Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Student Responsibility and Self-Directed Learning: An Interview with Christine McPhail

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Student Responsibility and Self-Directed Learning: An Interview with Christine McPhail

Article excerpt

Christine McPhail formerly served as president at Cypress College in California and is founder and professor emeritus of the Community College Leadership Doctoral Program at Morgan State University in Maryland. She is the Managing Partner for The McPhail Group LLC and currently serves as a Leadership Coach for more than a dozen community colleges in the Achieving the Dream National Reform Network for student success. Her research interests lie in the intersection of leadership, teaching, and learning in higher education.

D. Patrick Saxon (D.P.S.): The field is getting a lot of attention these days from policy makers and philanthropic organizations who want to adapt and change the way developmental education is delivered, and many seem to be looking for a "silver bullet" or single solution. At the heart of this is accelerating the delivery of developmental education (Edgecombe, 2011). Perhaps one of the more relevant messages that professionals can send to those interested in changing developmental education practice is: Do not view student instruction and support as "one size fits all." Do you agree?

Christine McPhail (C.M.): I believe that many community college educators need to drastically change their attitudes about developmental education. Some critics of developmental education seem to be advocating a "one-size-fits all" approach to offering developmental education in community colleges without taking into consideration the full scope of developmental education. Traditionally, developmental education has included such activities as remedial/developmental courses, tutoring, learning laboratories, and various forms of individualized instruction (Ignash, 1997). This variety in programming highlights one of the most essential questions in the developmental education debate: Can one standard apply to all community colleges? Rather than focusing on any one standard, I prefer to focus on a very simple concept: scalability, capacity, and culture. For example, colleges typically size something up or down to make it fit the populations served. Any level of developmental education offered at the college must be weighed against the level of success experienced by the students. Thus, it is not all about the access and delivery; it is about the outcomes, too. If the majority of the first-time college students need remedial courses and the college only offers a miniscule slate of remedial courses, the college has the beginning of a potential disaster.

There is another aspect of scalability that must be included in the developmental equation narrative: data-informed decision-making and the culture of the organization. Ifa college doesn't know what its needs are, then that college will not know what its capacity is. Ifyou know what your capacity is, and it is inconsistent with your need and the culture of the organization, then you either have over-kill or under-kill. Do colleges really assess the needs of students and evaluate their resources and organizational culture to make sure that they are equitable and balanced and not just based on some arbitrarily, one-size-fits-all mentality? Is there evidence to prove that there is a need for offered programs and services? How does the college measure its capacity to deal with the needs of students and provide services to address those needs?

Consider this: Do remedial instructors need professional development? What kind of professional development do they need? What kind of professional development is available? What kind of professional development has the college adopted into the strategic plan for the college? There is another question that needs to be asked about classroom practices: Is there any difference between pedagogical practices and what students actually need in remedial courses? We cannot make decisions in a vacuum. The essential message to send to the critics is that what keeps community colleges unique is that their students are diverse and need different classroom experiences. …

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