Provost Update — October 2019

A Message from Kathleen Plinske, Executive Vice President and Provost

In this month’s Provost Update, I share reflections from our campus forums on student outcomes and equity and extend an invitation to join a Focused Inquiry Team on Equity-Minded Practices or a work team charged with developing the College’s online strategy.

Reflections on Our Student Outcomes Forums and Equity
Thanks to the nearly 200 faculty and staff who attended one of our recent campus forums on student outcomes. Your input will be shared with our Learning Council and will shape our work related to improving student learning and moving toward equity in student outcomes, including our goal to increase the five-year graduation rate to 50% for students of all races and ethnicities.

I was delighted to hear of the myriad efforts across all of our campuses to make students feel welcome and to connect them with resources they need to be successful. For example, I heard from many professors that they have made a commitment to learn each of their students’ names early in the term. I heard from professors who are leveraging the “Message Students Who …” tool in Canvas to send personalized messages to students, both celebrating students who are doing well and offering support to students who may be struggling. I heard about advisors proactively reaching out to students early in the term to check in and ensure that they have everything they need to be successful.

In sum, I observed a group of dedicated professionals who are committed to creating the conditions so that all students at Valencia have the opportunity to be successful and who are thinking deeply about issues related to equity. I heard many questions about equity, and how and why it differs from “treating every student the same.” I also heard concerns such as, “if I make an exception for one student, I have to make it for every student,” and questions about how to address a student’s unique needs without it “setting a precedent.”

Coincidentally, between forums, I wrestled with a similar question. I am teaching a graduate course at Pepperdine University this term. It is a mixed-mode course, with two face-to-face meetings (Friday evening and all-day Saturday) and the rest of the course delivered online. The face-to-face meetings are critically important because part of my assessment of student learning occurs through presentations that the students deliver during our class sessions. However, after arriving in Los Angeles for our September face-to-face meeting, I received a message from one of my students indicating that she had been placed on mandatory bed rest by her doctor the night before; she asked if she could participate in the class via videoconferencing. My initial thought, my knee-jerk reaction, was, “If I allow this student to attend class via videoconferencing, I’ll have to do it for everyone else.” However, after a few seconds of reflection, I realized that I could modify that thought to, “If I allow this student to attend class via videoconferencing, I’ll have to do it for everyone else who is on mandatory bed rest.”

In this instance, equality would have meant insisting on treating everyone the same (if you aren’t able to attend in person, you are unable to participate in the face-to-face meeting); equity meant creating the conditions so that all students, inclusive of their unique needs, had the opportunity to succeed.

If you feel compelled to make an exception for a student but feel constrained because of the concern that “you’ll have to do it for everyone else,” consider if there might be a qualifying statement you can add to that phrase to become more comfortable rendering the unique personalized response that would best meet the needs of the individual student in question. If you’re unsure about how best to respond to a student’s request, please feel free to reach out to your dean, your supervisor, or your colleagues. There often aren’t simple answers to the complex challenges our students face. And, sometimes, there are absolutely justifiable reasons why we are unable to accommodate students’ requests for exceptions. But I’m hopeful that we can continue to push our thinking beyond the oft-used stopping point of “if I do this for one student I’ll have to do it for everyone;” I believe our work toward equity in student outcomes depends on it.

We have one more campus forum scheduled for Friday, November 1, 2019, from 1 -2 p.m. at the Downtown Campus in UnionWest, Room 303. Please join us if your schedule allows and feel free to continue our conversations by emailing me.

Equity-minded Practices: Focused Inquiry Team
Another common question that I heard during the forums was, “I want to work toward more equitable student outcomes, but what would this mean I would actually do differently?” There are a number of efforts underway across the College to enhance our capacity to advance equitable student outcomes that you’ll hear more about in the coming months and will be invited to join.

For example, one opportunity is to participate in the Focused Inquiry Team on Equity-Minded Practices recently commissioned by our Learning Council. One of the hypotheses identified last fall related to the conditions that affect student learning and student outcomes at Valencia was, “Some students may benefit from more diverse pedagogical approaches to create a more inclusive learning environment that fosters a sense of belonging.”

At its September meeting, the Learning Council commissioned an Equity-Minded Practices Focused Inquiry Team to support the curation of current work that may inform a collegewide definition of equity and equity-minded practices and to better understand what data may assist in monitoring our progress. If you are interested in serving on this work team, which will begin meeting this fall, please email Isis Artze-Vega, vice president, academic affairs, at iartzevega@valenciacollege.edu.

Online Strategy: Planning Team
At Valencia, nearly one third of our course sections are being taught online this term, and nearly half of our students are enrolled in at least one online course. Online courses have long represented a means of advancing our mission of access to education, affording students the chance to take courses while working or having outside obligations. To lay the groundwork for the development of an online strategy, the senior team commissioned the development of an Insight Paper that provided an overview of our online course offerings and enrollment, data associated with student interest in the online modality and student success data. Following a discussion of this paper among senior team in September 2019, it was determined that a critical next step is the formation of a work team, charged with formulating an online strategy, to be shared with senior team in mid-spring 2020. If you are interested in serving on this strategy team, please email Isis Artze-Vega at the aforementioned email address.

As always, if you have any questions or would simply like to share your thoughts or ideas, please don’t hesitate to reach out directly to me at kplinske@valenciacollege.edu.

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