Category Archives: Bring Your Own Devices

How We Can Help Community College Students Graduate

What do Tom Hanks, Chris Rock, Walt Disney, James Dean, George Lucas, Teri Hatcher, Eddie Murphy, and Halle Berry have in common?

They all attended community college but never finished.

The same thing is true for 66 to 80 percent of students who enroll. But clearly, they don’t all end up with careers in the movies. This week’s NY EdTech’s “Community College Spotlight: Edtech at 2-Year Schools” illuminated the challenges for those who attend and operate these schools and presented some potential ways technology can be part of the solution to these huge dropout rates.

Panelists Making a Difference in Community College Today

The panelists represented a broad range of expertise:

Alexandra Meis, Co-founder and Chief Product Officer, Kinvolved

Kinvolved has developed an app to improve PK-12 attendance that records, shares, and analyzes data among families, schools and after-school programs. The company is extending its reach into the college market, and is a Finalist for the Robin Hood Foundation $5M College Success Prize, which recognizes the most promising technology interventions to help community college students continue their studies and attain their associate degree. Alex was recently named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Education and is a 2012 Education Pioneers Fellow.

Gina Sipley, Instructor, Nassau Community College, SUNY

Gina is a tenure track Instructor of Reading and Basic Education at Nassau CC and a PhD student studying Digital Literacies and Gaming at Hofstra University. She writes about EdTech for Al Jazeera America, EdSurge, Mic and is a nationally recognized Teacher of the Future.

Professor David Finegold, Chief Academic Officer, American Honors

David is the founding Chief Academic Officer for American Honors, an organization that expands opportunities and lowers the costs for talented students to obtain a high quality undergraduate education by building honors colleges at leading community colleges, combined with 2 + 2 pathways to the leading public and private US universities.

Melinda Mechur Karp – Assistant Director, Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University

Melinda is a leading expert on smoothing students’ transition into college and supporting them once there. Over the past 15 years at the Community College Research Center, she has led studies examining advising, counseling, and support services; college 101 courses; and dual enrollment programs.

Starting with Basic Truths about Community Colleges

The panelists agreed that, compared with private four-year schools, community colleges are asked to do more for their students with fewer resources. There appeared to be consensus that the $60 billion President Obama wants to spend on tuition relief for community colleges could be better spent on helping students to graduate instead. The main areas highlighted for improvement include:

  • Improving systems and processes to run the schools more efficiently and effectively (registration processes, administrative loads, etc.).
  • Investing in means of helping people graduate, providing them with the tools and resources to navigate (Better designed online resources, improved mobile access, more effective counseling services, etc.)

Who is Today’s Community College Student?

While community college students have typically been older than the students attending four-year schools, we are seeing younger students enrolling these days, with the average age of 27 years old.

Community college students typically:

  • Need to get caught up academically before immersing in a complete academic program.
  • Lack the “social capital” to navigate the college experience. Most are first generation college students and so have little or no resources at home to help enculturate them to the college experience. They have no guidance as to how to navigate course selection, scheduling challenges, etc. like students whose parents have already lived the experience.
  • Work part- or full-time and thus have less time to focus on their studies.
  • Have families and thus require more flexible scheduling or childcare or both.
  • Don’t form cohorts like most students in four-year colleges do.
  • Confront a major information barrier when it comes to policies, processes and procedures.

How Can We Help?

Suggestions for improvement were filtered throughout the evening’s conversation. As a means of shedding further light on what is needed, NY EdTech co-organizer Michelle Devan asked the panelists what they would say if they could speak to President Obama or Governor Cuomo about community colleges. Their responses included:

  • More consistent and reliable broadband.
  • Donors Choose for higher ed. (Like the popular online platform that enables K-12 teachers to ask for donations for specific projects or resources from anywhere in the country, not just from within the school). I need to credit Gina Sipley with bringing this up. It’s an interesting concept, folks!
  • More dual enrollment opportunities.
  • Doing more to prepare students for the college experience before they get there.
  • Putting systems in place for relationship building amongst students.

In terms of EdTech, the panelists had some suggestions for people who want to get involved:

  • Need to focus on process: Design, Develop, and Re-design.
  • Know your audience; for example, provide ways of communicating that get students where they are at. Depending on the age of the student, they may not use traditional email or Facebook. Texting is often a more efficient means of communication. Some systems allow for this already, for example, letting students select which mode of communication they prefer. It’s just one example of making sure you are designing for the target audience.
  • Design with empathy: How can you make these students’ lives just a little easier? The stories shared about people who strive to complete community college reveal tremendous financial and emotional challenges. One story shared told of a student who was raising his siblings after their parents left them. A fellow audience member told me his mother never completed community college because of the language barrier.
  • Consider using students as resources in developing tools and thereby provide them with meaningful work. For example, hire entry level programmers, host local hackathons, use students as beta testers, etc.
  • Get people to the table to discuss necessary change. Include students and administration to ensure all voices are heard.

