Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reading Across the Curriculum

Writing across the Curriculum, it seems, has been a part of our education system forever. In reality,  "WAC" didn't come about until the 1970s, when James Britton and others fostered "writing to learn," that is, the idea that writing about a topic helps students learn important content information.

Since then there's been a love/hate relationship between the education system and WAC. WAC has been retooled as WID (Writing in the Disciplines) and later WAD (Writing across the Disciplines). The three are not necessarily the same, but they are all founded on the same idea that writing doesn't belong just in English classes.

What about Reading across the Curriculum? RAC (or Reading across the Disciplines--RAD--which sounds a bit more hip), doesn't have nearly as prominent a place in higher education. A quick Google search brings up RAC initiatives mostly in elementary and high schools. When students enter college, if they come in at the college level, it's assumed that they "know" how to read.

There seems to me to be a bit of a paradox here. We acknowledge that students may need to learn to write differently for different disciplines. A report for a chemistry class will look different from an essay for a history class. The same thing is true for reading. Different texts change the way we read. We are looking for different things from a newspaper than from a novel. Even different novels are read differently. Engaging with the latest James Paterson novel will be a different experience from reading The Portrait of a Lady. We teach our students to write "like scientists," for example, and think "like scientists," but do we teach them how to read like scientists? I'm not so sure.

In "Reading Across the Curriculum as the Key to Student Success"(2007), Alice S. Horning makes an argument for more reading instruction at the college level. She states, "students are uneducated in ways [of reading] that derive from reading a wide variety of materials and seeing varied points of view, research, and information relating to ideas or issues." Some acknowledge that students "can't read," yet we repeatedly ask and expect them to read without further instruction on how to do so. As Horning points out, the unfortunate result is that students don't do the reading at all.

Reading instruction should not be consigned to "basic skills" departments. As with writing, students need continually to be taught new ways to read and to have them reinforced in their college-level classes.

 Horning, Alice S. (2007, May 14). Reading across the curriculum as the key to student success. Across the Disciplines, 4. Retrieved October 17, 2013, from

Friday, September 13, 2013

TYCA Northeast 48th Annual Conference

The TYCA Northeast Annual Conference has come to New Jersey and Hudson County Community College is one of the host colleges! We are very excited to have the opportunity to sponsor a major regional conference.

This year the conference will take place in historic Morristown, NJ at the Morristown Hyatt, on October 3-5. The conference theme is "R/evolutions: Addressing Pedagogical and Institutional Change in Higher Education." Conference sessions will discuss innovations in pedagogy and andragogy in the English classroom, whether it is composition, developmental writing, ESL, creative writing, or writing across the curriculum. Other topics include high school/college collaboration initiatives, moving from faculty to college administrator, the future of journalism, and the impact of legislation on developmental education.

HCCC is sending two of our own to present at the conference: AF English instructor Sean Egan will present Teaching Grammar as Though It Were an Interesting Subject (Because It Is) and Dean of Arts and Sciences Christopher Wahl will speak on a the Cengage Learning-sponsored breakfast panel "From Professor to Administrator."

In addition, Friday's keynote speaker is Gary Shteyngart, author of the novels The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Absurdistan and Super Sad True LoveStory, and frequent contributor to The New Yorker. Born in Russia, Shteyngart uses his experience as an immigrant to take a look at American culture from an outside perspective, with satirical and often hilarious results.

Our Saturday keynote speaker Richard Miller brings with him innovations in teaching and learning and is at the forefront of using technology as a way to engage students and stimulate critical thinking. Miller is the author of As if Learning Mattered: Reforming Higher Education and Writing at the End of the World. He is a professor at Rutgers University and is taking a leave from teaching English to teach in the Doctoral Program in Clinical Social Work this academic year.

Other conference highlights include two cocktail parties and a musical performance, sponsored by publishers Bedford/St. Martins and Pearson and breakfast sponsored by Cengage Learning.

For more information about the conference or to register, go to

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Summer Musings on Developmental Education

It's been a busy year, but with summer more than half over, it looks like we're finally settling back into a routine--one that should include regular blog posts.

Developmental Education has been a hot topic of late, nation-wide. Changes abound, whether it is the legislative phasing out of developmental ed. in Connecticut, required "flexibility" in Florida, or various acceleration plans, like those started in Baltimore and California. People are wondering if developmental education "works" (most think not) and what can be done about it.

