Faculty Highlight: Richard Thomas Levels Up Teaching With Action Research

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

By Jennifer Keefe

Step inside Richard Thomas’ classroom and you are immediately on a quest.

Dr. Minchan, the cybernetically enhanced rebel of the Resistance Army, might be encouraging you to engage with what you are reading more intentionally, or you might be traveling around the Hermagora Galaxy debunking myths using Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit.

That’s because Richard, professor, English, East Campus has turned his ENC 1101 and 1102 classes into gamified explorations of concepts related to writing and research.

Students in his classes earn not only grades but also points that give them a place on his leaderboard, which shows them their rank in the game compared to other students in the class.

Like a real video game, students also have a health bar that goes down if they miss or turn in an assignment draft late.

Richard is currently in the third year of his tenure process.

He’s playing around with his gamified courses for his action research project.

When he started planning his project, he looked at what his goal was for his students first.

“I started with the premise that my students needed to improve their writing, and the way to do that was to use the writing process of draft-feedback-rewrite,” Richard explains.

But what he found was that students weren’t doing the drafts. They were just skipping levels and turning in final papers for grades. Richard’s fundamental question became, “how do I get more drafts from students?”

The answer was gamification.

With his research, Richard was trying to test Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s Theory of Loss Aversion.

In a nutshell, loss aversion is the idea that the pain associated with losing something, in this case, hearts in a composition class, was more motivating than the joy of gaining extra credit or a bonus in the class.

Prior to researching about loss aversion, Richard hypothesized that instead of penalizing students by deducting hearts from their health bar, he could incentivize on-time draft submissions by rewarding them a heart each time they turned in a draft. He thought a rewards-based model such as this would foster a growth-mindset in students and develop a more positive attitude toward paper writing, but that was not the case. He’s still going through the results of his research, but Richard already says he’s realized that the punitive model is much more motivating than the reward-based model.

He’s still going through the results of his research, but Richard already says he’s realized that penalizing them and taking away health for not doing the work is more effective than raising the health bar for work turned in.

Richard says he still supports gamification as part of his teaching methodology, but he says he might be the one learning the big lesson here.

“What I learned from this is that the TLA embraces failure,” he explains.

“We all learn from it,” he adds.

But not proving his hypothesis hasn’t meant “game over” for the game-based format of Richard’s classes.

Instead, he plans to revamp his assessment plan once he has fully interpreted the results of his action research project.

He explains, “If I want students to feel a sense of mastery, that mastery is perhaps best achieved when their gamified accomplishments are explicitly aligned with the course’s concepts or skills.”

Richard earned a master’s degree in English language and literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature from the University of California at Berkeley.

He began his teaching career as a part-time professor of English at Colorado Technical College’s Early College program in 2012.

He also taught English at Pike’s Peak Community College and rhetoric and composition at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Richard came to Valencia in the fall of 2016 on a 10-month contract and became a full-time, tenure-seeking professor in the fall of 2018.

He has actually used gamification in his classes for about the past 10 years.

So many of his classes in Colorado Springs focused on technology that he realized gamifying them made sense.

Gamification isn’t just reserved for Richard’s online classes. His face-to-face classes get to play with language, too.

For example, he plays a game with them he calls 30 Random Words. In the game, groups of students sort the words into five boxes based on themes the groups each agree to.

Through a process he calls COG (connecting, ordering, grouping), the students connect the words by a chosen common theme in the boxes, order the boxes, and then group the boxes to form a thesis by showing how the words are connected.

They understand more about the process of developing a good thesis by the end of the exercise.

The end of the exercise is when Richard also reveals that none of the words are actually related.

He says the exercise “takes the concept of organization that they relate to and applies it to writing in an immersive experience.”

One of Richard’s best practices as an instructor has to do with feedback.

He tries to give his students feedback on drafts and papers within 48 hours so that they can continue the draft-feedback-rewrite process with as little interruption as possible.

He does this by using his tablet pen and the Canvas audio feedback feature.

He also utilizes a technique called view-comment-question where students watch a video, take notes, and then are required to submit questions about the concept to him. He answers the questions as part of his feedback.

Richard says all of his activities focus on a growth mindset for students.

He says he “wants to give students space to fail and to learn from failure.”

Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight

The Top Five Things to Know About Our Governance Refresh

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

A Message from Katie Tagye, Director, Organizational Design and Development

As shared previously, our collaborative governance system has been refreshed, and on Friday, April 8, 2022, we will launch our new strategic councils. Here are the top five things to know about our strategic councils:

1. What is changing?
On Friday, April 8, 2022, we will add to our shared governance system three, new strategic councils — the Academic Programs Council, the Equity Council and the Student Experience Council — in addition to our existing Learning Council. The strategic councils align with our institutional plans to design, build and execute collegewide strategies to reach our Strategic Impact Plan goals. The role of the four strategic councils are as follows:

  • The Academic Programs Council will coordinate and align plans for new program development and significant improvements to existing programs, as well as evaluate programs to diminish or sunset to meet the goals of the Impact Plan, coordinating its work with that of the workforce deans team. In addition, the Academic Programs Council will monitor and update the strategic enrollment plan.
  • The Equity Council will coordinate and oversee plans to deploy specific and targeted strategies to advance the College’s equity goals for students, employees and the community.
  • The Student Experience Council will coordinate and oversee plans to modify or supplement the support and opportunities for engagement we provide to students to meet the goals of the Impact Plan.
  • The Learning Council will oversee the College’s work toward achievement of the core mission — learning — and coordinate strategies related to collegewide curricular initiatives and learning support systems to meet the goals of the Impact Plan.

2. The role of the Faculty Council will not change.
The Faculty Council will continue to engage the faculty and leadership of the College in matters relating to advancing the quality of teaching and learning. The Faculty Council provides the official voice of the faculty in matters of college governance, faculty rights, privileges, responsibilities, curriculum and pedagogy. The Faculty Council represents the Faculty Association (composed of all full-time faculty).

3. Why are we refreshing governance?
We are solving for three challenges that emerged during our Winter Governance meeting in January 2021:

  • How might we add more capacity, leadership, accountability and stewardship of the work within our governance system?
  • In what ways might we strengthen our collaborative governance’s communication, systems and habits?
  • Who may not feel heard in our current system and how might we ensure inclusion?

4. Our outcomes, values and beliefs will not change. 
Our collaborative governance system will continue to help us achieve the outcomes of better decisions and greater trust. Our value and belief that our work is better when it is informed by many perspectives will remain.

5. We are improving strategic council communication.
We are simplifying our communication to help improve employees’ understanding of the work of our strategic councils. Quarterly, we will share the top five things to know about our strategic councils, similar to this update. In addition, we will host quarterly Strategic Council Town Halls to provide a brief overview of the important work taking place. You’re invited to attend the first one in June. Event details are below:

Strategic Council Town Hall
Date: Thursday, June 16, 2022
Time: 2 – 3 p.m. 
Location: Zoom

If you have any questions or would like to talk further about governance refresh, please email me at ktagye@valenciacollege.eduAmy Bosley, vice president, institutional planning and development, and chief of staff, at abosley@valenciacollege.edu or Darren Smith, director, institutional effectiveness, at dsmith335@valenciacollege.edu.

Edna Jones Miller Featured on UnionWest at Creative Village Website

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Kudos to Dean of Student Engagement and Partnerships Edna Jones Miller, who was recently featured on the UnionWest at Creative Village website in celebration of Women’s History Month.

Edna shared some advice for women wanting to get into higher education.

“Silence your inner critic because you are what you think,” she shared. “We can often be our biggest critics, and we must learn to become our biggest cheerleaders. Master your mindset, think positive thoughts and encourage yourself that you can do whatever you set your mind to.”

Click here to read the full article.

Featured Colleague: Noraida Velez Uses Her Own Story to Inspire Students

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

By Jennifer Keefe

Many of our students fall in love with the Valencia experience and decide they later want to work at the College.

Noraida Velez did that, but she also hit the jackpot and fell in love at the College, too.

She explains, “My husband and I are Valencia sweethearts.”

“We met at Valencia in 2010, and the rest is history. If I hadn’t chosen Valencia, I wouldn’t have met my soulmate,” she adds.

Noraida joined the Financial Aid office at the Osceola Campus in 2012 as a part-time financial aid specialist and moved into a full-time role in 2015.

While she was a student earning her associate degree, Noraida also served as a financial learning ambassador and was a member of Valencia Volunteers.

She then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology and education from the University of Central Florida.

Today, Noraida is co-advisor for the Osceola Region Financial Learning Ambassador Program (FLAPP), where she has mentored dozens of students in the program.

She explains, “We promote financial awareness amongst the student body through peer-to-peer learning.”

Topics covered by FLAPP include financial aid, loan awareness, scholarship resources, budgeting and saving.

