In 2021, the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) co-published Faculty Development: Creating a Collaborative Culture in Community College. This seminal book posited the critical challenges and opportunities facing faculty in community colleges today.
With open, affordable access to education cited as the mainstay of community colleges, the book argues that whilst steady progress has been made here, several key challenges remain.
Completion rates for students who attend community colleges remain a key challenge and a critical piece of how well community colleges are preparing their students for their futures.
And as teaching is core to the community college mission, many colleges have been forced to consider the quality of teaching at community colleges as a critical component of teaching and learning.
Teachers at community colleges are judged on the strength of their ability to help students learn and to engage students with varied backgrounds, ethnicities and aspirations but though they tend to be experts in their own subject matter, they often have less knowledge of the theory and practice of successful teaching models and techniques known as pedagogy.
Faculty Development, the ongoing professional learning of faculty members, has become more widespread in the past two decades across all types of community college campuses. The use of SoTL and FLCs in higher education — especially at the community college level, is a relatively new but growing area and faculty learning communities are emerging at colleges and universities all over the world. The aim here is to foster high quality teaching for all students.
Central to Faculty Development; Creating a Collaborative Culture in Community College is the role of collaboration in faculty development. It cites a report written by the AACC in 2014, which concludes that for community colleges to continue to fulfill their mission of providing affordable, accessible education in the face of rapid cultural and economic changes taking place in society, collaboration at entirely new levels among internal and external entities will be essential. Put simply, to serve their students effectively, community college faculty will benefit from increased collaboration across, among and within disciplines.
Faculty developers in the US have been tasked with creating programs for faculty that span the disciplines, urging them to inquire into their practice and thereby improve student learning by improved teaching. But whilst most community colleges recognise the challenges that exist, many would argue that finding the right kind of support to assist faculty in their continual development as teachers is complex.
Another book; Honored but Invisible; An Inside Look at Teaching in Community Colleges by Grubb and Associates argues that community colleges follow a variety of practices because they lack institutional support and that in the last 15 years the emphasis has been on managerialism and efficiency.
Dr. Tom Striplin, president of Eastern West Virginia College who recently embraced the HOW2 instructional coaching platform as an organization-wide solution for improving pedagogy and teaching and learning argues that full-time faculty spend most of their time teaching and the majority of faculty are part-time and that this leaves very little time to pursue scholarship. He said:
“One of the biggest problems faculty developers, deans and presidents face, is that faculty in community colleges have a huge workload that includes not only teaching, but taking part in committees, accreditations, student management systems and other extracurricular activities. But pedagogy is needed. Faculty should be constantly working on their craft. We need solutions that address pedagogy and teaching and learning without adding to the already heavy workloads of faculty.”
He adds; “Many colleges have limited resources for faculty to access and lack the institutional support to provide faculty with CPD. What I like about the HOW2 app is that it is embedding an entire system of pedagogical learning and professional development for all faculty. I am not familiar if there is another pedagogical system that is trying to support faculty on this worldwide scale. It’s systemic and spans subject areas, faculty departments and organizations, even other countries. It’s cross platform.”
Commenting on the role of collaboration as an essential component of faculty development he says; “Historically here in the US, faculty has worked in silos to some degree. Even within subject departments, in some institutions, there’s limited sharing of instructional techniques. There has traditionally been limited dialogue between faculty in terms of teaching, learning and assessment. But that is changing.”
He goes on to say; “Having a systemically embedded platform like the HOW2s means that faculty are sharing and talking about learning and teaching — there’s probably nothing more important than that. Get them out of their silos, out of their own techniques. Whether you’re teaching English or Math or History or a career program, there could be a technique that someone is using that could be applied across all three of these subjects. The HOW2 platform facilitates that.”
Striplin goes on to explain that the Higher Education Accreditation process in the US is forcing further change, in no small part due to negative feedback about the quality of graduates and the quality of teaching within community colleges. The accreditation process typically involves asking faculty about the conversations they are having with other faculty about teaching and learning. It’s also asking to see evidence of how faculty is approaching teaching and learning. He said:
“When an accreditation team comes, they typically examine the quality of teaching and learning and a system like the HOW2s demonstrates the value the institution places on teaching and learning that ultimately helps lead to student success. Having the How2’s system as part of embedded faculty development strengthens the overall system of quality teaching and learning in higher education.”
Established in 2011, the HOW2 Instructional Coaching Platform was designed to deliver an alternative, innovative and whole organization approach to providing pedagogical support. Offering 24⁄7 access to over 160 step-by-step visual guides to evidence-based teaching techniques, it also provides a range of social learning tools to promote and facilitate shared, community-driven learning. HOW2 CEO Ian Harris said:
“The faculty developers that we partner with have recognized the close relationship that exists between pedagogy and improved student outcomes and the need for a coherent, organization-wide approach to faculty development. They are actively seeking a solution that can guarantee parity of access and support, regardless of whether staff are full or part-time, working close by or remotely.”
He added: “We aim to deliver on this approach in a cost-effective, sustainable way that teachers find practical, enjoyable and even refreshing.”
The HOW2 instructional coaching platform provides 24⁄7 access to step-by-step visual guides to evidence-based teaching techniques. The precise, easy-to-navigate nature of the HOW2 guides makes learning and adapting the techniques quick and easy, whether it’s for the classroom, lab or workspace.
Designed to improve learning through better teaching, the HOW2 app supports distributed learning environments and encourages peer-to-peer learning opportunities. Subscribers are given access to a private space to learn on their own but can also access a range of social learning tools that promote and facilitate shared, community-driven learning.
Leveraging the skills and expertise typically delivered by an instructional coach, the How2 coaching app gives faculty developers the tools and pedagogical resources they need to support teachers in meeting the ever-changing demands of teaching and student learning. Headquartered in the UK, the HOW2 app is used by Further Education and Higher Education colleges, schools, independent training providers and public organizations.
Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College is an institution of higher learning accredited through the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Nestled in the mountains of the Potomac Highlands, Eastern has been serving the educational needs of our communities throughout Grant, Hampshire, Hardy, Mineral, Pendleton, and Tucker counties for over 20 years. To learn more, visit www.easternwv.edu.