What Have We Learned? DLL Program Reflection

Just for fun: a word cloud of my portfolio website.
Created using www.wordclouds.com

Looking Back

As I looked back through my portfolio website and the courses in the DLL program, I found it interesting the reaction they evoked in me. And maybe I was just hungry at the time, but it made me think of how different kinds of food make me feel. Some topics were like comfort food—parts of the program that I knew were a good fit for me and I was right. Others were like a new cuisine I’d been wanting to try—I knew they would be a stretch for me but I knew I had something I wanted to learn. Yet others were more serendipitous, they weren’t really even on my radar, but when I came across them I discovered something I didn’t know I was missing (these ended up being my favorites).

Comfort Food

bacon and panko crusted ridiculously rich mac 'n' cheese
Bacon Mac & Cheese
Photo by gail_thepinkpeppercorn on Flickr)

One of the things that drew me to the DLL program was the idea of a self-directed program. Once I got into the program, though, I discovered just how self-directed it was. Even more importantly, I learned about the innovation plan, which allowed me to learn the way I learn best–by thinking about a topic and applying it to a real-world situation. School has never come easy for me, but I got into computer programming without taking any formal computer classes because I had a real problem to solve. Once I learned that this was the approach of this program, I knew this was going to work well for me, and it absolutely did.

Organizational change was another topic that I thought would be an enjoyable topic, and I found that it absolutely was. One of the draws for me of moving up into administration (I know, I know, the dreaded “A” word…) has been the ability to see a need and have a real, noticeable, immediate impact. Well, not always as immediate or noticeable as I’d like, but having a leadership position allows me the ability to push for change without needing to push through quite as many layers of opposition above me. The “Influencer” model helped me to think through how to do this in a way that encourages the team that is under my care to lead rather than demoralizing them.

New Cuisine

Chicken Cordon Bleu with Wild rice and ratatouille....
Chicken Cordon Bleu with Ratatouille
Photo by swisschef on Flickr

Another of my goals for getting a M.Ed. was to understand the instructional side of the college a little better. Though I have worked in higher education for about 13 years, I have been almost exclusively on the operational side. When I moved into an administrative role in my college’s IT department, I wanted more context. That is, I wanted to understand the more about instruction and learning theory to be able to more effectively run an IT department that supports the college’s educational mission and instructors. 

Courses that dealt with learning theory, course design, online/blended learning, and creating significant learning environments were definitely a challenge for me. That challenge was exactly what I needed and was looking for, and I find it much easier now to discuss learning environments with instructors and I have a much better understanding of how I can support them and students with technology.

New Discoveries

Indian Food in Tokyo
An Indian food spread
Photo by dannychoo on Flickr

The first time I tried Indian food was because we just happened to drive by an Indian restaurant and thought it seemed interesting. Perhaps part of what made it so enjoyable was the unexpectedness of finding something so enjoyable almost by accident. 

In this same way, perhaps the biggest pleasant surprise for me was how much I enjoyed the research and literature reviews. Reviewing the research and conducting some original research. Reading the research completely changed my perspective on developmental education (the subject of my innovation plan), and that has become something I’m passionate about. I’ve been working already to make some changes and implement some new technology to help bridge the gap and empower our academic advisors to help developmental students.


It was great to see my progression through the program and what some of my main takeaways were from each course. In the timeline below I share a little bit of how each course contributed to my learning process; you can click through to see each individual course reflection. A course and assignment index is also available for more detail.

The Bottom Line

I am grateful for what I have been able to accomplish and for the growth I’ve seen in myself over the past two years. I came into this course a technology professional, and I feel that I have emerged an educator, and a stronger leader. Learning COVA and CSLE by being steeped in that type of environment and by practically working through concepts by developing an innovation plan has given me the tools to lead and empower others to help create the next generation of learners and change the world the only way we can—one learner at a time.

Digital Citizenship Wrap-up

As I began this series on digital citizenship, I discovered that the subject encompassed much more than I’d previously thought, in particular, looking at the idea of the importance of access. Expanding on that topic later by looking at open source software, I discovered that open source and Creative Commons sharing are not only important in making copyright issues easier, but also serve a vital purpose in encouraging collaboration and community.