Part of this intense scrutiny comes from the changes in the Pell grant regulations. With the new regulations, fewer students will qualify for Pell grants, and those who do will have a lower cap on the length of time they're available. As a result, it's more important than ever before to get students into their college-level classes quickly. If they're not careful, they could use up a large amount of their Pell money in developmental classes and not be able to complete their degree.

Many people, especially DE faculty, are cautious, however. They want to make sure that standards are upheld and that the students who go to college-level classes are actually ready for them. Otherwise, it's the same issue at a different level.

And then there's the Common Core.The Common Core is a set of state-wide standards for entry into college-level work. So far, they've been adopted by 45 states. The standards run across disciplines, but the buzz has been about changes in math and language arts. These standards have a major impact on developmental education, since, at least in Common Core states, DE classes will have to meet them as well.

In my own institution, all of these changes mean some major changes for us. We already offer students the possibility of exiting to college level from any of our 4 developmental English levels. We'll be working harder than ever before to increase the number of students who do so. This  may mean an increase in summer enrichment programs for students who complete the coursework but don't meet the exit requirements. It may mean increased support outside of the classroom. It may mean something else we haven't tried yet.

We're also working on adapting the CCBC Accelerated Learning Program to our own needs, with an eye toward piloting in Spring 2014. (The faculty are very excited about this program, as am I. Other schools who use it have shown incredible results.)

Finally, we need to make changes in our curriculum to reflect the Common Core Standards. This means refocusing some of our objectives, adding some outcomes, and possibly removing others.

We have our work cut out for us, but it promises to be an exciting year, one that will improve our teaching, our learning, and our students' experiences here.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Literacy Day

Hudson County Community College celebrated its 6th Annual Literacy Day on March 2, Dr. Seuss' birthday. 

Dovetailing with Read Across America Day, this event was a festival of reading and fun for children of Hudson County and their parents. Activities included games, arts and crafts, a reading theater, and refreshments. Over 125 children and their parents were in attendance, the largest turnout yet.

This year the event was held in HCCC's Culinary Conference Center, a change from years past. The Conference Center, aside from offering attractive facilities, provided ample space and the availability of light food for purchase. (Free healthy snacks and juice were available for the children.) According to Dean Christopher Wahl, "The renaissance of this event was conceived at the first Synergy Meeting chaired by Ana Chapman last summer.... [The event committee was] able to invite representatives from Enrollment Services and Noncredit to distribute material about college offerings." In addition, a representative from the Division of Youth and Family Service’s Adoptive Foster Care Program was present to distribute information about local fostering and adoption opportunities.

HCCC faculty and staff served as volunteers to facilitate the event. Especially instrumental were Prof. Kathryn Buckley, Prof. Sean Egan, Elizabeth Nesius, Prof. Timothy Peacock, and Prof. Brian Plunkett from Academic Foundations; Prof. Katie Sweeting and Prof. Julie Willis from Humanities; and George Heffelle, Director of the Conference Center. Prof. Sharon D'Agastino (Academic Foundations) chaired the planning committee and coordinated the entire event.

Over nine boxes of age-appropriate books were distributed to children who attended, as well as a "goody bag" containing crayons, colored pencils, Dr. Seuss bookmarks, erasers and activities pages. Books were also distributed by First Books, represented by Lorenzo Richardson. 

 The New Jersey Journal was present, taking photographs. You can view a slideshow of the images here

HCCC would like to thank all of the volunteers and participants who made this event such a success. We're already looking forward to next year!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

MOOCs in Developmental Education

Image from

For anyone who doesn't know, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course--education offered online, for free, to thousands and hundreds of thousands of students at a time.It's delivered the way most other online courses are: "A massive open online class is usually a series of video lectures with associated written materials and self-scoring tests, open to anyone" (Clay Shirky) People don't need to be enrolled in a school to take part in MOOCs, and some of the best schools in the country are offering them, including Yale and Stanford.

What about the possibility of MOOCs for Developmental Education? It's an appealing idea: provide free online courses to teach students the basic skills they need to advance to college level. It wouldn't cost them anything, and if they need to take more time or repeat lessons and even whole courses, it won't hurt their academic standing.

However, there is a downside. Because MOOCs are free and not for college credit, they require a great deal of motivation from their students, and they can be difficult courses with a lot of work involved. If a person finds herself overwhelmed with other things going on in her life, it can be very tempting to drop out of the class. Nothing would be lost except the time already put into the class. And as we know, at a community college, "life happens," frequently in a big way.

