a particular type of course or intervention.
As a result of the analyses we conducted, we collaboratively designed an attendance policy, reevaluated our curricular transitions, worked to ensure students had their textbooks and required materials, and involved other critical stakeholders on campus in order to create a more consistent and visible pathway for our developmental students. Our efforts have led, in small part, to the creation of enrollment and grade dashboards with our Institutional Research department, as well as an ongoing relationship that has led us to many other questions, challenges, and resources.
Finally, we are preparing to move from larger data sets to local indices to share with instructors at the classroom level. Doing so should provide our faculty with the appropriate feedback for course improvements that will ensure that we maintain and raise our improved success rates.
Learning Outcomes – Participants will review their own transitional and longitudinal data process; Participants will learn about new retention and perseverance metrics.

A New Conference Proposal

**Update - This has been approved and we will be doing it in November!

Here is a proposal Grant and I are submitting for a national conference in Salt Lake City later this year. This would be an all-day workshop for teachers and administrators. I would love to get feedback on it:

The Curriculum Congruence Model (A Reification Exercise)
In a world where teachers have literally millions of resources at their fingertips and less and less premium is placed on strictly “basal based” curricula, it is imperative that teachers have a stronger pedagogical foundation than ever before. This workshop will focus on two key components: The Four Responsibilities of a Teacher and The Three Responsibilities of a Student. Each model is a research-based continuum designed to produce consistent and congruent curricula and to operationalize many of the intuitive or instinctual processes to which not all teachers or students have direct access. The workshop is highly interactive with a great deal of resources, activities, and opportunities for engagement. In many ways, this workshop could be viewed as a more practical and condensed version of a compulsory Philosophy/Psychology of Education course many of us took before we had the requisite experience to truly appreciate the content.

This workshop contains the core elements the presenter(s) have utilized as the foundation for their Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTaL) trainings conducted domestically and internationally for the United Nations and the U.S. State Department. The development of these two models has unfolded over thirty years in U.S. universities and community colleges, spanning coursework ranging from developmental education to graduate studies. More than 1,000 students and teachers have participated in the development of these models.

There is a very old tenet in education that any curriculum applied consistently will produce academic gain; likewise, it could also be said that any well-designed curriculum applied inconsistently will produce diminished academic gain. In simple terms, it is the job of the teacher to create a consistent and congruent curriculum; to apply it appropriately; and finally, to help their students learn to navigate it successfully. This workshop consists of two sessions: the first session, The Four Responsibilities of a Teacher, deals with the creation, application, and evaluation of a curriculum. The second session, The Three Responsibilities of a Student, outlines the cognitive and behavioral processes students need to apply in order to be successful at any educational level.

The Four Responsibilities of a Teacher – The first component of this interactive session helps teachers examine their core philosophical beliefs about human nature, learning, and ethical responsibilities. The second component focuses on the nature of instruction that would logically follow. The third component examines the appropriate forms of assessment that would complement the two previous stages. Finally, the last component centers on the evaluation of the entire process (i.e. the “interpretive light”) where teachers work to examine their beliefs and attitudes throughout the whole continuum and to identify possible points of incongruence.
Learning Outcomes: 1) Participants will examine and articulate their core philosophic beliefs; 2) Participants will identify instructional techniques that are congruent with their philosophical beliefs; 3) Participants will identify appropriate assessment activities that are congruent with their instructional choices; and 4) Participants will evaluate the entire process, including instances where the continuum failed, possibly even challenging some of their original philosophic beliefs.

The Three Responsibilities of a Student – As simple as it seems, students have three basic cognitive tasks they must attend to when engaged in an academic setting: 1) Learn the material; 2) Manage the material in their memory; and 3) Prove that they have learned the material. This session leads teachers through the three areas in regards to the activities they do in the classroom. Once teachers understand the difference between learning, memory management, and proving, they are poised to help students develop a metacognitive awareness of the same dynamics! In essence, teachers (intuitive learners) learn to operationalize, or reify, their intuition.
Learning Outcomes: 1) Participants will distinguish between activities at various levels in the model; 2) Participants will develop the language and associated resources to guide their students through the model; and 3) Participants will draw comparisons between their activities as teachers and the activities of their students.