“Although I have worked in financial aid and with FLAPP for a decade, it never gets old, and I still get so excited in seeing students succeed,” Noraida explains.

Something you might not know about Noraida is that she was a first-generation college student.

It’s a part of her history that helps motivate her in her work today.

“I’m proud to have overcome many adversities as the first student in my household to complete her college education and continue on that journey by giving back and helping others reach their education goals as well,” she explains.

Like money in the bank, Noraida considers her work at the College essential to student success.

“Financial aid is essential because without financial aid, it would be challenging for most of our students to pay for college,” she explains.

Noraida’s supervisor, Assistant Director of Financial Aid Services Ilia Cordero agrees that she is a valuable asset to the campus and the collegewide financial aid team.

“I am very proud to have Noraida as part of my team,” Ilia explains. “Her dedication to financial aid and financial literacy has changed student lives these past 10 years.”

Noraida really appreciates the role she plays in our students’ journey through college from their first federal financial aid application (FAFSA) all the way to graduation.

She’s also inspired by what she calls the “yes you can” philosophy of the College.

“I love the fact that Valencia gives all students the opportunity to get a great college education and a new beginning in launching their endeavors,” she explains.

That’s exactly what the College did for her.

In her free time, Noraida likes spending time with her family, which includes her dogs. She also likes riding her bike, going to the beach, practicing self-care and creating new things.

Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for at least one year? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.


Osceola Prosper Announcement Results in Happy Students and Media Coverage

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Last week, on Monday, March 21, 2022, Osceola County Commissioners announced that they will provide free college or technical training to the Osceola County Class of 2022 high school graduates through a new program called Osceola Prosper.

At pep rallies held at Osceola high schools bright and early that Monday morning, graduating seniors learned that they have the opportunity to earn a degree, certificate or industry certification at Valencia College or Osceola Technical College (oTECH) at no out-of-pocket cost. Take a look at some of the photos from those pep rallies.

Liberty High School pep rally

Poinciana High School pep rally

Additionally, the news was announced during a press conference at the Osceola County Courthouse.

Osceola Prosper press conference

A dedicated team in the call centers and across the College is currently following up with students to assist them with enrollment for summer and fall 2022. Our Outreach and Recruitment team will be offering application workshops throughout the Osceola County School district. On-campus Prosper Experiences are also being developed to welcome parents and students to our Valencia campuses.

If you are interested in volunteering for the upcoming events, please email Nelson Sepulveda,  director, student development, at nsepulved@valenciacollege.edu

The announcement was covered on the following news outlets:

A special thank you to all who helped make this such a special announcement, including our Courier Services and Security teams who delivered t-shirts to 14 Osceola County High Schools between 6 and 6:30 a.m. on the day of the announcement.

Provide Feedback on the Student Experience Statement

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Thank you to all who participated with CampusWorks in the Student Experience Visioning sessions held in February. The participation among students, faculty, staff and the entire Student Affairs team led to robust conversations, rich feedback and the creation of a vision statement for what we want our students to experience at Valencia.

CampusWorks is collecting feedback on the draft statement and will use the responses to help refine the statement. We invite you to share your feedback via the survey below by Friday, April 8, 2022.
After your feedback is collected, CampusWorks will share a revised statement with Student Affairs leadership and with College President Kathleen Plinske for final approval. The statement will be used to guide the work of the Student Affairs business process redesign.

While your feedback on the draft statement is being collected, the business process redesign is moving forward. CampusWorks is currently undertaking a thorough review of the process maps, standard operating procedures and feedback collected from our Student Affairs colleagues about their work.

On Monday, April 4 and Tuesday, April 5, 2022, the CampusWorks team will be on-site for a “big table” meeting with the Student Affairs leadership team and other members of the Senior Team to share its findings from the review of our existing documentation, make initial recommendations and identify areas where additional inquiry is needed. After the “big table,” we will schedule Process Reimagine and Redesign (PRR) sessions in focused areas. We are on track to have final recommendations from CampusWorks in July but will begin sharing and prioritizing its initial recommendations after the April meeting.

If you have any questions about the business process review, please connect with a member of the Student Affairs leadership team or with Amy Bosley, vice president, institutional planning and development and chief of staff at abosley@valenciacollege.edu.

We are excited about finalizing our vision statement and using it to guide our work ahead.

In Memory of Barbara C. Roper

Monday, March 28, 2022

Barbara Cruciger Roper, a philanthropist who served on the Valencia College Foundation board of directors for many years, passed away on Monday, March 7, 2022, in her home on Lake Butler where she’d lived for nearly 72 years. Barbara served on the Valencia College Foundation board from 2005 to 2017, after which she served as a board member emeritus until she passed.

