Tuesday, January 12, 2016


The Forgotten Fields

I was heartened to see that the MLA spent some time discussing the realities of teaching English at community colleges.  The discussion sounds like it was a good and honest first-level attempt to deal with some basic realities.  I know that math, as a discipline, does much the same thing; AMATYC exists precisely to give community college math faculty a venue in which their concerns get center stage.

But what about the faculty in smaller departments?

This one’s close to my heart, as a lapsed political scientist.  The poli sci department at Brookdale is two people.  At Holyoke, it was one, and he also taught history.  English and Math are both well into double digits; even if they don’t go to conferences, people at least have colleagues facing the same issues they’re facing.  But in poli sci, or history, or sociology, or many other fields, there just isn’t the critical mass of faculty on campus to form really good discussion groups.  Travel funding being what it is, relatively few community college faculty routinely attend, say, APSA or the AHA.  And if they do, I’d be surprised to discover that there was much there for them.  

(To be fair, APSA did have an “Undergraduate Education” section for a while.  It still may.  But I don’t recall any poli sci equivalent of CCCC or AMATYC.)  

When I arrived at CCM in 2003, the poli sci department was one person, and he was hired during the Nixon administration.  Any professional development was entirely up to him.  He was smart and capable, but entirely without colleagues.  (I counted it a personal victory when I was able to double the size of the department by hiring someone.)

That’s not unusual.

English, Math, and ESL do good jobs, as disciplines, in giving community college faculty attention and venues in which to discuss issues of common concern.  But they’re the exceptions, largely because they deal with uniquely vulnerable populations -- either students with developmental needs or students whose first language isn’t English -- and because they have critical mass.  Faculty in many other disciplines are relatively ignored.

Until fairly recently, there may not have been a practical way around that, given the realities of travel costs, teaching schedules, and low numbers.  But in the age of the interwebs, it seems like there should be options.  I’m not generally a fan of webinars, but I could see, say, a set of simultaneous regional conferences simulcasting to each other.  What are the best ways to teach Intro to Psych to community college students who don’t intend to be Psych majors?  What are the most effective ways to teach Intro to American Government to students who will never be poli sci majors, and whose academic preparation -- reading comprehension and historical background -- are uneven?  

Those conversations around Intro to Composition or Basic Algebra are happening nationally, and they should.  But students take more than English and math, and many of the same issues around reading, writing, and quantitative literacy show up in those other areas.  

Wise and worldly readers, are there green shoots in the forgotten fields?  Are there places that folks who populate departments-of-one can go that will acknowledge the institutional realities they face?  

Sounds like a virtual conference would work for these folks. No travel required! Also, though this is very 1990, a listserv for faculty in my discipline is very useful for the singletons among us - we share a lot on-line.
APSA at least has the annual Conference on Teaching and Learning, which usually has quite a strong contingent of two-year college faculty; the undergraduate education and political science education tracks also have substantial presence at the annual meeting. There's also regional and state conferences for those with less funding.
Green shoots? I like to watch ... TV.

A similar situation exists in physics. Although I am not the only full-time physics professor at my college, smaller colleges are sometimes lucky to have one, or even half of one. (Typical examples are math and physics or chemistry and physics, like your history and political science example.) However, even though we do talk a lot about new teaching approaches at my college, we don't just talk among ourselves because, to borrow your phrase, "many of the same issues" we face show up in chemistry classes and upper-level math classes. We learn a lot from each other and sometimes find a way to reinforce what the others are doing.

One thing that seems different between physics and the fields you mention is that the national meetings about education in physics are mostly about undergrad education, and the undergrad focus is on courses taught at both universities and community colleges. From what I gather from what I read in IHE and in blog world, what happens with the AAPT (meetings and a journal) and the APS education committee is more like the AMATYC than the MLA even though it addresses physics majors as well as the pipeline they have to get through. Is this because the tenured faculty at the MLA are not as involved in teaching intro classes as you see in physics departments? It might help, in our case, that the AAPT has had a journal devoted to undergrad teaching going back to Sputnik days.
Psychology is sort of in the middle. For years the APA had a division for CC teachers (PT@CC - psychology teachers at community colleges). Unfortunately, they merged us in with other instructors who primarily teach. So some of the message of what we need is being watered down. I'm sick of discussions about learning outcomes for the major that basically include things I don't teach at a two-year school. My main problem is that their professional development basically consists of talks and posters at the main APA convention. Many of us cannot afford to go that. It's also so heavily biased toward therapists and clinical psychologists that one feels like an outsider if they are trained in a different field of psychology. A couple of years ago NJ had faculty of the biggest ten classes meet once a semester to talk about new learning outcomes, and obviously PS 101 was part of that. We were all thrilled to talk to each other. I really wish there was more of that.
Physics has also put a lot of effort into looking at physics education analytically, rather than chasing trends in teaching.
Ionna: Super Bowl party? An UN-Super Party the week before when the bars are empty for the Pro Bowl?

NJ isn't so big that you couldn't commandeer a bar or three within a reasonable driving distance of groups of colleges, and maybe one that also serves decent food.
As a teacher of biology at both the HS and CC levels, I find that NABT does a good job with PD that focuses on both those areas. I also find that most of the NABT resources geared towards AP Biology are equally applicable to CC BIO courses.
I'm with Ionna - Why do conferences have to be expensive and organized by a fancy organization? What about the 100-mile conference?

NACADA (the advisors association) has regional conferences, not always drivable but on a rotation such that one in three is.

In my own practice one of the most successful events I have helped with was when we extended invites to local high school teachers to chat with the faculty in their discipline. As organizer, I mostly sent out invites, collected registrations, booked rooms, figured out lunch and then got out of the way. The format was rather informal, but all who participated left feeling it was among the best PD they'd been to in a while. The same could be done between the local flagship and CCs.

Also in BC, the provincial government has an agency to manage articulations. This agency hosts an annual meeting of each discipline. For the CC folks, they get to chat with each other and build local networks while they sort out the challenges in the articulation system. This one costs money, but mostly in travel because the province is so vast. Each college takes a turn to host and buy lunch. While mandated by government to hold the meetings, the meetings themselves are organized and led by a rotating chair from a college.
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