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PHCC board learns about $215K grant

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) will get $215,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase faculty training in cooperative learning and train other colleges to use the concept.

The college’s board learned about the grant on Monday.

Cooperative learning is the process of students learning through techniques other than just listening to lectures. Examples include discussing and working on assignments in groups.

In the modern, technology-filled world, lectures “are not going to cut it” for students anymore, said Greg Hodges, dean of instructional support services and developmental education.

When students are able to discuss with each other what they have learned, it shows that they have retained the information and not just memorized it temporarily, like for an exam, Hodges and other PHCC officials have said.

More and more, employers want to hire people with problem-solving skills, which cooperative learning helps students develop, and who know how to work in teams, according to Hodges.

Since 2004, PHCC has been involved in Achieving the Dream, a nationwide initiative designed to increase the number of community college students — especially minorities and those from low-income households — who stay in college and earn degrees or certificates in their chosen fields of study.

Emphasizing cooperative learning is part of the initiative. Hodges said PHCC is recognized nationwide as “one of the biggest leaders” in both.

He said he thinks that is because cooperative learning has been “a faculty-led initiative,” instead of one imposed by college administrators.

In the past few years as cooperative learning has been emphasized, PHCC has seen increases in its numbers of students returning each semester and completing remedial courses, Hodges said.

The college also has seen its achievement gap between minority students and nonminorities halved, he said.

With the Gates Foundation grant, PHCC hopes that four years from now it will have 75 percent of its faculty trained in advanced cooperative learning techniques as well as how to use cooperative learning in distance learning, such as online education programs, Hodges said.

He did not immediately know what percentage of the college’s faculty now uses cooperative learning. However, he said “everyone’s been trained in it” except for recent hires, and some instructors use it more than others.

PHCC requires all full-time faculty members to undergo two days of training in cooperative learning within a year after they are hired.

The college will use about 40 percent of its grant funds to train 25 other community colleges taking part in Achieving the Dream to use cooperative learning. A large amount of that training will occur at PHCC but the college could send employees to other colleges to hold training sessions if needed, Hodges said.

Overall, he said, higher education institutions have been slow to embrace cooperative learning.

“Sometimes higher education moves at a glacier’s pace” and is resistant to change, he added. But “community colleges pride themselves on their ability to change quickly” to meet needs of students and employers.

PHCC is the smallest of four community colleges that received funds from the Gates Foundation, Hodges said. The other schools are in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Texas.

Also Monday, the PHCC Board:

• Learned that the college is launching its first performing arts group, the Patriot Players.

Many types of performers and support workers are needed, from actors and singers to set designers and lighting and sound technicians, officials said.

College President Angeline Godwin said an audition workshop, for people with talent who never have auditioned before, will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 12 in the Walker Theatre on campus. Auditions will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Jan. 26 and 6-8 p.m. Jan. 28 at the same location.

• Learned that the application period for the vacant post of vice president for institutional advancement has closed. Ron Epperly, vice president for financial and administrative services, said interviews are expected to begin soon after the new year starts.

The college hopes to fill the job by Feb. 1, he said.

• Found out that the college is seeking people in the community to take part in a strategic planning process that will start in January.

Godwin said PHCC wants help from “not just people who like us and agree with us” but also people with different types of ideas.


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