Initiatives

Roane State’s Quality Enhancement Plan:  Students Achieving Improved Learning Strategies (SAILS) contains four initiatives.  With the overarching goal being to improve student learning, these initiatives form the basic structure to achieve the goal.  The four initiatives, along with some background information, follow.

Initiative One
Establish a professional development program for faculty that provides training in the areas of general learning strategies, discipline specific learning strategies, and multiple teaching/learning styles related to three core learning concepts:  read to understand, listen actively, and organize for effectiveness.

Successfully implementing the initiatives of Roane State’s SAILS project necessitates a professional development program.  While Roane State is blessed with excellent faculty, as with any profession, continuing education is a vital component of maintaining quality.  Professional development activities have traditionally comprised divergent attempts to identify speakers and facilitators for workshops that cover a broad array of topics.  The unifying SAILS concept presents an opportunity to structure professional development resources around the common goal of improving students’ learning through implementation and assessment of active learning strategies.  Expert speakers can be recruited, and the rich talents of Roane State personnel can be utilized.  Having a focused, sustained professional development program offers the promise of a depth of learning that has not been realized in the past.  Both faculty and students will be the direct beneficiaries.

Initiative Two
Integrate instruction in learning strategies into the curriculum.

Initiative Two is at the heart of the SAILS project.  Students who come to college directly from high school may not be equipped to handle the academic rigors of the college curriculum.  As they transition, they may discover that the study methods that worked for them in high school are no longer adequate, leading them to realize that they do not know how to study in order to meet with success in their new environment.  Nontraditional students recognize their study habits are rusty at best and they, too, may struggle to latch on to efficient learning strategies.

In the past, many colleges and universities operated under the assumption that students would sink or swim as they navigated the difficult challenge of discovering successful learning strategies.  Students who went under simply went under.  Today’s global environment  underscores the need for higher education across a broad spectrum of citizenry, and students can no longer be considered expendable if they do not quickly determine how they can be more effective in their learning.  Teaching students research-based, efficient strategies designed to help students master course material is deemed to be an important initiative that can have a significant impact on student learning.

Accordingly, faculty from all academic disciplines on multiple campuses discussed learning concepts they believe would be most beneficial in helping their students achieve improved academic success. The three core learning concepts that emerged as the most important are Read to Understand, Listen Actively, and Organize for Effectiveness.  Faculty believe that if students can be taught learning strategies that will increase their efficiency in these three core concept areas that students will be armed with the tools they need to be successful in their classes.

Initiative Two allows for students to be exposed to multiple opportunities for instruction in learning strategies specifically targeted toward these core learning concepts.   Instruction in learning strategies will occur in courses identified by the College as key gateway courses (Developmental Reading, Developmental Writing, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Composition I, and Human Anatomy and Physiology).  For hundreds of Roane State students, successful completion of these courses is literally the gateway toward progression to further study, acceptance into limited enrollment programs, and/or persistence to graduation.  Data on student academic performance in these courses also show that a gateway course often turns into a roadblock for many students, creating an insurmountable barrier to the achievement of their goals.   Learning strategy instruction will also occur in additional courses.  Students in  disciplines such as history, psychology, or chemistry can also benefit from instruction in learning strategies geared toward the concepts of read to understand, listen actively, and organize for effectiveness.

A review of over ten years of educational research shows the most effective learning strategy instruction is that which is embedded within a disciplinary context.  The SAILS project will select a limited number of validated strategies designed to help students achieve improved competence in the three core learning concepts of reading, listening, and organizing, and it will integrate instruction in these strategies into the classroom.  Thus, students will be given explicit instruction in learning strategies that they will apply to specific course activities and assignments. 
A committee, composed primarily of faculty and assisted by professionals from Institutional Research, has been charged with selecting research-based learning strategies for faculty to teach to their students.  The committee is also creating appropriate assessment tools to evaluate the impact upon student learning as a result of the integration of the strategies’ use.  As the data becomes available, the committee can make informed decisions about changes that may need to be made to strengthen the plan.

Under Initiative Two, students will be empowered to study smarter. They will be given opportunities to use and practice strategies that can help them be more effective learners. Students with the desire to make better grades will have more tools at their disposal to attain their goals. Beginning in fall 2010, specific learning strategies will be integrated into the curriculum, with a decided emphasis on the six courses identified as key gateway courses: College Reading, Developmental Writing, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Composition I, and Human Anatomy and Physiology I.  Both indirect and direct assessments will be used to determine the effect of the strategy in terms of student success.  

Initiative Two offers the possibility of significantly impacting students’ academic success.  As the plan progresses and process improvements are made, the outlook becomes ever brighter.  Roane State faculty and students will be the beneficiaries of increased student success in the classroom, as will all of the institutions that benefit from having an educated citizenry.  Initiative Two promises an exciting journey with real benefits to real people in the real world, a worthy goal indeed.

Initiative Three
Develop a free, enhanced study skills workshop (Success for You) and a free, elective, three-credit hour study skills course (COLS 1010).