"Last year, Introduction to Artificial Intelligence, an online course from Stanford taught by Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun, attracted 160,000 potential students, of whom 23,000 completed it, a scale that dwarfs anything possible on a physical campus." (Shirky) The numbers sound impressive: 23,000 students completed the course. But they started with 160,000, making the completion rate 14.35%. And completing the course doesn't mean they passed it. For a required course, a completion that low would cause great alarm, and for good reason.

Another problem with MOOCs in Developmental Education is a lack of outside extra support. Because of their size, it's impossible to give students much individual attention, let alone offer them additional tutoring. The coursework in a MOOC relies a lot on students helping and critiquing each other. Peer review is a great pedagogical tool, but it can't be the only means of support for developmental students. They need, and they want, assistance from their professors and from tutorial centers. "...[T]he comprehensiveness of support services has long been linked to the success of developmental students.... A recent study by Scrivener and Weiss (2009) at two community colleges in Ohio reported that low income, first-generation students who participated in enhanced support programs were more likely to be retained than nonparticipants. This is not surprising given the diverse nature, needs, and learning styles of developmental students" (Boylan and Saxon 36). Providing diverse and well-coordinated support for thousands of students, on top of the thousands already enrolled at a given college, would certainly be difficult, if not impossible, for a community college.

Furthermore, with a MOOC one doesn't get a strong sense of community with or connection to the college offering the course. The students are fairly anonymous; they work with some of their classmates, but not all, and interaction with the actual professor is minimal. Connection with their college is a necessity for most college students, and in some cases it can give students the will to persist, even if they don't master the content right away. "Despite poor academic performance, many students persist because of their successful social integration and feelings of fit with their institution (Kennedy et al., 2000). Studies suggest that activities or programs that bring together students facilitate the development of social and learning communities and foster a shared consensus regarding institutional goals that promote persistence (Mangold et al., 2003)" (Lotkowski, Robbins, and Noeth 15).

Despite all of this, I'm not saying that MOOCs have nothing to offer Developmental Education. For students who place into a developmental level but simply need a "brush-up" on their skills, a MOOC could be an effective alternative. Offering in-house, online support that is peer-based is another idea Developmental Education can take from MOOCs. A system like that would be a great addition to developmental courses. In fact, simply making materials available online to anyone who needs them is a solid first step. More an more materials are already being offered online, and if students want to watch videos and do self-testing on topics that are covered in class, why not let them?

Lastly, the concept of "unbundling" education certainly has a place in Developmental Education. "The possibility MOOCs hold out is that the educational parts of education can be unbundled. MOOCs expand the audience for education to people ill-served or completely shut out from the current system, in the same way phonographs expanded the audience for symphonies to people who couldn’t get to a concert hall, and PCs expanded the users of computing power to people who didn’t work in big companies.Those earlier inventions systems started out markedly inferior to the high-cost alternative: records were scratchy, PCs were crashy. But first they got better, then they got better than that, and finally, they got so good, for so cheap, that they changed people’s sense of what was possible" (Shirky). As noted earlier, developmental students come from a variety of different scenarios with a variety of different needs. Classes cannot be one-size-fits-all. Offering lectures and materials online openly and for free allows a student's education to be more tailored to his or her own needs at minimal cost or extra work on the part of the college. Both students and colleges can then begin to re-envision their sense of what's possible for their futures.

Works Cited
Boylan, Hunter and D. Patrick Saxon. Attaining Excellence in Developmental Education: Research-Based Recommendations for Administrators. Boone, NC: DevEd Press, 2012. Print.

Lotkowski, Veronica A., Steven B. Robbins and Richard J. Noeth. The Role of Academic and Non-Academic Factors in Improving College Retention: ACT Policy Report. ACT. ACT, 2004. Web. 7 Feb. 2012. 2004.

Shirky, Clay. "Napster, Udacity, and the Academy." Clay Shirky, N.p., 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 7 Feb. 2013.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Welcome Back in 2013!

Welcome back to HCCC!

We had a nice break for about 4 weeks, and classes resumed on Jan. 28, 2013.

College Service Day, a day of professional development, was held on Thursday, Jan. 22. This event is dedicated to giving faculty and staff at the College a day to expand their educational horizons. There were some excellent workshops available, on topics such as copyright and fair use, multicultural classrooms, smartphones and more.

2012 was an exciting year in educational technology, and 2013 shows promise to continue the trend. Flipped classrooms, MOOCs, and an abundance of educational applications are all at the forefront of this development. For a review of some really interesting educational apps, check out TNW's review of "12 of the Best Educational Apps of 2012."

We are living in exciting and fast-moving times, and HCCC is ready to take advantage of the many valuable teaching aids that technology can provide.