Bio (1): Michael Morsches
Michael has more than thirty years in higher education and international development. He has taught graduate courses in education and has led hundreds of workshops and presentations on teacher development in the U.S., Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Michael has facilitated SoTaL (the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) workshops for teachers in developing countries and has presented related concepts at national and international conferences. Currently, he serves as Dean of Learning Enrichment and College Readiness at Moraine Valley Community College, where he oversees ESL, ABE, Developmental Education, Tutoring, and Basic Literacy.

Bio (2): Grant Matthews
Grant has worked and taught at community colleges in Oregon and Illinois for over 16 years in both academic programs and student services. Much of his work focuses on student development inside and outside of the classroom and how programs can improve the connections between student services and classroom learning through shared learning outcomes and consistency. Currently, Grant serves as Dean of The Center for Learning Advancement and Interim Dean for Health Professions at Lane Community College, where he oversees ABSE, Developmental Education, Career Pathways, Nursing and Allied Health, and Physical Education.

Presentation Track: Theoretical Models of Student Retention and Success, Retention and Special Populations
Presentation Type: Full Day Presentation
Audience Level: Any
Targeted Audience: Teachers, Administrators

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Message to an Old Friend

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

I Don't Support The Military

Yes, I suppose it is a provocative title, but no, I do not support the military as I do not support the police, teachers, doctors, any group in general. Further, when I see people proudly saying they do support these entities globally, I really think they are making different statements. For example, to support the police (globally) is a nice way to pronounce one's racism. To support the military (globally) is a nice way to pronounce ones's bigotry and indifference to the plight of other peoples, other countries. The proclamation of support is a thinly disguised declaration of hate.
I don't support soldiers or policemen and women globally either. To do so would jeopardize any sense of integrity, honor, and critical thinking ability that I have tried to embrace. And most importantly, I decry the members of those organizations or my sounding community that would urge me to do so.
Let me start again - I support all members of the military, police, and other social and civic employees who act honorably and ethically. Those who do not condone the improper actions of their peers, let alone assist in the cover up of said offenses. I have much less faith in the organizations they work for and the demagogues who occasionally lead them. I have remarked in the past how amused I am by acquaintances who have almost total distrust of the government while gleefully supporting any military action the same politicians initiate. These people and organizations represent incredibly responsible and important functions in our society - they should be held to a commensurate level of accountability.
As a teacher, I would make the same parallels. I have failed at times in what I do. I have failed to indict peers who have victimized students in the past. I don't want any ascribed recognition or respect for my career choice - I want to continue to earn it. I don't need to be thanked incessantly for what I do, or the services I have provided for my country and the international community. Instead, I would prefer to be judged fairly and honestly, making the good things I do even more sincere in the wake of my failures.
Being a male, I sometimes chuckle at guys in the military and the police force. They are macho and loud, feeding off of glory yet to be obtained. The folks I know (family and friends) who have served honorably, have done so quietly and humbly. I have seen my share of weak and corrupt policemen, and I have to remind myself constantly that they are a very small but impactful minority. Each one of those anomalies wipes out countless poignant and genuine human interactions police personnel make in their communities every day if the proper perspective is not held. And no, it is not my job alone to balance these things, this is a responsibility of the organization they belong to. To do less and to demand respect is cowardly.
I have often said that good teachers deserve the pedestal society would place them on. But I often find that those teachers who fall short expect the same elevation, and we feed into this when we decide to pretend that the whole profession deserves our respect and esteem. It is difficult for me to fathom how some people in  many walks of life want the honor, distinction, and entitlement of the badge, uniform, title, without performing the duties and selfless service that underpin the reverence a society justly bestows upon them.
So, if you are soldier, cop, teacher, lawyer, doctor, etc. who does your job lawfully, ethically, and humanely, you have more than my support - you have my respect and that part of my admiration that comes from that quiet place in my heart that truly wonders if I could do what you do. But I will not mindlessly afford these gestures to everyone who would pretend to do what you do so well.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Kipp's Dice Tower