Looking at understanding search engines to curate a digital footprint and the responses to some cyberbullying cases, along with other topics, have enhanced and shaped a broader view of digital citizenship. Eventually, this all culminated in developing a concise mantra, 

Human Controlled Access in Community.

Based on that phrase, then, which more or less sums up my view of digital citizenship, I developed a website which looks at the four key words of that phrase, mapping them to the 9 elements of digital citizenship and a more in-depth written exploration built around the same phrase.

Online Learning Reflection

Relevance and Importance of Online Learning

Online learning properly developed offers tremendous benefits for students. In relation to the course I have developed in particular, it offers remedial students the ability to gain understanding of key concepts to prepare for college-level work as well as offering non-traditional students the ability to refresh themselves on key concepts quickly. In addition, short mini-courses like this allow students to take a quick refresher if they need additional support while working through college-level courses. While this type of support is not the best fit for every student, I believe it can help a great many students to succeed in college without feeling like they are being labeled as “the dumb kid,” which study after study has shown simply is not effective.

Learning Theories

While an online learning environment can be effectively developed using any learning theory (or theories), I tend to think in terms of constructivist/constructionist or connectivist theories. For this course in particular, I tended mostly toward connectivist ideas. Connectivism “is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.”  Since this course was focused on remediation–making connections that students have missed or forgotten–the first two modules focus on connecting familiar concepts with order of operations. With that background then, the course moves on to methods often associated with behaviorism,  explaining the material and practicing problems. After demonstrating understanding of the concept, then, the last module connects the newly learned concept with other concepts that will build on the new understanding.


Having previously developed a detailed 3-column table (3CT) and Understanding by Design (UbD) template, developing the actual course was mostly a matter of locating appropriate resources, writing the introductory and connecting text. I also added the last connecting module, which wasn’t in the initial 3CT OR UbD template. Future areas for improvement would be to include an introductory video and possibly introductory and/or connecting videos to add some more direct, personal connection to students.

Lessons Learned

While developing this course, I was struck in particular by the importance of robust preparation. Having already put in several hours developing the 3CT and UbD made developing the course itself dramatically easier than it would have been otherwise. However, the inverse of that was also interesting. Even with all that preparation, it was not until after the course was taking shape that I noticed some areas that needed improvement. I’m confident as well that teaching the course will require constant re-evaluation and revision of the course. If online learning is to effective, it will be because of many hours of preparation, evaluation, and research.


Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, 2(1). http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm

Action Research Plan


As I look at my renewed focus on applying data analytics and human creativity to the problem of community college developmental education, it really is an Action Research problem. That is, my goal is to empower and encourage advisors to apply Action Research methodologies to their advising. Accomplishing this, however, will require some research of my own to “prime the pump.”

An essential place to start is to research how effective the changes we’ve tried in the past have been. Specifically, we made a change a few years back to our ELA prerequisite requirements to allow instructors to classify their courses as needing an ELA prerequisite, corequisite, or no requirements. Unfortunately though, the College hasn’t studied how effective it’s been. A study on this would lay the groundwork to further study changes and experiments against an existing set of success metrics.

My initial research question is,

“Have the implemented recommendations of the SVCC ELA Task Force improved student success and time to completion at Sauk Valley Community College?”


Determining how to measure student success is a crucial step in this process. A review of the literature provides an excellent starting point and benchmark. Based on my literature review, I believe that the following measures will be important to examine and compare:

  • Gateway English course (ENG 101) pass rates (defined as “C” or above)
  • Pass rates for the next English course (ENG 103)
  • Pass rates for courses with ELA corequisite or no prerequisite requirements
  • 2-year and 4-year graduation rates

In addition, Sauk looks at other metrics to gauge student success such as fall-to-fall retention, fall-to-spring retention, and persistence.While not all of these measures would necessarily be significant, I intend to include these in my study for completeness and comparison. Finally, I would like to introduce another measure called “acceleration” to measure the rate at which students are moved through their developmental sequence.

The time period for the comparison study would be Fall 2010 – Spring 2018 semesters; since the 2013-14 school year was a transition year with full implementation in Fall 2014. This allows ample time for comparison of the time period before and after the change. Some measures (for example, 4-year graduation rates) may warrant a longer study period, but this will be enough data to determine whether the changes have been successful.