Building Community for Community College Students

One of the main issues that came up throughout the evening was the isolation that many community college students feel either due to scheduling realities, the information barrier they confront, or the lack of meaningful advisement. The picture that was painted for us in the audience was of a student wandering campus trying to find his advisor and unable to do so.

It would be great to find a way to bring people whose lives are so challenging and so diverse together so that they could better succeed despite those challenges.

Got an app for that?

Thanks again to NY EdTech Meetup co-organizers, Kathy Benemann and Michelle Dervan for arranging such an informative evening. And thanks to the panel, for the work they do and for sharing it with NY EdTech. Explore the links in the article to learn more about what these people and their organizations are doing to help improve community college today. The ongoing research at the Community College Research Center, the programs offered by American Honors, the dedicated teaching by people like Gina Shipley and others, and the meaningful application of technology in this market by Kinvolved are impressive and are efforts many of us can contribute to in order to help drive progress in this sector.

Have some thoughts of your own on the issue? Share them here!

Sheri Handel’s passion for teaching, learning, and technology continues to evolve from a career as a college instructor to a designer and manager of online and classroom learning experiences for corporate, higher education clients, and K-12 learners. To talk about learning strategy and to partner on learning design for social impact in education, visit us at Designs2Learn.

Dear NYC School Principals: Let Cell Phones Be Used for Learning

Last week, we learned that the New York City Department of Education will be lifting its long-time ban on cell phones in the schools. Kudos to the teams of educators who worked to make this happen!

Much of the reporting on the lifting of the cell phone ban has focused on Mayor de Blasio’s comments on the issue, mainly around fairness and parental access. Many people criticized the ban as unfairly implemented and particularly harsh on students from low-income communities. In these areas, because of metal detectors in use, students needed to store phones outside of school, often paying $1 a day to businesses that cropped up to meet that need. In terms of access, the mayor was not alone in feeling that parents should be able to stay in touch with their kids throughout the day. It’s significant that removing the ban can address the issues of inequity and lack of access. The way the regulations are written, though, it’s up to the principals (with the attendant teacher and parent input) to determine how cell phones are handled once they are officially allowed in the buildings.

From a learning design perspective, the main issue is whether or not lifting the ban will increase opportunities for mobile and personalized learning in the schools. Now that cell phones have made it into the buildings, will they make it out of the lockers and into the classrooms? How will they be used once they get there?

The importance of cellphones as part of the whole BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) movement correlates to many of the issues we’ve discussed before:

  1. Meeting our children where they live. Our children live in a digital world. While much of their interaction can be considered social, much of that can also be part of the learning process. We need to harness the facility that our kids have developed in communicating with one another and apply that to the learning process. Many of them do this already themselves, and have added their phones to their learning toolbox in ways that can now be incorporated into classroom best practices.
  2. Connecting the world of learning outside the classroom to work inside the classroom. We’ve talked in this space before about going out into the community to learn. With cell phones, students can capture interviews, take pictures, do fact-checking and additional research, and compile data for projects that can continue inside the classroom with the support of their teachers. Then there’s also the ability to expand the students’ network and engage on projects with students in other schools, other neighborhoods. Each student on his/her own device can make such activities more engaging.
  3. Personalizing instruction. Using cellphones inside the classroom, teachers and students can work together to ensure that everyone in the classroom is getting the most out of each day’s material. Whether accessing an existing blended learning program, or doing further research on a classroom topic, students’ access to a cellphone can provide that extra boost that makes learning all the more meaningful on an individual level.
  4. Improved digital citizenship. By officially sanctioning the use of mobile devices in the classroom, teachers can now participate more actively in the modeling and monitoring of our growing digital citizenry. Supporting the safe and appropriate behaviors while the devices are in hand makes much more sense than speaking in the abstract.
  5. Preparation for the workplace. Most jobs today require knowledge of and ability to use online resources effectively. The more we incorporate these tools into the school environment, the better equipped our kids will be to use them effectively on the job.

Perhaps one of the greatest outcomes of this move by the New York City Board of Education is one that we can’t even predict right now. In one of my favorite essays on technology and innovation, Stephen Shapin wrote “ . . . users can acquire knowledge that would never have occurred to the innovators.” Today’s students will find uses for the cellphone as part of the learning process that none of us has thought of just yet. That’s why I think it’s so important to make sure that now that cellphones will be allowed into the schools, they get to stay out of the lockers and in the hands of our learners. New York City has an opportunity to lead the BYOD movement. Let’s do it, folks!

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on how we can partner with you for more impactful learning design. Click here to participate in our Educational State of the State Survey, now open until the end of January.