College of Southern Maryland (CSM) Academic Planning and Assessment Director Cami Cooley recently won a top national honor for introducing a powerful online tool to engage CSM students and improve their learning and completion.
Cooley was named the 2019 First Place Champion by CampusLabs for “driving impactful change on campus” after initiating a real-time formative assessment tool in CSM’s classrooms that lets students know if they are learning the right material, while also letting instructors know which students might need additional help. Because this tool is interactive, students are able to immediately experience an assessment of their learning – and notify professors of their teaching – instead of waiting to pass or fail an exam.
Cooley was one of 25 finalists in the running for the top spots across five categories, that resulted in eight colleges and two individuals receiving first and second place honors in total. Cooley represented the only community college to achieve top honors. The award came as a surprise to her.
“I was asked to speak on how CSM initiated the feedback tool and share some of our initial results during a conference in July,” she explained. “From there, I was asked to present to another audience of faculty administrators, data analysts and peers. Next, I was notified I had earned first place in the champion category utilizing technology to achieve change a campus – in a national competition that I didn’t even know existed.”
“Cami’s recognition is well-deserved and we are extraordinarily pleased with her work,” said CSM Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Eileen Abel. “CSM is always trying to improve our students’ learning experience. We have been working with our professors for some time to make the most out of their course evaluations. Our goal is to help students who don’t understand the material get the help they need very early in the semester to aid in their success.”
Abel and Cooley shared that CSM professors have been looking for multiple solutions to address several issues, including: improving instruction early-on in the classroom; improving learning; addressing the need for faculty to intervene when learning was not taking place; establishing a method for referring at-risk students to tutors and other guided assistance; and finally initiating a technique to improve summative ratings at the end of the term.
CSM professors are not alone. In several reports written by Elizabeth Mann Levesque, a nonresident fellow – governance studies with the Brown Center on Education Policy and published by the Brookings Institute last year, “many community college students in the U.S. do not complete a credential or degree,” and “evidence suggests that helping students navigate the college environment and connect their coursework to their lives can help solve the community college completion puzzle.”
Levesque identified five ways to boost community college completion rates, including early intervention for those students who are struggling. She also suggested creating Guided Pathways so students see the relevance between their coursework and their career and education goals. CSM introduced Guided Pathways this year to also help focus students as they begin their coursework at CSM. [See “Student Success and Completion at Forefront of CSM’s Academic Innovations.”]
“Our students want to succeed,” explained CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy. “They work hard but don’t always have the tools they need. Many come to us not knowing where they want to go, or how to get there. So, we developed the simple guided approach of Guided Pathways to help them figure it all out.”
Guided Pathways is working at other colleges, noted Murphy, thanks to intense advising and coaching services that keeps students on their academic journey.
“When CSM’s new feedback tool was introduced, we were all excited to see it,” Cooley concurred. “Now faculty can receive feedback that allows them to adjust their teaching during the course rather than after the fact when it’s too late for current students. This is a promising new tool and it has provided us with enough information to know that it can be used not only as a bridge to student success but also as an effective retention tool so that our learners complete their degrees.”
“The impact of having our instructors use this tool has been felt by our faculty and our students,” Cooley said. “By using this tool, instructors have a deeper understanding of, and a connection with, each individual student. And, our students have concrete evidence that our CSM instructors care about them and their learning.”
Cooley’s efforts to improve students’ success also aligns with reforms CSM is currently evaluating as part of Achieving the Dream (ATD), a network of more than 220 colleges in 43 states dedicated to improving student success. On May 8, CSM shared that it was one of 16 colleges among the 2019 Cohort announced by ATD. As a Network institution, CSM is undergoing a three-year process to innovate, implement, align and scale cutting-edge changes along with ATD coaches to build institutional capacity and connect with peers to foster learning and share information.
“Achieving the Dream is a network of people across the country that will support us as we focus on what it is we need to do to help our students in finding their paths and finish what they started,” said Murphy, at time of the announcement. “This is something that is going to be very powerful for Southern Maryland.”
Campus Labs announced the winners of the 2019 Campus Labs Awards Nov. 4. After wrapping up its third season this year, the annual competition celebrates exemplary member campuses and individuals for excelling and innovating in their respective fields in higher education.
“The 2019 awards season saw 25 finalists vie for the top spots across the Rising Star, Trailblazer, Collaborator, All Star and Champion categories, with eight campuses and two individuals receiving first and second place honors in total,” according to the company’s press release. “Award winners are chosen from both campus-submitted and company-nominated applications, shining the spotlight on everything from successful tool adoption and cross-campus collaboration to sustained success and innovation with Campus Labs tools. In recognition of their achievements, winners were awarded more than $10,000 in educational grants and prizes in total.”
Achieving the Dream (ATD) leads a growing network of more than 200 community colleges committed to helping their students, particularly low-income students and students of color, achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth, and economic opportunity. ATD is making progress closing academic achievement gaps and accelerating student success through a unique change process that builds each college’s institutional capacities in seven essential areas. ATD, along with more than 100 experienced coaches and advisors, works closely with Network colleges in 43 states and the District of Columbia to reach more than 4 million community college students.
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The College of Southern Maryland is a regionally accredited community college that provides programs and services with a special focus on local workforce development to maintain and grow a healthy economy and community. CSM serves more than 24,000 credit and continuing education students at its campuses located in Hughesville, La Plata, Leonardtown and Prince Frederick, Maryland, as well as a Higher Education Center shared with University of Maryland University College in Waldorf, Maryland, and a Center for Transportation Training in La Plata. For information about CSM, visit www.csmd.edu. Follow CSM on Twitter: @CSMheadlines.