From the outset, a QEP Subcommittee shouldered the responsibility for exploring the concept of offering a free course to any Roane State student who desired to improve his or her learning strategies. Encouraged by some positive findings discovered during their research, the subcommittee decided the initiative was well worth pursuing. Input from students during a student panel discussion suggested a course being offered during the semester, rather than at the beginning of the semester, could be quite useful. Students making the transition from high school to college are often quite surprised at the level of difficulty of the college courses. Having done well in high school, they did not realize that many of their previous study methods would not work as well in college. With the students’ confidence shaken after receiving a low grade on a paper, an exam, or a project, they would consider adding a course that would help them do better in all of their courses.

Also, staff input revealed quite positive applications, in terms of student financial aid, of offering such a course after the beginning of the semester. Students doing very poorly in a three-hour class could add COLS 1010, drop the class they are failing, and still maintain full‐time status. Not only would students now be getting direct assistance that would enable them to be more successful in all of their classes, but they would also experience less stress about maintaining their financial aid. Improved completion rates and improved retention rates could be additional benefits.

As the subcommittee continued to explore options, the idea of offering a specialized study skills workshop to students who have been accepted into various Allied Health and Nursing programs emerged. Members of the subcommittee from those fields were very desirous of helping more of those students complete their degrees. Some areas lose up to 50% of their class. Because students who have been selected into these programs have already demonstrated successful completion of such challenging courses as Anatomy and Physiology and higher level math, they would probably not need the three‐credit hour COLS 1010 course, nor could they work it into their program curriculum. Including a specialized learning strategies workshop with their program’s orientation could be a helpful tool, however, to help them master the rigorous material comprising their curriculum.

Workshops for nursing students and for respiratory therapy students will begin in the summer of 2010 with additional programs added annually.  COLS 1010 is scheduled to begin in 2012. The two components of this initiative will require creating an excellent curriculum and an excellent training component. Effective marketing will also be essential. The task is challenging but well worth the effort. Utilizing motivated administrators as instructors will minimize the expense to the institution. Initiative Three allows Roane State to offer a valuable, cost effective service to students.

Initiative Four
Tailor Learning Center and Library services to build students/faculty awareness of various learning styles and learning strategies and their relationship to student success.

Roane State’s Learning Centers and Libraries have embraced The SAILS Project and have structured several strategies to achieve Initiative Four. One strategy is to train their staff, including student workers, in practical teaching strategies to reach various student learning styles. The training will also include strategies geared to assist students in strengthening the three key concepts within the QEP: read to understand, listen actively, and organize for effectiveness. Students who seek assistance may not be enrolled in classes that are participating in integrating learning strategies into the curriculum, so the services provided enable the institution to impact more students in these critical areas.

In addition, Learning Center staff are making plans to increase their contacts with students. Plans to increase class visits, especially for developmental and gateway courses, are underway. Basic skills workshops are planned. In addition, they are developing an Active Reading Workshop targeted to students at satellite campuses. The workshop is a way to expand opportunities for students who would find it very difficult to attend sessions at one of the main campuses. Another exciting component of this outreach is that current or former students will be facilitating the Active Reading Workshops. Students will be exposed to successful peer role models, a factor that can both increase attentiveness and increase motivation.

The academic support services also plan to increase opportunities for group study.  For example, the library is developing group study rooms. Required group study in the Learning Center at Harriman is being explored for a hybrid Spanish course.  A few developmental faculty are considering utilizing group study in the Learning Center as a supplement to help achieve their learning objectives.

Another strategy that is creating excitement is the addition of online interactive tools to both the Library and Learning Center’s Web sites. Utilizing Web 2.0 features can engage students with various learning styles. Having students facilitate Web 2.0 workshops for faculty can change the dynamics of learning. Whether the feature is Facebook, library research assistance by chat, a video essay contest, or use of YouTube, such online interactive tools will help engage students to participate in their own educational process.

The Library is also developing information pathfinders to support student and faculty research.  The pathfinders can assist students in developing an awareness of their learning habits and preferences.  They can utilize the pathfinders to determine learning strategies that align well with their learning preferences.  In short, much is being planned to empower students and to sharpen their learning strategies. Whether they are participating in a workshop, engaging in group study, or blogging, students will gain a sense of belonging while improving their understanding of how to learn.

Both the Learning Center and the Library are uniquely positioned to play a determining role in SAILS.  Because one learning strategy is seeking help when help is needed, increasing students’ use of the Learning Center is readily apparent as an improvement strategy.  Appropriate training for staff and tutors in areas such as learning styles, teaching styles, and adaptive learning strategies can enhance the opportunities for successful outcomes for students who take advantage of their services.  Creating a vibrant, interactive web site taps into multiple learning style preferences in addition to providing students with a wider array of tools and services.  Focusing on opportunities for group study and building a collaborative relationship with faculty as ways to support students in achieving course learning objectives also can yield dividends in improving student success rates.