By Jennifer Ortiz, professor of English at West Los Angeles College
Recently, I facilitated a workshop for Strong Start to Finish on designing corequisites to enhance the student experience. The workshop addressed how institutions can collaborate across campus, create models to support student learning and improve their college experience. Most of the participants’ questions focused on how to implement such a model.
I’d like to share the overarching challenges and lessons the English department at Los Angeles Trade Tech College (LATTC) learned during the institution’s first semester pilot in 2018. Additionally, I want to highlight how the college incorporated inclusive teaching practices and campus collaboration for second semester full implementation in the spring of 2019.
Designing Corequisites as an Equity Tool
The corequisite model as an equity tool is data-driven and proves to remove institutional barriers for the most vulnerable students. Using disaggregated data and identifying who are most impacted by the long sequence of developmental courses is the starting point to initiate the work and a compass to measure success.
We began this work in my first year as chair, my last year of the tenure review and the year the state chancellor tasked us to close the racial equity gaps in gateway English and math classes. Excited by the challenge, the department started the implementation work within the classroom, where many faculty feel they have the most power, wisdom and authority. The pilot taught us that the collective power of faculty reaches beyond committees, departments and classrooms. For the sake of students, educators need to understand our obligation to create institutional change.
The Structural Components and Beyond
When creating a supporting corequisite model, educators consider the skills embedded in the curriculum relevant to the gateway course. They think about scheduling sections and providing students with different options for days and times. Additionally, they make sure to have several instructors who are available and willing to teach a corequisite course and publish offerings in the course schedule. These are the baseline administrative considerations.
Corequisite models should address practices that support student learning and enhance their college experience. The model should go beyond providing the immediate support students need to succeed in gateway English and math courses. Faculty should think beyond the individual classroom and embed translatable knowledge and skills students will carry throughout their college journey.
An enhanced corequisite model should demystify the classroom and college experience. When instructors demystify their classes, they provide students with tools they can easily access and follow to succeed in courses while teaching them how to navigate the institution.
At the end of Spring semester 2019, I learned that LATTC’s corequisite model should enhance the student college experience. One way to enhance their experiences in every discipline is to help them build strong reading skills and empowering learning practices. The skills they learn in the corequisite course should also translate to history, philosophy and other necessary courses to meet their educational plan. These skills can include reading apprenticeship or activities addressing habits of mind. Both classroom practices are evidence-based and these types of faculty development materials (along with others) are readily available and free of cost.
When enhancing the corequisite model, consider who needs to be at the decision-making table. Administrator buy-in is critical to expedite required resources like technology and faculty development funding.
Our institution relied on the academic senate president, faculty guild president and key committee leaders like student success and professional development to help advocate for student resources. Partnering with the senate president granted us a weekly seat with the campus administrators to discuss the status of resource requests.
Collaborating With Other Departments and Stakeholders
Implementation should start by collaborating with Institutional Effectiveness or an Institutional Research Department. Using the USC Center for Urban Education’s (CUE) The Five Phases of the Equity Scorecard helped us rethink how to fully implement the corequisite model. For example, the initial steps of CUE’s phases prompted us to identify which students were most impacted by the long series of developmental classes. Based on the data, LATTC could combine equity funding and grants to purchase technology and cover conference fees for faculty training.
Communications departments can design materials, so students understand the value of registering for a corequisite class. Updating the campus website and creating a student commercial, like my department did in spring 2019, can help get a message out to students that says, “A corequisite class will help you succeed in your course and beyond.”
Counselors are the first point of contact for most students. Collaborating with the department created a direct line of communication and follow up on tasks such as updating administrative forms, classroom availability, scheduling conflicts and common talking points.
At the end of the pilot, the department learned how important it is to provide students with options to practice choice and therefore create student buy-in. It also highlighted the significance of creating a corequisite course that empowers students to make their own choices and determine their path to success. The staff’s job was to guide them, provide all available options and remove barriers.
Last but not least, the department incorporated student engagement. Partnering with the student government helped us build credibility across campus. Several student leaders who opted for the corequisite course promoted the model more effectively than faculty and staff. Their testimony, feedback and insight made full implementation in the fall of 2019 better.
Students are the biggest allies in this work so it’s time to add seats at the table for them. The English department and student leaders developed a multifaceted media campaign to inform students about the changes in California law, the campus plan to reform the developmental education sequence and how students can advocate for enhanced corequisite classes. The third semester of implementation included student satisfaction surveys and further corrections to the corequisite model based on their feedback.
One Final Note
During this time, I learned so much about my leadership in implementing the English department corequisite model. I cannot maintain the status quo and participate in a system that disenfranchises the most underserved communities. It is my duty to make sure I engage and at times, lead the work that dismantles systems of oppression and institutional barriers, especially when I have the power to do so.