“Barbara Roper’s support for our students and their dreams was extraordinary! I had the honor to spend time with her recently, and she spoke so highly of Valencia and our impact on the community. She was a very special individual with an amazing heart who made a tremendous impact,” shared Kathleen Plinske, college president.

Barbara and her family supported the creation of Valencia College to ensure everyone in the community had the opportunity to attend college. She was deeply involved in nursing and other programs that provided clear pathways for women to enter and be successful in the workforce.

“Barbara was the matriarch of West Orange County as she created many opportunities through Valencia College for people in our community,” shared Jay Galbraith, vice president, public affairs and advancement. “In many ways, Central Florida stands on her shoulders. It has been an honor to call her a friend.”

Jay Galbraith and Barbara Roper during the 2011 Valencia College Foundation Board and President’s Circle Kickoff Reception at the Grand Bohemian Hotel in Orlando.

Barbara, who was born in 1928, attended the Ellis School, later graduating from Penn State as one of the first women with a Bachelor of Arts in economics. She taught first grade at the original Tildenville School for several years before she and her husband started their family of four children.

Her service to the community began as a founding member of the West Orange Junior Service League, where she served as president in 1957. After her children became a bit older, Barbara decided she did not want to go back to teaching in the school; however, she was always very active in Central Florida, putting her pedagogical skills to work in teaching adults how to read — starting the Adult Literacy League in Orlando, using the Laubach Literacy “Each One Teach One” method.

Barbara became a certified volunteer tutor trainer for Laubach Literacy, traveling across the United States and Canada starting Literacy Councils and serving as a trustee for Laubach Literacy International based in Syracuse, New York. She also started a travel agency, Tops-N-Travel, in Winter Garden, which she owned, often personally operated, and served as president for 18 years.

In 1967, Barbara was asked to join the board of the Central Florida YMCA, representing West Orange County. She and her colleagues were instrumental in starting the West Orange YMCA in 1971. Today that Y is called the Roper YMCA in Winter Garden and is part of the 23 family centers operated by the Central Florida YMCA.

Due to her continuing interest in the YMCA, both in Florida and nationally, Barbara was elected the chair of the national board of the YMCA of the USA in 1991, the first woman in the Y’s history to hold the position, and served a two-year term presiding over the first Y National Assembly in Anaheim, California. For many years, Barbara was the only woman to head that 16 million-member not-for-profit association.

For eight years, Barbara also represented the YMCA of the USA on the Executive Committee of the World Alliance of YMCAs, based in Geneva, Switzerland. During those years with the YMCA of the USA, Barbara traveled extensively, representing both the YMCA of the USA as well as the World Alliance of YMCAs, visiting well over 50 countries where YMCAs are established. At the 2019 General Assembly, Barbara was inducted into the National YMCA Hall of Fame for a lifetime of commitment to the mission and cause of the Y.

Along the way, Barbara was asked to join the board of the newly established public broadcasting station (WMFE) in Orlando where she served as the first woman to chair that board in 1970 and 1971. She was elected to the national board of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1972 and served on that board for 11 years.

In addition to the Valencia College Foundation board of directors, Barbara served on the board of various Central Florida civic and not-for-profit organizations such as Loch Haven Museum, Eckerd College, Community Foundation of Central Florida, National Safety Council, First National Bank of Winter Park, Blue Ridge Assembly, Winter Garden Heritage Foundation and Health Central Foundation. Barbara was also instrumental in the formation of the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden’s rejuvenated historic downtown, where she was recognized as a founding member and emeritus trustee.

Barbara received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Piedmont College as well as other recognitions.

A celebration of life will be held in the near future. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be directed in Barbara’s name to a few of the organizations that she cherished:

Turning Tragedy Into Triumph: Distinguished Graduate Chooses a Career Path to Help Others

Monday, March 28, 2022

When Leah Basaria arrived on campus at Valencia College, she took one look around and decided to get her credits and degree and graduate as quickly as possible.

“Coming into Valencia, I was very apprehensive,” she says. “In my first class, New Student Experience, I was older than the professor.”

But Leah Basaria had come to Valencia at a crucial juncture in her life — after a family tragedy that sent shock waves through their family. In 2015, her brother-in-law died by suicide, but it also sent her mother-in-law into a deep depression, and she too would later take her own life.

