Learning Council Continues Conversation on Equity

During the Thursday, November, 7, 2019, Learning Council meeting, held on the Osceola Campus, council members continued the conversation on equity that was the focus of the October meeting, drawing on feedback shared by Valencia faculty members during Destination and the nearly 200 faculty and staff members who engaged in the student outcomes campus forums facilitated by Executive Vice President and Provost Kathleen Plinske this fall.

Initiative Census
The meeting began with an “Initiative Census” exercise facilitated by Learning Council Co-chair and Faculty Association Past President John Niss. Participants filled out slips of paper, providing key information about strategic initiatives in which they’re involved and about which their fellow council members may not know. Among the initiatives described, West Campus’ new course-level success reviews, the ongoing search for a CRM (customer relationship management) tool and ongoing conversations about the future of campus-based learning support. Results will be circulated to the full Learning Council, so that all members are aware of the many initiatives and are better positioned to advance the council’s work.

Student Outcomes Data
Kathleen Plinske then reviewed the updated student outcomes data she shared during the campus forums, calling attention to the percentage of students successful in all five of their first five courses at Valencia, disaggregated by race/ethnicity. She stressed that what the disaggregated data tell us is that we have not yet lived up to our Big Idea that “Everyone can learn under the right conditions;” that we have not yet created the conditions in which all students can be successful.

Then Kathleen asked council members which of the hypotheses generated last year we should address next at the College. She shared that, based on the feedback gathered during the campus forums, there is most interest in examining hypotheses associated with students’ academic preparedness, their full- versus part-time status, limited opportunities for students to engage with faculty and staff, and students’ struggles to meet basic needs.

She also described the challenges associated with the disaggregation of data based on race and ethnicity — notably, that doing so runs the risk of reinforcing stereotypes about students — and asked for suggestions on how to mitigate this problematic unintended consequence. Among the many ideas shared, council members suggested that we provide context for the data and a narrative that the achievement gaps within them reflect our limitations (versus those of our students), disaggregate using more than one variable (for instance, race and first-generation status), conduct within-group analyses, learn from students who were disproportionately successful, re-consider how we label the datasets, be more intentional in our language and encourage discussions using disaggregated data at the individual faculty level, despite the discomfort.

The Role Learning Council Will Play Advancing Equity
The next portion of the meeting, facilitated by Director of Learning Assessment Nichole Jackson and Vice President of Academic Affairs Isis Artze-Vega, centered on the guiding question: What role is the Learning Council playing/will the Learning Council play in advancing equity at Valencia? They began by listing some of the College’s equity initiatives, from the Peace and Justice Institute’s many efforts in this area to the INDV (Inclusion and Diversity) Essential Competency of a Valencia Educator and the forthcoming inclusive faculty hiring strategy.

Nichole reminded the council that the qualitative analysis of Destination participants’ survey responses point to the need for the College to define equity, such that we engage in a process of moving from the implicit to the explicit through multiple contexts (institution, supervisor, employee classification, students, interpersonal and intrapersonal) and with sensitivity to the emotional nature of the work.

This insight was considered in relation to the input provided by Learning Council members during the October meeting, when they were asked to prioritize a list of recommendations shared by faculty who participated in Destination. The top priorities isolated by the council were to 1) define equity at the College and 2) engage with disaggregated data in meaningful ways.

Since the council intends to articulate its role in equity-focused work, Isis pointed out that most of the Learning Council’s equity discussions had focused on what the Aspen Institute refers to as  “equity in success,” defined as “no race- or class-based disparities in completion rates … as the result of policies, practices, procedures and mindset.” She introduced the Aspen Institute’s related construct: “equity in learning,” defined as “ensur[ing] faculty provide high-quality instruction and learning opportunities in and outside the classroom that reflect differences in students’ academic preparation levels, abilities and cultural backgrounds.” Council members agreed that it will be important for our equity work and goals to maintain a strong emphasis on learning.

2021-2022 Academic Calendar
The academic calendar was the subject of the final agenda item and discussion. Kathleen indicated that in the 2021-2022 academic calendar, as currently drafted, classes end and grades are due with only one day left before the holiday break. This leaves insufficient time for us to reach out to students with unsuccessful course performance, and leaves students with only a few days to complete steps necessary for transfer. In addition, the draft calendar does not meet the college goal of alignment with the University of Central Florida calendar. Council members expressed optimism that faculty concerns about student success would be the driving force in this discussion and suggested focusing on the benefits to students and the extended holiday break for faculty in calendar discussions and communications.

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