Grant aimed at retention redesigns classes

moneyMortarBoardThis is the second year in a row that OCCC has received funding from a federal Title III grant awarded to the college in September 2014.

The $2.2 million grant, has provided faculty and staff with resources to affect positive, long-term changes aimed at keeping freshman on track to graduate, said Joel Swalwell, director of Grants and Projects at OCCC and project director for Title III.

Swalwell has been directly involved with several other large grants awarded to the college.

The project’s primary goals, listed on the college website’s Title III page, are to redesign the first-year curriculum for incoming freshmen and to enhance academic advising services to optimize success.

The grant has created five new positions on campus, including Swalwell’s position as Project Manager. OCCC’s endowment is also set to benefit from an additional $166,000 from the grant.

The grant is titled “A Model for Improved Student Experiences: Strengthening Academic Programs and Student Services.”

In the first year of the grant, English Composition I and Success in College and Life, were redesigned and implemented by program faculty at OCCC, Swalwell said.

Demonstrating that at-risk students continue in college will be the key to seeing whether the grant has had the impact its designers are hoping for. Swalwell said this coming fall might provide the first set of results for retention changes.

Greg Gardner, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, coordinated the grant.

This year four more courses are to be redesigned, Gardner said.

The redesigned versions of General Biology, Microeconomics, Introduction to Psychology, and English Composition II will be piloted this summer, adjusted if necessary, and in the fall will be fully integrated, Gardner said.

Over the next three years, nine more courses are expected to undergo similar revisions, Gardner said.

He said the classes have to be reverse-engineered. Determining what the course will look like at the end comes first. From there, goals are set to ensure that outcome.

“The first thing you do is ask yourself what do you want students walking out of this class to take with them?” he said.

Gardner said each of the redesigned courses will still allow teachers the freedom to bring their own personalities and styles to the classroom.

“Most teachers here are in it for the love of it,” he said.

Preparation for Title III began in late 2012. The bulk of the work, Swalwell said, took place during the spring of 2013 in order to meet the grant submission deadline in May.

Swalwell said changes brought about by the grant will be sustained by the college once the grant is complete. He said “You can think of it as a capacity-building grant.”

In addition to course redesign, there will be at least nine classrooms refined.

The physical renovation of the advising and registration area is still to come, Swalwell said.

Three classrooms, 2E3, 2E5 and 2F2 have already undergone their makeover and can be found on the second floor in the Arts and Humanities building.

The “ultimate classroom” is how Gardner described them.

Gardner said the classroom redesigns center around collaborative learning, flexibility, and technology.

All of the new classrooms feature modular furniture and computers arranged around the exterior of the rooms, leaving the center open. This provides space and an ideal setting for the group work essential to collaborative learning, said Gardner.

For more information contact Joel Swalwell at

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