Published: Tuesday, March 22, 2011
A missed deadline was narrowly averted in the college’s accreditation effort that could have placed the institution on “show cause,” the step before closure.
After a tumultuous 15 months, Southwestern College was thrown yet another curve in its battle to get off probation. Word from the state accreditation body regarding Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) sent the campus into a five-day writing frenzy. Faculty leaders said the college dodged the bullet.
Some on campus called it “the great SLO meltdown,” but more said it was an “SLO crackdown.” Recommendation 4 by the Western Association for Schools and Colleges (WASC), the college’s accreditation body, mandates SLOs and is a critical element in getting the college off probationary status.
Academic Senate President Angelina E. Stuart warned in a global e-mail on March 4 that SWC could reach “show cause” status if there were any missing SLOs in the March 15 report to WASC. SLO coordinator Patricia Flores-Charter said she articulated with administration and faculty all along that the deadline included more than just “progress made” and was not surprised with the sudden scramble to demonstrate to WASC that SWC was serious about meeting this recommendation in full. She said there is a firm schedule in place now for planning, implementation and assessment of SLOs.
Faculty, staff and students developed more than 232 program SLOs in less than a week. Stuart said all course and program SLOs met the developmental level of implementation required by WASC. She said 100 percent of course and program SLOs were written and uploaded in the CurricuNET program. All areas of the college, including academic, student service and administrative unit outcomes must participate annually in the implementation and assessment of SLOs.
An SLO Help Center staged in room L238 allowed three full working days for help in writing and uploading program SLOs. Stuart said she was impressed by the determination of the campus community to come together to get the job done.
“Many believed the task before us was impossible,” she said. “But I went home and thought about my faculty and believed they could do it.”
Flores-Charter said Professor of Communication Dr. Rebecca Wolniewicz, created the SLO program writing workroom. Librarian Diane Gustafson, Accreditation Oversight Committee Co-chair Ron Vess and Stuart worked with faculty in shifts to complete program SLOs.
Faculty Union President, Andy MacNeill said Don Avril, a college accreditation consultant, said the work done is a good sign. MacNeill said considering the college’s previous environment over the last two years it was “amazing” to see this collegial project in action. He said SCEA has been at the table all along and discussed “where we need to go with things.”
“We’ve been working on it for a lot more than a week,” he said. “The fact the actual production has been happening in the last week wasn’t because we didn’t know what we were doing or didn’t have the dialogue. We weren’t given the opportunity.”
Flores-Charter is widely acknowledged as the SLO expert, but faced extreme roadblocks from SWC’s previous administration, she said. Controversy surrounded her removal as SLO coordinator by former superintendent, Dr. Raj K. Chopra and Vice President of Academic Affairs, Dr. Mark Meadows.
She was replaced by former SWC dean Mary Wylie on September 8, 2010, resulting in a cease and desist demand from the SCEA. MacNeill called it a “political football” and outside the realm of fair bargaining while Robert Unger, faculty union grievance chair, called it a “scab” job and encouraged faculty not to apply for the position. Flores-Charter was restored to the position after a six-month standoff between Chopra and the union over reassigned time negotiations. She said she is continuing to focus her energy towards meeting WASC requirements, despite the challenges.
MacNeill said he saw staff, students, administrators and faculty put in “ridiculously long hours” to accomplish SLO requirements.
“What was most inspiring is the way they went about it,” he said. “Sure there were periods of worrying, stress and near meltdown, but they were minimal in comparison to the laughter, good cheer, fun and genuine camaraderie witnessed, even late at night.”
SLOs are in assessment phase already, said Flores-Charter, and spring semester will see a campus-wide system pilot program to implement them. She said most faculty have used SLOs for years.
Previous pilot programs demonstrate a history of implementation and assessment, she said.
“There will be several options of choice on how a course or program is assessed SLOs,” she said. “Each SLO will find which process best fits its curriculum or program.”
Stuart said language in the March 15 SWC report to WASC concerning SLOs reflects transparency, openness, honesty and truthfulness.
“We are totally transparent with WASC, telling them that we discovered that we were only at 31 percent and that we did them in March,” said Stuart. “So they do not come and say you tried to sneak one past us. Transparency and openness are important. We get good points for being honest and truthful.”
Interim Superintendent Denise Whittaker said training and meetings with instructional and non-instructional departments and divisions ensure active participation in SLO development and assessment.
“With the Institutional SLO Coordinator reporting directly to the superintendent,” she said, “the Accreditation Commission can trust that appropriate leadership, guidance, and support are provided to ensure on-going sustainability and integrated use of SLO assessment data for continuous quality improvement.”
MacNeill said some faculty members refused to write SLOs, but while they are a WASC mandate, who actually completes the job is up for debate.
Writing SLOs is not a part of a professor’s contract, but teachers may be inclined to get involved for quality control purposes, he said.
“You can’t make people to do SLOs. If they are philosophically against it, they can’t be forced,” said MacNeill. “But if you leave it to someone else, you may not like what it looks like. Someone will have to do it.”
Flores-Charter said the use of SLOs for planning and instructional improvement has proven to be effective in the Midwest for years. It is an integrated institutionalized system to drive the continuous improvements of student learning.
“What is beneficial to students is it requires our college community to take a look at what we want students to be able to do and communicate it in a way that is clear and comprehensive to all of them,” she said.
The purpose of SLOs is to orient students to understand expectations of learning in a course or program of study, she said. Divided into four core concepts, teachers and programs can choose one or all of the concepts in curriculum. The four areas of assessment are communication, thinking and reasoning, information competency (technology) and global awareness.
“The difference here is that a student would keep a conscious level of understanding learning objective all semester long,” she said. “This process would follow them through their higher educational pursuits and by the time they hit university levels, they will be pros at it.”