Kipp's Dice Tower

Before Kipp left for Texas last week, he sent me the link below and asked if I could build this dice tower for him. I looked at it and thought I might play with the design a bit:

Kipp likes to play D&D (had a fun but futile time trying to explain this game to Hazem the other day) with his nephew and friends on the weekends. I have only played this game once while visiting Kipp, Theron, and Theseus at Theron's lake cottage. I think I won, but they told me I didn't do it the right way. I do remember a TV movie with Tom Hanks about a teenager who gets lost to the darkside playing D&D, so it is probably better I leave the game alone. Anyway, the game is very popular and I was intrigued by the design of the dice tower. The dice are different shapes and I wanted an internal mechanism that would tumble them sideways then propel them forward from the bottom. Here was my sophisticated design:

The hole at the top is where you would drop the dice. The dice then would hit the first baffle and bounce over to the second. Finally, the dice would hit the 45 degree ramp at the bottom, rolling them out the front of the tower. I chose walnut and maple for the tower and it didn't take me too long to construct:

I was pleased with the way it came out. I put my special oil concoction on it and the walnut and maple really looks good. The only problem at this point was that the dice come hurtling out all over the table. I thought about a solution that would catch the dice but also hold the tower horizontally as case. After lots of calculations, errors, and resizing, I came up with the box:

The tower lays over and sits in the walnut/oak box. I routed 45 degree chamfers around the inside of the box to make it easier to pull the tower out. I also made the groves for the oak bottom a bit big so I could pin it in and have sort of a trampoline effect that also produces a cool sound when the dice hit it:

Never one to leave well enough alone, I started to think of a way to distinguish this simple dice tower as one used for D&D. After a failed attempt, I created what I think is a cool turret for the top (Kipp calls it a battlement, and I have to yield to his expertise here):

I had a lot of fun with this project, and I got to use the new bandsaw I purchased the other day. Our generous staff gave me a gift certificate for Home Depot and I picked up some new tools :)

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Driftwood Hall Bench

Driftwood Hall Bench

Last week, a faculty member stopped by with a big slab of old pine driftwood. It measured about 36" by 12" by 3" - something you would be hard-pressed to find new these days. He generously offered it to me, but I decided it would be better served in his small cabin near Lake Michigan. We tossed around a few ideas, then decided on some sort of bench or table. Eventually, he thought it would work well as a small bench to be put by the door for folks to take off their boots. I worked out a small sketch, then gave Hazem a call for some metal working help.
The process was a lot of fun. Hazem bought the 1" square tubing from Menards and I cut it into the requisite sizes. While he welded them, I sanded then distressed the slab with chains, pliers, and other assorted objects of mayhem laying around the shop. I sanded and painted the base, then put a coat of tung oil and shellac on the slab. I had to chisel some tenon holes on the bottom of the slab in order to center it on the base, then put it all together. It was a quick project and I learned a bit more about metal working, a goal of mine. 

Hazem welding the square tubing to make the base

The distressed slab before the finish

The finished product :)

Friday, November 10, 2017

Connecting at the Conference

Fun at the National Symposium on Student Retention

Elicitation Model: Digging Into the Notion of Student Engagement

Michael Morsches
Dean, LECR
Moraine Valley Community College

Grant J. Matthews
Dean, Academic Learning Skills
Lane Community College

Abstract: Student engagement can encompass many different levels of interaction. Whether it be between student and instructor, among students themselves, with the actual subject matter, or with the various resources and departments on campus—getting and keeping students engaged is a challenging proposition. Frequently, students say they fear speaking in public, being called upon in class, going to the whiteboard, and being singled out by an instructor. Collectively, these fears could be conceptualized as a wish or need for anonymity. Faculty have cited student actions such as participation, question asking, volunteering, office hour visits, and favorable body language as preferred behaviors. These preferences could be conceptualized as a wish or need for engagement. “East is East and West is West, and never the twain…” (Kipling, 1929, p. 75). This paper will outline the authors' Elicitation Model and theoretical Student Engagement Constructs to explore psychological factors that prohibit engagement. The paper also presents many practical, proven examples of classroom techniques, gestures, and considerations for using the Elicitation Model that can help produce healthy student engagement in all academic spheres of interaction.
Guest Starring
Mariam Aslam
Student Success Research Analyst
University of Toronto

I don't always appreciate professional conferences. This was my fourth trip to the NSSR, and on a whole, I usually enjoy this particular conference. This year was different in many ways though - It was in a new location for me (the Florida Panhandle), we were publishing a refereed paper, I was reuniting with Grant, I had other colleagues from my school presenting a poster session, and I really needed a break from work. Despite these advantages, the conference exceeded my expectations.

