I recently returned from the National Association of Developmental Education (NADE) annual conference in Oklahoma City, and I then headed to Portland for the CCCC annual meeting. On the plane to Oklahoma and back, I was able to catch up on some much neglected scholarly reading. I attended the 4Cs with three colleagues, and we took advantage of the coast-to-coast travel time to discuss some of the thorny issues we have been grappling with as a department – issues for which there is never enough time in our regular schedules. Participation in regional and national conferences, for me, is the best and most effective professional development available, keeping me connected to the discipline, to colleagues, and to my identity as a scholar and teacher; it is development I bring back to my local context.
But even as I write this, I am aware that many of my colleagues teaching composition in two-year colleges do not take advantage—cannot take advantage—of this professional development. For many, there is no travel budget for national or regional conferences. For others, there is no time amid teaching schedules that may require 5, 6, or 7 courses per semester. For some, there is no incentive to attend, for top-down, completion-driven agendas prevent faculty from being agents of innovation, research, or change. At NADE, in fact, only one other faculty member from the Virginia Community College System attended, and he and I discussed and lamented barriers to involvement in professional communities.
The sessions I attended at NADE stimulated and challenged my thinking: Peter Adams, for example, explained the local context that led to the development of the Accelerated Learning Program (ALP) at the Community College of Baltimore County and traced its evolution over the past 10 years. Jennifer Ussery and Christine Moore of Phoenix College challenged participants to update CSU-Chico’s CRAAP test to reflect the ACRL Framework for Information Literacy as well as local and disciplinary contexts – a great exercise for my own college, which is currently developing a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) targeting information literacy. Cheryl Burk, Lori Dees, and Laura Kalbaugh of Wake Tech Community College offered a rebuttal to a working paper from the Community College Research Center (CCRC), providing a local context from which to question the research methods and conclusions presented in that paper. Alexandros Goudas presented a careful review of data on accelerated learning programs and questioned the wisdom of mandating variations of ALP which have not been subjected to rigorous study.
In all of these sessions, I kept coming back to two words: disconnect and local. The sessions I attended revealed a number of disconnects which affect community colleges: disconnects between theory and practice, policy and theory, policy-makers and practitioners, faculty and researchers, faculty and librarians, those whose research focuses on developmental education and those whose research addresses composition and rhetoric.
These disconnects frustrate teachers and researchers, and perhaps none is more irksome than the disconnect between talking points from national think-tanks and local, institutional voices. Those local voices are critical. ALP, for example, grew out of a very specific local context, and it was implemented by a local faculty cohort who controlled the structure and content of the courses. Phoenix College’s revision to the CRAAP Test was the result of a local faculty and library partnership. Wake Tech Community College’s response to the CCRC working paper arose from faculty questions about the extent to which research methods and conclusions reflected local curriculum and teaching practice. Finally, TYCA’s White Paper on Placement Reform emphasizes the need for local context and local control.
NADE members at the Friday plenary were urged to reconsider the narrative they tell about the work they do. That narrative must speak to national trends and policies, of course, but it must also, ultimately, be a local story. In order for two-year college faculty to have a platform for shaping and telling that story successfully, they will need professional recognition, recognition which includes power to make locally-informed decisions, as well as support for participation in state, regional, and national professional organizations. When that recognition is afforded to two-year college faculty, they may overcome some of the disconnects highlighted at NADE and change the narrative at the local level.
Tune in next week to hear local stories from my two-year and four-year colleagues at the 4Cs in Portland.
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