Case study analysis of effects of professional development participation on community college faculty use of active learning strategies

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Business and industry demands, along with a renewed academic focus, have made critical thinking skills a top priority for community college faculty and administrators. In response to this renewed focus, community colleges in Texas must address critical thinking skills as a part of the core curriculum objectives for undergraduate education, and faculty members must incorporate effective strategies into the classroom to aid students in actively participating in the learning process.
The study institution elected to improve critical thinking skills as the focus of its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) in the institution’s Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) reaccreditation process. A pilot professional development program was implemented to provide faculty with tools to incorporate active learning strategies into their teaching to improve critical thinking skills of students. The purpose of this qualitative intrinsic case study, conducted through the lens of the constructivist paradigm, was to explore the perceptions and experiences of community college faculty who participated in professional development activities to develop active learning strategies to use in their teaching to improve students’ critical thinking skills. Data collection for the study consisted of the lens of the researcher, semi-structured interviews, documents, and field notes. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with six participants of the pilot professional development program. The data was analyzed using a constant comparative method of data analysis, open and axial coding, and trustworthiness was ensured through triangulation of the data, member checking, reflexive journaling, and the reporting of the study’s findings through rich, thick description. The findings of the study support that the participants perceive that participating in professional development did better prepare them for integrating active learning strategies into their teaching, and that integrating active learning strategies into their teaching will increase student critical thinking skills. In addition, the participants acknowledged that the community of practice approach to professional development was beneficial to their development and that the support they received through peer interaction across disciplines, and the sharing of best practices with their peers during the professional development program, was beneficial to their understanding of the theory and application of active learning strategies.
The results of this study suggest several implications and recommendations for higher education practice. Community colleges have a responsibility to help provide a trained and educated workforce in the U.S. As evidenced through prior research, community college students lack adequate critical thinking skills needed for the workplace, and faculty lack sufficient knowledge of active learning strategies and how to integrate them into their teaching. Community colleges need to provide professional development opportunities through communities of practice for their faculty. These opportunities should target specific active learning strategies that can be used to help increase the critical thinking skills of students. Failure to provide professional development opportunities for faculty to aid in the integration of active learning strategies into their teaching could result in a continual issue of students graduating from college without the required critical thinking skills deemed to be necessary for success in the workplace. The lack of the necessary critical thinking and problem solving skills of college graduates will impact the ability of the U.S. to compete in the global economy.
The findings of this study lead to additional needs for future research. These include an examination of a collaborative, multiple community college community of practice professional development related to active learning, a comparison in the change of student critical thinking skills as a result of the integration of active learning strategies in teaching, and an exploration of student experiences and perceptions of their participation in active learning to improve critical thinking.

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Active Learning, Critical Thinking, Professional Development