I like this conference for two main reasons: 1) There is a lot of qualitative data by talented people,  and 2) I am surrounded by hundreds of people genuinely trying to crack some retention riddle with a lot of fire in their bellies. There is always a great deal of nerd energy in the room. And like most valuable conferences, there are  opportunities for young people to present their research and programs. It's not easy to get a paper accepted, but the organizers don't limit participation to the same old group of experts. It is a well run conference by intelligent, nice people.

Grant and I are very passionate about our presentation topic this year - Student Engagement. I believe we both are fairly good at engaging students, and we have really tried to break the construct down to meaningful components in order to present a practical model to elicit good engagement in classrooms. Judging by the feedback we have received, we were successful :)

Grant and I always have a lot of fun together when we go off to conferences. We tease each other and make all sorts of meaningless bets (most of which I won this trip). Grant is very intelligent and is also very personable. Those two attributes, combined with his high sense of integrity, provide for a lot of good, clean fun. This year, we decided to attend the first evening's ice breaker (mainly because the food is usually good), where we met several very interesting people. The two most enduring folks we met were Mariam and Dave - two Canadians who independently ended up at the same table. Mariam is from Toronto and Dave is from Newfoundland. There were a few other folks who drifted in and out, including the very southern Leon, who I am not quite sure was drinking or not - but who I liked immediately. We chatted away for a few hours, finding lots of  personal and professional points of interest. And if Dave hadn't suggested that we get together the next night for dinner, it would have been a vastly different conference and this post wouldn't be written.

Dave is a very energetic and jolly guy. He laughs loudly and sincerely. I was a bit surprised to hear that he was married and that he had a young daughter. He is very witty, and I suppose that gets him into a few scrapes sometimes. I wouldn't have tagged him as a Canuck though - more Irish, though I suppose it could have been the hair.....Dave is one of those people who can bounce back and forth from naive to wry with very little warning. I found myself preparing for the inevitable yet subtle innuendo that was surely around every corner. Dave tried a raw oyster, a hush puppy, and key lime pie for the first times over several meals. Pretty adventurous, I thought, for a Newfoundlander. One thing for sure though, I was totally convinced after a very short time that Dave was a wonderful husband and father. 

Mariam was another story - from Toronto, she was far more cosmopolitan than the rest of us, and maybe quite a bit smarter. A self-confirmed extrovert, she slowly and judiciously doled out little bits and orts about herself over the few days we were all together. She is very tall for a Pakistani woman, and carries an intriguing constellation of east and west sensibilities and orneriness. I smiled as I quickly realized that she was a feminist that I could talk to without a lot of filters. She has a dignified demeanor, but when you strike the right chord, her passion surges to the surface. By the end of the first night, Grant and I decided to invite her to co-present with us a few days later (alas, Dave, who evidently lives on the edge of the world, had to leave the conference on the morning of our workshop). She trusted us and gamely jumped in with both feet. 

I thought our session went very well, and that Mariam was an excellent match to our two different styles. She and Grant modeled everything our paper was about!

It was so energizing to be with several young people (Grant sort of included) who were so passionate, funny, and engaging. They reminded me of several good people we have in our office. Mostly, I appreciated the fact that these folks were out there in the world helping others in so many ways. There are times when I lament my tardy and inconsistent arrival at professionalism, but I am in no way jealous or envious of these young people who are so far ahead of me in their quests to make the world a better place - I am instead hopeful :)

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Exploring hush puppies, key lime pie, and other assorted cultural artifacts together.

*If you would like to have a copy of our paper and related handouts, please email me