Data would be collected from the College’s student information system (SIS) and (if applicable) learning management system (LMS) using anonymized exports of student records. This will allow tracking individual students’ progress through multiple courses and through their program of study. Additional comparison and benchmark data may be collected from IPEDS data and other publicly available data.

After obtaining initial results, I will need to examine additional demographic and academic data to control for other factors that may explain part or all of the results and to determine future areas of study and trials. This will likely consume the majority of the study time, and while it is difficult to predict all the factors I will need to examine, I would need to examine the following at minimum: age, gender, high school, and (to the extent possible) socioeconomic factors.


July 2018 – Approval.
The first step is to obtain approval from the SVCC Institutional Review Board to conduct human subject research. I have filed an application and expect to receive a response by mid-July.
July-August 2018 – Initial Success Results.
After I have received approval, I will pull initial student data and begin sorting and analyzing to obtain initial results.
September – November 2018 – Follow the Data.
Once I have the initial success data compiled
November – December 2018 – Write Paper.
With the data compiled and analyzed, I will write a formal research paper. The paper can then be shared with relevant faculty, administration the College’s developmental education committee for feedback. Once the paper is finalized, I will begin to submit it for publication.
January 2018 – Share Results.
Results would be shared with faculty and staff at the College Spring Kickoff, with a copy of the study shared prior for a robust discussion of next steps and further study. I also hope for the opportunity to discuss developing a regular research cycle under the auspices of the developmental education committee.

Academic Advising Approaches for Student Success in Developmental Education

See the related literature review for research background on this project. This is an update from my previous innovation plan, reflective of new research and a refined focus, with more to come.

Community colleges have long fought the perception that they are just an extension of high school, or “high school with ashtrays.” This is certainly understandable, as they devote a lot of time and resources to striving to ensure that the quality of education is college-level. However, in another sense, assisting the transition from high school to college is an important role that community colleges fill — whether for those students who are not independently wealthy, not able or ready to move away, or who are not yet prepared for college-level work.

Developmental Education

That third category — developmental education — is an area of the community college that is ripe for disruption. At Sauk Valley Community College, fewer than half of students are successful in developmental education courses the first time, and only half will continue as students past the first year . The current prevailing model places these courses as a barrier to be overcome before taking college-level coursework. A student — who may well have been receiving the message for years that they are “not good enough,” or “not college material” — takes a placement test, where they are told they are not good enough for college-level work. They must then enroll in and pay for classes — often multiple semesters’ worth — for which they will not receive credit. If they cannot pass the first time, the process repeats. Is it surprising, then, that the completion rates are so low?

Innovative Methods

This is an area of much interest and the research shows very promising results. Some of these approaches—multiple measures, guided pathways, noncognitive assessments, predictive data modeling, and intrusive advising—are highlighted in the following presentation.

What method or methods will work best at Sauk? I believe the answer to that is a solid, “it depends.” Approaches that work well for, say, a large, urban college will not necessarily be the best approaches for Sauk as a small, rural campus. What works in California, Florida, or Texas may or may not work well in Illinois.

What is clear to me is that we must use data to determine what innovative approaches have worked and have not worked. When we try new approaches, a plan must be put into place to carefully analyze results. When students arrive for advising, we must be sure that we are collecting enough relevant data about the student so the advisors and faculty (as appropriate) have enough information about the student to be able to help them be successful.

The Plan

I would like to implement a three-stage approach to be implemented during the 2018-19 school year.

Phase 1: Noncognitive Data and Student Retention Data

This phase is already underway as part of the College’s HLC Quality Initiative portion of the accreditation process. For this initiative, the College is discussing collecting noncognitive data via the College Student Inventory™ (CSI) and developing a program for more intrusive advising for those students who we believe can be most effectively helped by more intervention.

However, for this program to be most successful, data needs be be aggregated from several different systems (e.g. student information system [SIS], learning management system [LMS], CSI, and others) and analyzed. Ideally, a system would aggregate this data in a way that could provide (or provide the ability to add on later) predictive analytics or apply machine learning to help us find patterns that we didn’t even know to look for. In addition, the system needs to be useful and meaningful for advisors and faculty so they have access to data and communication tools necessary to intervene on a student’s behalf in a timely manner.