Determined to learn how to help people battling depression and dedicating everything she does to her brother-in-law and mother-in-law, Leah began taking psychology classes at Valencia, but along the way, she discovered a support system at the College that gave her a new direction.

And now, Leah has been named the Valencia College Mary S. Collier Distinguished Graduate for 2022. Read more about Leah on the Valencia News site.

Spotlight on Undergraduate Research — Kevin Rivera-Lopez

Monday, March 28, 2022

Valencia College has developed an undergraduate research initiative — based on nationally recognized models — that expands opportunities for students to partner meaningfully with faculty members to pursue a specific course of research. As most community colleges only offer undergraduate research as a very small boutique opportunity for a few students, Valencia has become a leader in community college research. Last year, hundreds of Valencia students worked in one or more modalities of research. This is vital for students exploring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) -related professions through transfer, both to better discern their purpose and pathway, and to have experiences comparable to their peers at the university to which they transfer.

When student Kevin Rivera-Lopez graduates from Valencia College with an associate degree in general studies in summer 2022, he plans to enroll in the University of Central Florida Physics bachelor’s program with the end goal of obtaining a Ph.D. in physics.

Kevin has have been involved in scientific research since he was in middle school.

“I have a passion for unveiling the mysteries that surround us,” shared Kevin, who worked on projects regarding ethnoastronomy, engineering, chemistry and statistics. “As soon as I knew about the Honors Research class, I applied as an Honors student and signed up for it.”

For his independent research project, Kevin worked closely with Jay Perez, professor, physics at Osceola Campus. Kevin‘s research focuses on the importance and application of symmetries as a theoretical tool, highlighting the importance of the discoveries made by Emmy Noether by using group theory to write a mock potential. This past fall, Kevin presented his research at the bi-annual Undergraduate Research Showcase, where he won first place.

“Research is an amazing experience that challenges you to go out of your comfort zone and think outside of the box by using your academic skill to work on real-life applications and generating a final product that you can be proud of,” Kevin said. “It has allowed me to learn about time management, being a leader, planning long-term projects, and it has significantly helped me improve my academic writing skills. It is an experience unlike the classroom type, which I would highly suggest for anyone to try at least once.”

To nominate a student doing great undergraduate research or for questions about Valencia’s undergraduate research initiative, contact Melonie Sexton, professor, psychology, and coordinator of undergraduate research, at UR@valenciacollege.edu or 407-582-5632.

In Memory: Chris Russom

Monday, March 28, 2022

Chris Russom, part-time faculty, culinary management, passed away on Monday, March  21, 2022, after a short battle with brain cancer.

Chris taught Advanced Decorating Skills at the Downtown Campus since August 2019, and the creation of 3-D cakes was an essential component of his curriculum.

Chris launched “Let Them Eat Cake,” his first bakery and coffee house, in 1998. The bakery grew into an international success and eventually became Christopher Garren’s Inc., a corporation that executed thousands of celebration cakes yearly for corporations, design houses, movie premieres and movie and television personalities, from Will Smith to Oprah Winfrey. He retired from retail service in 2013.

He and his wife participated in multiple Food Network competitions from 2002 to 2007, and from 2008 to 2011, he filmed four seasons of the reality television show “Amazing Wedding Cakes.”

His work was featured on various television networks and shows, including: “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood,” “Blind Date,” “The Tyra Banks Show” and international TV commercials. He also made numerous appearances on local radio and news programs, and his art found coverage in dozens of national and international magazines.

In addition to teaching at Valencia, he traveled throughout the United States, teaching continuing education and culinary classes.

“Sometimes, even as this comes as a shock to us all, it is hard to find words. As providence would have it, Chris’ life intertwined with our chef team here at Valencia in a way that you can’t make it up. (if that makes sense). Chris was here, out of anywhere he could have gone in the world, he planted his feet at Valencia! We remember as a team coming up with the Advanced Technical Certificate in Cake Artistry just so we could capture Chris’s talent and not lose him to another school. What was crazier to us was that he was willing and really wanted to go in that direction. In three years, he transferred as much knowledge as he could to the students who are better for it. There were many conversations about his wrestling with the feeling that it still wasn’t enough to give back to the students. He stated at one point that teaching here, at Valencia, were the best years of his life ever! So words can’t describe, even in tears, what a privilege it was to have him here! What can we say? When Chef Chris made a decision to do something, he was all in! His cakes and his classes speak for themselves!.” — Kenneth Bourgoin,  professor, culinary management

We will share information about services for Chris as it becomes available.