Why We Study Teaching and Learning
While there is abundant research on pedagogy in K-12 schools, much less attention has been paid to teaching practices in higher education. In recent years, CCRC has expanded our focus from examining structural impediments to students’ academic progress to researching teaching strategies and instructor supports. Since each student's educational trajectory is inevitably shaped at the classroom level, CCRC is examining how colleges and instructors can offer students rich learning experiences across all of their programs.
This research includes a focus on the role of adjunct faculty, culture-centric interventions like the Caring Campus Initiative, and professional development strategies like Lesson Study. The examination of teaching is also an essential element in some of CCRC’s other work. Our studies of developmental education examine curriculum, pedagogy, and self-paced learning, especially for students deemed unprepared for college algebra. The guided pathways framework emphasizes the importance of students learning a coherent set of knowledge and skills across their programs and being exposed to learning experiences outside the classroom. In collaboration with SRI Education, CCRC is looking at how teachers can harness technology to teach skills such as planning, reflection, and metacognition that are essential to effective learning.
Teaching is so complex. It’s an art and it involves human relationships, but there are scientific elements to it as well. I’m really in awe of community college educators and their commitment to students.
CCRC Senior Research Associate and Program Lead
What We Know So Far
While teaching quality among adjunct faculty has often been called into question, CCRC research suggests they do not provide lower-quality instruction than their full-time peers: Students with part-time instructors have better outcomes in their current course and similar pass rates in the next course in a given sequence.
However, inadequate institutional support for adjunct faculty members and their consequent lack of institutional knowledge may negatively affect student persistence: Students with part-time instructors are less likely to enroll in the next course in a sequence than those taught by full-time faculty.
Faculty members at three Oregon community colleges implemented Lesson Study—a structured, collaborative professional development intervention—in a new developmental math course.
Lesson Study invites instructors to work with each other to closely examine their teaching and develop lessons through cycles of planning, teaching, and revision. They consider in granular detail the decisions they make when, for example, a student asks a question.
Researchers found that Lesson Study provided for intensive and productive collaboration and helped faculty adopt new teaching practices. However, launching and sustaining the initiative is time-intensive and may require cultural shifts in professional learning norms and efforts to improve instruction.
CUNY Start is a pre-matriculation program designed to help City University of New York students with substantial basic skill needs succeed in college. It provides intensive instruction in reading, writing, and math, as well as wraparound supports in the form of advisors, tutors, and a weekly seminar that addresses college success skills. CUNY Start also includes an extensive professional development model and an evidence-based, well-developed curricular document to support effective teaching.
After one semester, CUNY Start students were substantially more likely to be evaluated as college-ready in mathematics than students in standard developmental math courses (57% versus 25%).
Caring Campus is an initiative designed to increase students’ sense of belonging at a college by cultivating specific student-centered actions among faculty and staff. Faculty implement behaviors that include using students’ names in interactions with them and meeting with students one-on-one early in the term. Staff also reach out to students who look confused as they walk around campus and provide "warm hand-offs" to offices that can assist them.
Initial CCRC findings from an evaluation of Caring Campus’s staff initiative suggest the program affects college culture by positioning staff as respected changemakers, cultivating a sense of unity, and enhancing staff knowledge. Researchers also found that the program can improve colleges’ capacity for reform by strengthening leadership development, integrating new and existing initiatives, and developing systems for staff engagement and professional development.
CCRC is partnering with SRI Education and Achieving the Dream to study how faculty can adapt their teaching and use technology to help students develop mindsets and strategies—such as their sense of belonging and self-efficacy, and their ability to evaluate their work and seek help when needed—that support success in online courses.
View all of our publications on teaching and learning.