We are currently in process with demonstrations from vendors, and I hope to have a solution selected or designed (if we decide to go with an in-house solution) and beginning to be implemented by the end of the fall 2018 semester.

Phase 2: Study Current and Past Approaches’ Effects on Student Success

Over the years, a number of solutions have been tested or implemented. However, often no data or only anecdotal data has been collected. I would like to develop a study on these approaches to see what effect they had on student success measures. These results could then be used to identify potential trials or approaches for the third phase. I would like to begin studying the following areas beginning in the summer 2018 semester with at least preliminary results available by the end of the fall 2018 semester:

  • Develop a baseline metric against which to measure student acceleration
  • What impact did these initiative have on student retention, pass rates for gateway courses, or acceleration?
    • Change to current ELA prerequisite/corequisite model
    • Change from COMPASS to Accuplacer/ALEKS for placement testing
    • Creation of first-year experience (FYE) course
    • Student success coordinator and activities (success week, success coaching)
    • Creation of College Study Skills (CSS) class
    • Creation of math lab and usage of Pearson MyMathLab

Studying these results will (1) give us a better sense of whether those initiatives are working and worth continuing and (2) will give us a better direction as we look to expand into new initiatives.

Phase 3: Trial Initiatives

As mentioned above, this phase will depend heavily on results from the previous phase. However, some possible example initiatives might include the following: develop a corequisite support class for a gateway math, develop high-quality online developmental education courses, and expanding multiple measures for placement to include other measures (such as high school GPA). I would like for the trials for this phase to be developed in the spring 2019 semester for implementation in Summer 2019 or Fall 2019.


Nunez, S. (2015). The use of academic data and demographic data from recently graduated high school students to predict academic success at Sauk Valley Community College [Thesis, Ferris State University]. http://fir.ferris.edu:8080/xmlui/handle/2323/5285

Alternative Placement & Remediation Professional Learning Plan

Particularly with my new focus on a data-driven placement and remediation model in my innovation plan, a professional learning plan is a vital part of this project’s success. Previously, I gave a brief outline of a professional learning approach to include the 5 principles of effective professional development. Now, to flesh out that outline a bit, I have developed a modified 3-Column Table for the learning plan. In addition, I have developed the framework and initial content for a hybrid online/in-person professional learning course as part of the prior approach. I will continue to flesh out and revise the course content with more citations and relevant content. Contributors will also have the ability to add additional resources, so the course will continue to grow throughout its duration as well.

View the Course in Canvas

In addition to the mentoring program mentioned in the outline, I have also included modeling by including videos from a number of different colleges that have implemented these programs to provide another level of modeling.

I believe that this approach of encouraging employees to work collaboratively to help solve the problem of ineffective developmental education, combined with providing them with resources and access to data, will give them ownership of the process and allow them to make the most of this professional learning opportunity.

Organizational Change Strategy

Few things are as daunting as organizational change, both for the change agent and the person being asked to change. The change agent can easily be overwhelmed by the immense task ahead of them, while everyone else tends to feel like to proverbial “old dog” being asked to learn new tricks. This is why it is so important for me to start with a common understanding of why, how, and what for my innovation plan. This common baseline will help to start everyone on the same page and establish a common goal for organizational change.

Building on that common understanding, then, I will have a basis to be able to explore how to motivate people to change using the Influencer model’s Six Sources of Influence. By addressing the structural, social, and personal spheres of motivation and ability, I will be more likely to meaningfully influence others in my organization to want to change. When we are personally motivated to change—that is, when we have ownership in the process—the project will be more successful.

Motivation alone, though, does not guarantee a project’s success. Perhaps more detrimental to the change process than lack of motivation is the project being choked out by the daily grind, or what the Four Disciplines of Execution calls the “whirlwind.” Having established a strategy to help motivate people, we must move on to execute that strategy through five stages of change—in spite of the whirlwind. This requires singular focus, commitment, and accountability.

Ultimately, though, the biggest impact I can have on an organization—whether I am the one in charge or whether I’m at the bottom or the organizational ladder—is going to be through the individual dealings I have with others. It’s also the area over which I have the most control. Enter the concepts of self-differentiated leadership and crucial conversations.

