LeagueTLC Innovation Express
Exploring Issues, Innovations,
and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals
The Learning College Model
Acting Vice President/
and growing accountability measures make assessment, measurement,
and process improvement a critical piece of community colleges as
these institutions continue to emphasize service in the teaching
and learning environment. From the public wake-up call and 1983
publication of A Nation at Risk to today's current struggles with
the costs of technology training, high skill demands, and global
competition, program performance and instructional assessment underpin
funding and support for community college teaching and learning.
Innovative faculty and staff in community colleges are continually
creating and finding new ways to transform student learning and
faculty development. In light of new developments, most institutions,
by their very nature, maintain numerous barriers to true innovation.
Ready evidence of these barriers and obstacles includes registration
processes, the awarding of credit hours based on student seat time,
state funding and formulation of faculty workloads based on FTEs
and credit hours, traditional academic calendars, and centralized
budgets. Creative individuals often work around some of these obstacles,
but these workarounds are seldom, if ever, shared with others or
The Pathfinder Team at Sinclair Community College (SCC) was formed
in 1997 and charged with finding and creating new ways to remove
barriers to innovations and to improve student learning. The original
Pathfinder Team was appointed by the president and included six
designated and voluntary innovators. As a part of an institutionwide
reform NSF Grant, SCC leadership appointed this small cross-functional
group to address overt and covert barriers and support new ideas
and developments that impact learning. The Pathfinder role, as integrator/connector/enabler,
addresses systemic and holistic approaches to move beyond theoretical
and philosophical tenets toward actual implementation and integration
of new innovations.
Initial reform efforts targeted modularization of curriculum and
interdisciplinary teaching and learning in manufacturing engineering
technology. After successful development of this engineering curriculum,
additional funding was secured to support the expansion of this
curriculum methodology to other instructional areas. As the Pathfinders
worked with teams that oversaw the development of 15-20 modules
of multidisciplinary curriculum, they discovered existing approaches
and processes to impact institutional reform were daunting.
Through observation and analysis, Pathfinder efforts with institutionwide
reform evolved into the development of a Parallel College Model,
which has more recently been referred to as a Learning College Model.
The model was based in part on the learning college principles espoused
by the League for Innovation and was designed to provide opportunities
for community colleges to fulfill their commitment to learning-centered
O'Banion notes that the idea of the Learning College is "placing
learning first, in every policy, program, and practice in higher
education by overhauling the traditional architecture of education"
As part of the overall goal of SCC to become more learning centered,
implementation of the learning college principles and new roles
for the Pathfinder Team included review and evaluation of innovations
through a grant proposal process already in place at the college
(Strategic Learning Challenge Awards). Critical elements of proposals
for these awards include team contributions, interdisciplinary efforts,
and responses to two critical questions related to learning college
principles: Does the proposed innovation improve and enhance student
learning and success? How do we know it improves student learning
Using the Learning College Model, innovations are initiated, tested,
and recommended for collegewide "scale-up" or expansion beyond project-specific
parameters to other departments and even collegewide implementation.
Data and documented changes in student learning, faculty and staff
development, and policy and procedural innovations are systemically
collected and analyzed. Lessons learned are communicated to the
college leadership through a variety of approaches such as presentations,
student testimonials, and meetings with project team members.
How does the Learning College Model Work?
Assessment and measurement are integral parts of the Learning College
Model. Plans are made to test innovative ideas, to document the
lessons learned, and to use data to make informed decisions about
scale-up. As an interconnected cycle, the Learning College Model
includes eight steps with embedded strategies of analysis. (For
graphical reference see the SCC
Learning College Model.)
1) Propose Innovative Idea
2) Review of Proposal by Pathfinders and Project Team
3) Plan the Tests and Measures of Success
4) Conduct Tests
5) Document Test Results
6) Review Test Results
7) Recommend Scale Up
8) Operationalize for Collegewide Scale Up
Step 1: Propose Innovative Idea
Some innovative ideas, which can originate from faculty, staff,
students, or community, warrant further investigation and deeper
exploration of the merits and potential impact on student success.
These ideas may be submitted to the Pathfinder Team in the form
of the Learning College Qualification Tool (LCQT) available on the
SCC Intranet. The LCQT is a questionnaire that promotes thoughtful
reflection on the project idea and its relationship to the strategic
direction of the college. In the spirit of collaboration and
collegewide development, initiators submit proposals as teams. No
individual proposals are accepted and preference is given to those
teams with interdisciplinary representation. Key questions posed
by the qualification tool include a statement about the innovative
idea, rationale, relationship to SCC initiatives and programs that
target collegewide and community needs for 21st century workforce
skills, alignment with Learning College Principles, learning outcomes,
and Sinclair Core Indicators of Success.
