Faculty Development Day Promotes Student and Faculty Success

Rifat Salam, Social Science and Human Services

“Start Here, Stay Here: Innovative Strategies to Promote Faculty and Student Success,” was the theme of this year’s annual Faculty Development Day. Over fifty faculty members and staff, both part- and full-time, attended the event, held on November 28, 2012. Presentations by a panel of BMCC faculty with over 75 years of teaching experience between them, and an interactive session focused on ways to share successes and learn new strategies. 

Faculty Development Day was organized by the Faculty Development Committee with the support of the Office of the President and the Office of Academic Affairs. The members of the Faculty Development Committee are: Rifat Salam, Social Sciences (Chair); Silvia Alvarez-Olarra, Catarina Mata, Science; Jacqueline Nichols, Nursing; Manita Pavel, Science; Lisa Hale Rose, Social Sciences; Sara Salm, Science; Erica Seidel, Counseling and Advisement (Secretary); Mike Vozick, Science.

The Dynamic Classroom

The theme “Start Here, Stay Here” reflected “the importance of student engagement in getting our students to finish their degrees, and the importance of learning teaching strategies to promote faculty success,” according to panel facilitator, Prof. Lisa Hale Rose, Social Sciences. Prof. Rose described the Faculty Development Committee’s vision for the event as being one that is engaging for all the participants, much like a dynamic classroom.

After introductory remarks on the college’s history and the theme of using our talents to help others by Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, Sadie Bragg and Dean of Academic Affairs, Michael Gillespie, the featured presenters described teaching techniques to promote student engagement. 

Prof. Rachel Theilheimer, Teacher Education, discussed the importance of prompting students to think from other people’s perspectives. She described a strategy she employs with her early childhood education students. The students read a scenario from William Ayer’s book, The Good Preschool Teacher, and then wrote from one role in the scenario, with students taking different roles. In their assignments, students described what they learned from the experience. Students reflected on having a new perspective. Some noted that people’s feelings matter and that each person can have a voice. Students also reported that they liked working with their classmates and that having the different perspectives made them learn more.

The Value of Collaboration

“What is the most valuable thing you learned in college?” Prof. Sandra Poster, Speech, Communication, and Theatre Arts, asked the audience this question. She guessed that for most people it wasn’t coursework but rather the relationships they formed. Her presentation focused on the importance of collaborative learning. According to Prof. Poster, the number one fear of Americans is public speaking. So it is not surprising that Speech 100, Public Speaking, has a low pass rate, with many students withdrawing before the semester ends. Her strategy for helping students overcome their anxieties is to have them work in groups.

“Our New York City students are really tough,” Prof. Poster observed. She added that because of their mistrustfulness, isolationist orientation and a reluctance to share, students don’t generally want to work with other students. However, by having students do team-based presentations, their anxiety is lessened. Prof. Poster assigned students to teams of five (she warns to never let students pick their own groups!), gave students instructions and time to meet. Groups competed for an extra two points toward their final grade. According to Prof. Poster, this number is not hugely significant but did create healthy competition among the students.

Prof. Poster described payoffs from using this technique. Students demonstrated better learning, generated good ideas, and worked to solve each other’s problems as well as participate in collaborative decision-making. This technique resulted in a higher retention rate. Students learned problem-solving, mastery of course content and valuable life skills.

Prof. Claire Wladis, Mathematics, also presented on a process of group-based learning. She asked students to write about their math skills. Classroom discussion focused on helping students understand why they solved the problems they were working on. The class was then divided into different groups with students having differing levels of math competency. Students took on two-three specific roles. These roles included: the prover, the problem-creator, and the problem-solver. Prof. Wladis noted that students need structure and explanation of the roles. She provided them with sheets explaining their roles.

According to Prof. Wladis, significant learning gains occurred when this technique was employed, with some of the biggest gains occurring with ESL students.

The Classroom as Text

In his presentation, Prof. James Tolan, English, observed that for over a decade, “success” has been a tag word at BMCC.  Prof. Tolan asked the audience to reconsider how we think of success—the “institutional success” of quantifiable numbers versus “our kind of success.” He went on to describe the importance of human connection and developing relationships with people throughout the college. By doing so, he is able to use those human connections to get personal help for his students, for example, in Counseling and Advisement, or the Office of the Registrar. He emphasized the need for instructors to help students negotiate the institution and says that when students ask us a question about the college to which we don’t know the answer, we can always say, “I don’t know, let’s find out.”

Prof. Tolan advised that in the classroom we treat prerequisites as a myth and find out where our students are. We may need to teach some of the prerequisites. He noted that pedagogy is process-based and we need to show students the process and goals. “We need to show students a model of what they need to learn,” according to Prof. Tolan. He explained that in his English classes he writes a model essay with his students, projecting the model essay on the overhead screen.

Prof. Tolan added that as faculty, “the classroom is our text.” He explained that he takes notes of intriguing comments by students in their writing so that in the midst of a class discussion he can recall what a specific student said about a text and use the student’s remark to facilitate further student participation.

Interactive Roundtable Discussion

After the presentations, the audience broke up into several roundtables. Each table had a facilitator who distributed questions designed to elicit discussion about successful pedagogical strategies that they have used in the classroom. Roundtable participants were then asked to discuss their findings with the panelists. There were many contributions, including the advice of Prof. Jan Stahl, English, to get to know the “personality” of a given class.

Several faculty from the Nursing department discussed their challenges in getting their students to learn the tremendous amount of course content they must master. Prof. Edna Asknes, Nursing, talked about her success in using homework to get her students to complete the complex reading required for her course.

Dean Michael Gillespie’s question about what to do with students and their cell phones resulted in a lively discussion. Prof. Poster noted that she has a “zero tolerance” policy on cell phones. Other instructors noted that students often use their cell phones to look up important information, or to read PDF versions of textbooks.

In his closing remarks, Dean Michael Gillespie noted the ways in which faculty can learn from each other in venues such as Faculty Development Day. The Faculty Development Committee Chair, Prof. Rifat Salam, encouraged the attendees to come to the committee’s spring event, the Joe Doctor Colloquium.