In October the Center for Teaching Excellence at Bronx Community College hosted its annual CTE day. This was a full day of presentations by BCC faculty and staff under the title “Integrative Learning: Crossing Boundaries.” The ten talks drew approximately 150 audience members throughout the day. I found them stimulating and inspiring. Several presenters shared their experience in developing and running a team-taught course or a pair of thematically linked courses. I would like to give you my summary and responses to the talks I attended. If you attended or presented, I welcome you to share your views and anyone to respond to mine in the comments. Here is the full CTE day schedule with detailed abstracts which I encourage you to read.
- Impact of Learning Communities. Presented by Jawied Nawabi (Sociology), Grace Cukras (OCD), & Nelson Reynoso (OCD)
Students in a Learning Community cluster have all their classes together that semester. In the sociology class the students looked for sociological concepts in the memoir Kafir Boy by Mark Mathabane, the story of a Black boy growing up in Apartheid South Africa, and related them to their own lives. The lessons in this class were reenforced in the OCD course where students identified Mathabane’s and their own personal strengths, perhaps despite societal disadvantages. In the presenters’ experiences, the learning community structure gives students extra academic support as concepts are reiterated in several classes, specific time management coaching, and an opportunity to make a network of close friends on campus. The students seem to look after each other more than in standard classes. This was echoed by a student in their Learning Community who attended this presentation.
- Complicating Graduation Statistics! Presented by Ted Ingram (OCD), Monique Guishard (Psychology), & Melissa Coss Aquino (English)
This Learning Community was a cluster of an ENG 11 section, a PSY 11 section and an OCD section. They presented the students with BCC’s graduation statistics which are broken down by racial/cultural classifications and asked them to make a more nuanced reflection on the challenges students face en route to graduation. As above, this Learning Community shared content across these sections. There was a cumulative project designed by the faculty so that students would be able to synthesize the work they did for these classes. Throughout the semester, there were mandated office visits to keep students on track. This is to train them to see their faculty regularly even when not within a Learning Community.
- Hall of Fame for Great Americans Project. Presented by Kate Culkin (History) & Christina Sassi-Lehner (English)
Professors Culkin and Sassi-Lehner described how they designed a pair of linked English and History sections. Except for a few registration glitches, all the students involved were registered for both sections. Though they had some concern this project would suffer from low enrollment, these courses are required for so many students that these sections did fill up. Each student will receive a grade for each course, as in the Learning Communities. Though the history syllabus is rather rigid, they worked together over the summer to build reading lists for the courses so that they would be in synch chronologically and thematically. The Hall of Fame on BCC’s campus was referenced through out the course and provided a starting point for students to develop their own sense of what a Great American can be. Each student has a digital story project which they research, write, and film in which they can address the themes and concerns developed in both courses. They reported that some students who were finding these courses challenging were bolstered by they cross-over of material. These linked courses are distinguished from those in the Learning Communities as they are well above the remedial level.
- The Individual and Society: Integrating SOC 11 and ENG 11. Presented by Elizabeth Smith (English) & Gerard Weber (Sociology)
The students in these linked courses from Spring 2011 were in the ASAP programs at BCC. Professors Smith and Weber found the multi-perspective format of linked courses accentuated the themes they were presenting in their courses and that working with another faculty member was a good experience for them. Podcasts of Krista Tippet’s NPR show “On Being” were central sources for Professor Smith’s English section. As this project has already concluded, they could note that students were awarded approximately the same grades in the two courses.
- Best Practices for a Reading-Writing-OCD Learning Community: Tracing Our Steps through the Process of Integrating Themes & Standards. Presented by Francis DiSalvo (English), Monique Fortuné (OCD), & Georgene Osborne (Reading)
Overall, I was interested in gleaning the pedagogical techniques and structures that were used in these integrated experiences. I note that each of these projects had an overarching theme through which connections between courses could be made. All were able to approach the content more holistically as it was viewed from different perspectives. I was impressed that final projects for several courses were not exclusively research papers but incorporated media (e.g. making videos), another example of integration. Though these endeavours can be much more time consuming to develop than a stand-alone course, most faculty are interested in continuing to do some of their teaching in this integrative approach. I can see that with careful planning, the students can get a rich experience in these courses, in part because they are made more aware of their learning itself. As an audience member and junior faculty member I found this CTE Day a great opportunity to see the inovation of the faculty and the success they have had with their students. There are course development options I was unaware of (linked courses outside of the Learning Communities), there are several faculty willing to discuss even the particular administrative steps, and, crucially, these approaches really benefit students while stimulating the faculty. Dr. Harriet Shenkman and the Center for Teaching Excellence staff organized a very strong program. This was my first CTE day — I’ll be back!