Education Spelling Foundation. Introduction

Today new and veteran faculty members often lack an in-depth knowledge of research-based programs and methodologies and crucial relationship-building skills which are crucial to provisions for creating an environment in which engagement and learning can occur. This is especially true of programs for the adult learners, who collectively comprise a new, multi-generational student body of diverse life experience. Defining a one-size-fits-all curriculum is impossible to achieve perfectly, and new professors (and those unaccustomed to the larger time demands of adjusting to a diverse body of students) face a decidedly increased level of difficulty of achieving student engagement and quality instruction as they attempt to adjust to the changing needs of their students, fellow professors, and campus. These challenges are compounded by the waning federal funding of higher education and the ballooning tuition rates, especially at public universities, where “attracting and retaining high quality faculty… surely influences the quality of what is going on in public higher education” (Ehrenberg, 2004, p. 2).

Research conducted by Armstrong (2006) shows that faculty have a great influence on classroom dynamics, with student-centered goals contribute to developing holistic educational environments which promote student achievement. For this reason, it is essential that current practices be refined in order to aide in the implementation of better actions and strategies for student engagement. Thus, the professors’ body of knowledge regarding student diversity and current pedagogy and classroom engagement are crucial to producing an increase in student achievement.

Problem Statement

Increasing student achievement is the primary goal of most school improvement plans. For many faculty members, student achievement is the topic of choice at most faculty meetings and professional development conferences. However, it is often forgotten that educators can have a direct impact upon this achievement by exhibiting a higher level of professional knowledge and applying this knowledge in a way which improves student engagement. Recognizing this fact is only half of the battle, since specific methodologies must be analyzed, implemented, and evaluated before it is clear if they are sustainable initiatives which may suit one (or more) areas of undergraduate professionalism and efficacy in education.

With the political and societal pressures of education reform, the common role of the educator has changed. Spring (2005) states, in previous years, faculty acted as knowledge transmitters and behavior controllers who used memorization methods to enhance learning. This study focuses on the relationship between the engagement of students of higher education and the status of the most efficacious professors, who are responsible for the implementation of better instructional practices. It is the responsibility of the teacher to create a positive learning environment for students and to engage those students in the material being taught. Developing a positive student-teacher relationship is important. With the successful implementation of strategies and techniques, it can be an effective student intervention. Gay (2002) describes these faculty intervention techniques as effective methods to increase undergraduate student achievement. He suggests that a strong relationship is the foundation for effective technical intervention, while selecting well thought-out interventions are likely to support the strength of the relationship. Cameron and Sheppard (2006) find that very few faculty are able to manifest techniques associated with teaching whole student concepts. This study of an undergraduate community college setting will investigate the level of student engagement in the curriculum, in self-knowledge, in academic socialization, and in the interrelationships therein. Using the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE), the site-specific results will be discussed in terms of higher education throughout the nation and in terms of key areas for improvement and theoretical integration. This discussion will combine results across both general and subject-specific disciplines to demonstrate the broad applications of educational theory and to allow for the examination of the Spellings’ commission findings and of the literature regarding best practices in higher education and adult learning.

Theoretical Rationale

Pratt (2000) reveals that faculty members typically do not select just one strategy to implement for effective teaching to occur in the classroom. This study adopted evidence-based features from the social learning (SL) and the self-directed learning (SDL) theories. The nature of the questions regarding adult education (and education in general) is complicated and necessitates a combined theoretical approach. The creator of the SL Theory, Albert Bandura, as stated in Kaplan and Carter, believed that the human behavior is a result of reciprocal influences, which he referred to as reciprocal determinism. Bandura stated that the influences include personal, environment, and the behavior itself (1995). Pratt (2000) states that many novice faculty members embrace a mentor’s teaching practices and strategies as they feel that they are too inexperienced to develop students into independent learners until they gain the experience to identify the need to alter teaching methods with students; especially in diverse settings. Self-directed learning (SDL) theory was first embraced by Allen Tough in the 1970’s (Ross-Gordon, 2003). In the SDL model, the teacher actively participates through coaching, guiding, facilitating, and consulting (Ross-Gordon, 2003). However, the results of SDL are highly dependent upon the situational context of the learner (Pratt, 2000). Research questions The following questions are posed for consideration in literature review in Chapter 2. The results of the Community College Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (CCFSSE), upon which the need for more student engagement, self-understanding, independent learning, and social learning may be identified- will be revealed, analyzed, and discussed in Chapter 3.
  1. Are a student’s knowledge and skills supported and expanded in a supportive learning environment?
  2. What is the current state of American higher education and in what ways is it lacking?
  3. Does the current curriculum address the tenets of Self-Directed Learning theories and the Spellings Commission recommendations?
  4. Do faculty members support the social and educational goals of Social Learning theories and the Spellings Commission?
  5. What comprises best practices for adult learning?

Significance of the Study

The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) identified a complacency of action and progress in modern America’s higher education and indicated that post-secondary education is even declining in some areas. The DoE encouraged the use of the CCSSE, a similar survey which does not include the input of faculty members (“TEST OF LEADERSHIP…”, 2006). Using data which will be gathered from the CCSSE, this paper will analyze self-reported levels of engagement, self-direction, and multidimensional understanding. If these results are consistent with the DoE commission report, then the need for a new teaching approach will have been demonstrated. Since the specific sub-points of question twelve probe the understanding of the relationship between self and others, faculty members make great contributions to students’ “knowledge, skills, and personal development” in the areas of “learning effectively on their own and understanding themselves” (p. 34). Astin (1993) argues that student attrition is largely dependent on both institutional practices and environmental experiences and also argues that student interaction (peer interaction as well as student-faculty interaction) enhanced the student’s learning experience and academic performance. When students are engaged in their college experience, they are more likely to stay in college, value their college experience, and exhibit increased academic performance (Tinto, 1993). In other words, a student’s decision to stay in college, or withdraw from it, is dependent on the student’s academic and social integration within the school. Furthermore, these approaches maximize the resource application of faculty members, who can then apply themselves to helping guide and monitor learning rather than shoulder the entire responsibility for curricular diversity and high quality. The Spellings commission report recommended immediate changes such as these, and it is anticipated that the CCSSE results will confirm both the need for a higher level of student engagement and for stronger connections between the student and their learning and between the student and their peers. The research develops a better understanding of student achievement in the context of an undergraduate university setting. The knowledge collected for this study will also give university-level administrators the opportunity to effectively examine individual teaching practices in an effort to improve professional development. Recommended practices will be discussed in later chapters.

Definition of Terms

  • student engagement– The capture of a student’s full academic attention, interest, and/or participation
  • teacher status– The designation assigned to professors of full-time or part-time course loads—regardless of tenure.
  • student achievement– The rewarding of effort with a positive behavioral, attitudinal, or outcome shift; the realization of a student’s positive personal or academic goals (Dominicé, 2000).

Chapter Summary

While educational emphasis continually focuses on the realization of academic achievement (as traditionally determined by quantifiable outcomes, such as an increase in grades or overall grade point average), the methods for improvement inevitably stir controversy. With such a wealth of available approaches to education and such a broad variety of students, the educators who attempt to integrate current research into their curriculum are often overwhelmed, misinformed, or battling an overambitious attempt to combine theories in a way which makes sense and produces results.
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