Much like in the Influencer model, Friedman’s concept of self-differentiated leadership understands the relationship between the social and personal spheres, but refuses to blur the line and descend into groupthink. One way of doing this is what Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler refer to as stating your path and asking for others to state theirs. They advise,

“So once you’ve shared your point of view—facts and stories alike—invite others to do the same. If your goal is to keep expanding the pool of meaning rather than to be right, to make the best decision rather than to get your way, then you’ll willingly listen to other views.” (p. 143)

Seeing myself as part of a larger whole, yet unique from it, also allows me to see others in the same way, which encourages the humility and respect necessary to successfully navigate these conversations. Treating others with this respect is a cornerstone of the Crucial Conversations methodology. Without this differentiation and respect, the techniques become mere manipulation.

Again, here, a common understanding of the “why” is important; Patterson, et. al. call it starting with heart. When change becomes confrontational, having established a common starting ground will allow us to come together for the already-agreed-upon common goal. Then, with that common goal established, we can work together to maintain a safe conversational environment where fear doesn’t dominate the exchange and both sides are able to openly yet respectfully share their ideas and concerns. Once agreement has been reached, then, we will be able to move to action together.

These very different, yet very similar, approaches to organizational change work together beautifully to minimize resistance to change and allow for maximum impact.


Growth Mindset and Significant Learning Environments

It is difficult to believe that six months have elapsed since I first wrote about developing a growth mindset plan. Quite a bit has changed since then, but perhaps most notably has been the selection of my innovation plan. When I initially wrote about a growth mindset plan, I was anticipating that my innovation plan would involve working to implement a maker space, collaborative learning spaces, robotics clubs, or something similar. Indeed, I value all of those things and am working on projects in all of those areas. However, somewhere along the line something changed. In retrospect, I see that if I pursued that course of action, I would have been shortchanging myself by spending my whole time in this program in what Briceño calls the “performance zone” instead of engaging in authentic learning . Working toward arranging learning spaces is something that I have expertise and experience doing; it is a project I feel like I can do–a safe project, one where I know I can succeed. I am not sure it was entirely a conscious decision at the time, but the topic I chose is far from safe for me.

That decision has made my studies much more difficult and much more rewarding. It has also affected my approach to individual courses and assignments. For example, when working on the course design assignments, I was certainly tempted to just say that course design isn’t something I’m good at or something I do. Looking at it from a growth mindset perspective though, that is an opportunity and not a hindrance.

I have had opportunities to put growth mindset principles into practice in my department at work as well. Unfortunately, the public nature of this post forces me to omit details, but I have seen repeatedly that trusting employees and nudging them to tackle challenges rather than relying on others. As a result, those employees have performed amazingly well, surprising even themselves with how much they were capable of learning and accomplishing.

As I work toward addressing the developmental education challenge in my college, I will need to incorporate growth mindset principles to encourage learners to continue pursuing college. Many of these students will have had a fixed mindset drilled into them for years and may not believe they have the capability to learn these concepts, which is all too often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I see mindset as the doorway into learning; if the learner believes it is impossible to learn, a constructivist learning philosophy and a significant learning environment will not achieve the results they otherwise could. It is incumbent upon me as the educator, then, to model a growth mindset, seeking new challenges and looking for opportunities to reinforce growth mindset ideas on a regular basis. Changing a mindset takes time, so it is certainly not something that will happen without regular reinforcement and reminders.


Briceño, E. (2017, February 2). Transforming school from performance to learning. Mindset Works. http://blog.mindsetworks.com/entry/transforming-school-from-performance-to-learning

Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education – Introduction

The area of college developmental education has been an area of focus recently at Sauk Valley Community College, with good reason. The reasearch shows that developmental education in its current form is often not effective and that working with students in high school, before placement testing, is more effective.

I propose studying the effectiveness of an online college-readiness program based on principles in the Maker Movement, namely a self-paced, collaborative program focused on authentic learning.

Development of the program would likely take the majority of the 2017-18 school year, with the first high school students starting to use the program in the spring and summer semesters of 2018. Studying initial results could start as early as the fall of 2018.