WCC Plan Enhances Student Success, Completion with I-CAN
Dothan, Ala.–A new approach to instruction at Wallace Community College is changing the culture of learning for students. Called I-CAN, which stands for Improvement, Constant And Never-ending, the initiative targets change at the classroom level by combining engagement activities with relevant instruction and supportive relationships.
The approach has already increased student learning, with success rates increasing 22.7 percent from Fall 2011 to Fall 2013 in the top ten enrollment courses in the general academic division. These courses have an enrollment of over 11,000 students each year. Student success is measured by the number of students earning a “C” or better in a course. As the I-CAN initiative evolves, administrators expect student success rates to continue to increase.
“This is the most exciting instructional initiative I have been a part of at Wallace Community College,” said Dr. Linda Young, president. “As educators, constant and never-ending improvement challenges us to really think about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it, which in turn, challenges and inspires our students to succeed.” Young added, “After all, the success of our students is what we strive for each and every day–it’s our mission and it’s our passion.”
The initiative began in the science courses in 2007 when a College study revealed an unacceptable withdrawal rate for biological sciences as well as a lower than desired attendance rate. The division responded by adopting a set of departmental standards and adding instructor-made videos to reinforce classroom instruction. The first year of implementation saw a 39% increase in attendance and a 360% increase in students prepared for class. Student success rates increased 47%, while withdrawal rates were cut in half.
With success in the science division, the initiative expanded campus-wide in 2012. That expansion included several new strategies, including faculty preparation. “The amount of professional development activities directed toward innovative classroom strategies has increased 10-fold over the past two years,” said Leslie Reeder, associate dean of general academics.
Another change in instruction limited lectures to no more than 20 minutes before implementing an engagement activity such as a short quiz, an in-class writing assignment, group discussion, or team activity. Classes are using more writing assignments as part of their curriculum, and lectures for classes are provided online 24/7. This leaves instructors and students more time for interactive learning. In addition, instructors applied early intervention for at-risk students. Since the initiative began, faculty have used instructional technology to gather a collection of more than 6500 instructor-made lecture videos. This allows a rich source for online tutorials, pre-class preparations, and availability of more class time for high-impact engagement activities.
The release of the American Association of Community Colleges “Reclaiming the American Dream” report from the 21st Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges supports the initiative’s plan. The report addresses an urgent need for community colleges to provide a ‘dramatic redesign’ in their approaches to improving student learning while focusing professional development efforts relentlessly on student successes.
Although national community college leaders, such as Dr. Terry O’Banion, president of the League for Innovation in the Community College, say the goal of increasing the number of community college graduates 50% by 2020 will not be met due to the lack of faculty buy-in, this is not an issue at Wallace Community College. The I-CAN initiative directly addresses college completion rates.
Janet Bradley’s Biology 104 class is a hybrid course that uses online lectures with in-class activities. “The purpose of hybrid courses is to allow students the freedom to attend class lectures when it is most convenient for their schedule,” said Bradley. This allows more class time for hand-on activities/labs, cooperative activities, guided research and classroom discussions. By flipping the classroom, students and instructors feel more in control of their learning experience.
Todd Tolar, biology instructor at Wallace Community College and also recently voted Instructor of the Year by students, says the shift drastically changed the way he taught and the way his students learned. “The I-CAN initiative has led me to monitor and assess each of my classes on a daily basis with new and innovative assignments and discussions,” Tolar said. “The I-CAN data has shown that a true difference is being made in classrooms across campus. It is impacting our students' lives in a major way just by making the class more engaging and relevant than in the past.”
Tolar began implementing a new classroom strategy of giving quick checks during each class meeting since the initiative began. Tolar saw his overall student success rate in his general biology course increase 5 percent by adding that one classroom strategy.
Students have noticed an immediate change as well. Taryn Adams, a sophomore at WCC, says she noticed how her history course was impacted. Instead of sitting in a lecture for more than an hour, Adams said her history instructor, Darron Darby, stops after discussing a particular historical event and asks the class to analyze the points he made through a writing assignment. “It really helped me put an event in perspective, and how it applies to my life,” Adams added.
Claudia Bryan, music instructor at Wallace, said the initiative required her to look at these statistics to evaluate her teaching style. “As I began to search for changes that I could make to increase my effectiveness, I realized that many of the changes were minor,” Bryan added.
Yet, through these small changes, Bryan saw attendance increase as well as the number of students actually completing her courses. Bryan added that “by viewing myself as a partner with my students,” students came to class prepared and ready to learn. The impact in Bryan’s music courses have been overwhelming positive and she adds the changes are evident campus wide.
While the state community college enrollment decreased this past year, Wallace Community College experienced an increase, due to its 16% increase in Fall to Fall retention rates. Nationally, about 25% of students enrolling for fall term do not return for the following spring term, while almost another 25% do not return for the next fall term. Another area that the College is seeing an increase is in dual enrollment where high school students take college-level courses, giving them a head start on college and careers. Academic and career-technical courses are offered under dual enrollment.
The need to stress completion for the community college student is at the core of the initiative. “The I-CAN initiative’s goal is to build upon early student successes to help generate the confidence needed for students to persist to completion (graduation),” said Tony Holland, dean of instructional affairs at Wallace Community College. “The surge in dual enrollment opportunities, especially in career technical courses, as well as the continued demand for health care workers, is expected to help fuel the future growth of Wallace Community College.”
Additional information about the American Association of Community Colleges “Reclaiming the American Dream” report and the 21st-Century Initiative is online at www.aacc.nche.edu.