In the preparation stages of the LCQT, initiating teams can access
a database of information about other projects proposed, under way,
and completed. Project submitters are then better able to determine
whether their project can be facilitated by the Learning College
Model. As well, the project initiators can identify ways to align
a proposal more closely with college requirements. In brief, the
quality of the proposals will be improved because of added reflection
time and use of other project descriptions available online.
Team members conduct a needs analysis which includes a consideration
of the financial impact (costs and returns) for the college. The
proposal will also include sections addressing the specific project
deliverables, needs, outcomes, time frame, budget, funding source,
efficiency/effectiveness predictions and potential barriers. Once
the proposing team has crafted its proposal, assuring congruence
with college requirements and verifying that development efforts
do not duplicate the work of others, the detailed proposal is submitted
to the Pathfinder Team.
Step 2: Review of Proposal by Pathfinders and Project Team
Once the LCQT is complete, the project team meets with members of
the Pathfinder Team. The integrator/connector/enabler roles
of the Pathfinder members are critical at this step in the model
to help with the connection and integration of the proposed idea
with existing and similar initiatives and to assure support for
pilot testing. Pathfinder members serve in a liaison capacity with
each of the project teams, helping to remove constraints which might
inhibit successful implementation.
Often the result of these discussions between potential project
teams and the Pathfinders is a more specific statement of project
purpose, clarification of the relationship of that purpose and the
planned results to student success, and at times, consolidation
of similar projects or the elimination of those which do not directly
relate to student success.
Step 3: Plan the Tests and Measures of Success
Based on the proposal and barriers identified, a test plan is developed.
If all members of the proposing team agree to fulfill the expectations
of the LCQT, Pathfinder members begin to problem solve and identify
barriers and traditional obstacles, allowing the project teams time
to research and develop their innovative ideas. Special attention
is paid to those items with direct relationship to integration issues.
Three core measurements are required for all projects:
· Student Perception Survey
· Team Perception Survey
· Financial Impact and Cost Analysis
In addition to these three core measures that allow for collegewide
analysis, teams are also encouraged to include project-specific
measures that are more focused on specific project issues.
Step 4: Conduct Tests
Depending upon the proposal requirements and barriers identified,
special support and privileges are provided to the project team
as they begin to implement their plans. The teams operate in an
open environment with lots of opportunities for others to learn
from their efforts. For instance, interested parties are allowed
to observe and/or help to document learning successes, areas for
improvement, and insights to benefit others.
Step 5: Document Test Results
Through a standardized process for documentation, the final results
of the test are reported. Final results include student learning
outcomes, methodology for overcoming barriers, and other predetermined
measures identified in the test plan.
Step 6: Review Test Results
A Pathfinder member works with a designated project team member
to connect and link specific test plan findings with other innovative
projects. Results are then catalogued to track evidence and the
number of episodes when similar barriers were identified and overcome.
During this step, validation of the needs analysis and financial
impact also occurs.
Step 7: Recommend Scale Up
Since 1998, the Pathfinders Team has overseen thirteen strategic
learning challenge projects developed via the Learning College Model.
The goal is to scale up the results of the project if evidence is
sufficient to warrant implementation beyond the pilot tests of specific
projects. This scale up occurs through the college planning and
budgeting process. The innovative results are submitted in the budget
process, compete for resources, and become integrated into the college
environment if approved. Included in the scale up recommendation
is not only evidence that the innovation would improve student success,
but also a consideration of the costs to the college to implement
such an innovation.
Step 8: Operationalize for Collegewide Scale Up
Once an innovative idea has entered the college planning and budgeting
process and received funding, the project is implemented in the
appropriate operational elements of the college.
Lessons Learned and Project Findings
A key finding of the Pathfinder Team is that it takes a significant
amount of time to collect data related to student success and analyze
that data in ways that may influence scale up decisions. It is probably
easier to show improvements in isolated cases or limited samples
of students, but the more difficult questions concern the generalization
beyond that particular project or that group of students. In addition,
some ideas may have significant merit but are simply too costly
to implement. All thirteen projects have been successful to the
degree that lessons have been learned, but none have reached the
point where collegewide scale up can be recommended. Examples of
lessons learned from team members who have participated in some
of the projects include:
by team members prior to project implementation were, in some
cases, different from barriers encountered during implementation.
This was an unexpected finding that has implications for refinement
of the qualification tool.
Students in the
innovative groups worked more frequently in teams/groups, discussed
what was being learned with the instructor more often, and assisted
other students who asked for help.
most satisfied with student learning experiences and gains,
innovative approaches to teaching, and collaboration within
Cost saving (economies
of scale) opportunities were realized through sharing labs,
equipment, and software as well as through distance learning
emerged to collect data that could be used to compute cost per
successful student for future projects.
In light of lessons
learned, the challenge for community colleges today is to capitalize
on innovative ideas to keep pace with the dramatic changes for students,
faculty, and communities. The Learning College Model at SCC attempts
to use sound assessment and measurement techniques to ensure innovative
ideas directly impact student success.
For additional information, please contact one of the Pathfinders