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Six Things We Heard at Innovations


Your National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) recently attended the League of Innovations’ annual conference in New York City.  CTC staff delivered three breakout presentations covering:

* key strategies of its Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) model that helps align curriculum to workforce needs.

* an ambitious new NSF grant that updates IT skill standards nationwide with the input from a wide network of IT thought leaders and employers

* essential practices and qualities of communities of practice, using the CTC’s Convergence College Network (CCN) as a model.

As always, aside from those presentations, the CTC attended breakout sessions and keynote addresses.   Below are a few of the more interesting practices and lessons we heard.

Pro-active, engaged advising can lead to faculty “ownership” of student success.  One small community college completely transformed their faculty advising approach.  Originally, the school used a time-based system that merely asked faculty to be available for 12 hours a semester for advising, but did so without a making students meet an advisor. There was no formal advising process; faculty did their 12 hours of advising however they wished.  As a result, students didn’t take the right classes or took too many classes or simply dropped out of the school and never returned.

Today, this community college employs a student-focused system that assigns a cohort of students to each faculty member, requires four contacts per semester, and blocks registration for students until they meet their advisor.  Following students throughout the entire program creates a sense of ownership in faculty and has boosted retention rates and early registration turnout.  This effort has been supported by an in-house marketing campaign of campus posters, mailers, and web banners.  While there was resistance from staff and faculty, those complaints have faded as the success has become apparent.

Empire State

Weekly newsletters to stakeholders requires consistency.  A president new to a community college who needed to quickly develop rapport with 1200 faculty and staff decided to launch a weekly (every Friday afternoon) newsletter with regular features and a clear purpose of showcasing campus events, student success, faculty impact, and organizational policy or trends.  They experimented with services like MailChimp but ultimately decided to keep it simple and send the newsletter via a bcc email with a simple banner masthead and short blurbs with links to other resources; the biggest drawback is that, for now, the email approach doesn’t provide many metrics on readership.

To maximize classroom engagement, understand what the brain needs and how it works.  Author David Sousa notes that educators are not neuroscientists, but they’re expected to change the human brain every day.  For one, neurons require water, oxygen, and glucose. Students should drink water, eat a granola bar, or practice three minutes of deep-breathing meditator prior to tests.  Two, movement is essential.  After 20 minutes, blood pools in the lower extremities but just one minute of movement increased blood flow to the brain by 15%.  Three, if you’re trying to move knowledge from short-term to long-term memory, two questions are important.  “Does this make sense?”  “Does this have meaning?”  If a student can recall something 24 hours after learning it, then it’s been successfully moved to long-term memory.  And four, learning activities can help break up the monotony of lectures.  Indeed, working memory can only work for 10-20 minutes, after which the environment needs to be energized with something different. One novel group activity is called The Jigsaw Method.

Jobs that don’t require oral or written communication no longer exist(i.e. file clerks) or are quickly being replaced by automated systems.  Put another way, 80% of employers believe that soft skills are more important than hard skills and 40% of employers report entry-level vacancies because of gaps in skills like teamwork and problem solving.  This is a theme we hear over and over from business and industry. You can teach technical skills much more easily than work ethic.

“Writing is thinking with ink.”  We like this quote.  This is why engaging with the text through outlining or note-taking works so well in learning.  Another approach is to write a single summary sentence for each paragraph of text to clarify confusing points.

“Innovation-Based Learning” extends traditional classroom group projectsthroughout an entire two-year program.  Whereas “project-based learning” is driven by faculty, “innovation-based learning” is driven by student interests.  Students select an area of personal interest – typically in answer to the question “if you had the money, what business would you create?” – that is then supported across disciplines and courses.  For example, English helps them write about their project, math helps develop budgets, civics helps identify applicable regulations and laws.  This creates engagement in the students and eliminates the frequent “why do I need to know this?” complaint.  Student project development is accompanied by a portfolio element, which by the end gives them a viable business plan.  The ongoing collaborations and critical thinking also strengthens soft skills.

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