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Arapahoe Community College New Model of Instruction: Shared Governance at Warp Speed?

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The noise from the earth moving equipment began to hum and beep recently. Many reported feeling the floor shaking beneath them as the heavy equipment tore into the ground outside.

Arapahoe Community College is moving a glacier-size mountain right now.

Under newly appointed Vice President of Instruction and Provost, and former Academic Dean at ACC, Rebecca Woulfe, a new model of instruction is currently being implemented, which is requiring a reorganization of department structures, processes, positions, and responsibilities.

People move mountains all the time at (ACC). It is our motto, but it is more than just a catchy phrase or metaphor. Moving mountains is serious business. It is often necessary to go back and quickly fill sinkholes left behind where the mountain was previously located.

The goal was set and plans were made to extensively study the current instruction model, to research and compare it to other school models, and to present a new model plan. An eight-member committee was formed, consisting of people who already work at Arapahoe Community College, including Vice President Woulfe, two deans, two department chairs, and three faculty members.

Using a guided process called the “Google Design Sprint Process,” Arapahoe Community College’s sprint began in September 2017. The goal was not only to move the mountain but to move it fast. The speed of planning and implementation was part of the plan, thus the name of the committee—Sprint Team.

The guidebook the committee followed is called, SPRINT How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days, by Knapp, Zeratsky & Kowitz (2016). New York: Simon & Schuster.

The guidebook’s introduction displays how the Sprint Team follows a rigid 5-day intensive plan and guide to map out problems, highlight areas of focus, sketch competing solutions, decide on the best solution, build a prototype, and test the prototype with target ‘customers.’

The Sprint Team dug in and conducted the intensive work sessions in September. When the team ultimately arrived at a new instruction model for ACC, the new model and the plans for implementing it were announced on October 10, 2017.

Sprint Team members and Vice President Woulfe, in an interview with the Arapahoe Pinnacle, explained that after the plan was implemented, it became clear that the new model would not directly overlay the existing model. The new instruction model was going to require some department reorganization, as to what departments fall under which Dean, and which fit better together under the new model.

On October 17, 2017, a new organizational chart was distributed to faculty. It largely reorganized the education departments. According to two sources familiar with the matter, no detailed explanation or additional information about the plans accompanied the organizational chart that was distributed.

A Senate Faculty meeting had occurred on October 17, 2017. Per the meeting minutes, Vice President Woulfe briefly commented on the new model plan and noted that answers to a list of 44 faculty questions would be posted in the D2L Faculty Senate Sandbox. The Pinnacle was not able to ascertain if the questions had been answered in writing.

The Arapahoe Pinnacle did obtain the list of questions from faculty about the new model and reorganization. The list was compiled and presented to Vice President Woulfe and the Sprint Team on October 16, 2017. The questions on the list raise concerns on issues ranging from what is the purpose of the new model, to questions about release time, salary, policy changes, and morale.  A good majority of the questions centered on confusion over unexplained title changes, roles, and responsibilities.

The new organizational chart represented huge changes to departments and titles, according to several sources who spoke with the Pinnacle. Some titles and positions were just gone, with no explanation. People were confused as to what the changes meant and how it would affect them. Some were worried about what it might mean to their careers. Others did not even realize the plan itself had even been set in stone, let alone the added factor of department reorganization or need for speed.

Another faculty member said they were a bit worried at first, but with more information and understanding about the reorganization, had come toward the feeling that “…everything was going to be okay.”

Was everything going according to plan, or did a sinkhole surface from moving the mountain too fast?

Based on the intent of the Sprint process, it is fair to ask, was the lack of detail and information in the days and weeks that followed the release of the organizational chart, was that part of the plan to quickly identify and prioritize problems, as the book suggests, by analyzing the immediate and knee-jerk responses to identify and fix problems quickly?  Was that the Sprint plan?

Or, did the lack of faculty understanding about the Sprint process itself cause problems with the implementation of the plan? We asked Vice President Woulfe this question. In response, Woulfe acknowledged, “…there could still have been some questions about the process,” noting the Power Point presentation provided to faculty on October 10, 2017, which explained the Sprint process, and that she gave notice that extra copies of the Sprint process guidebook were available.

Vice President Woulfe acknowledged there are a lot of questions from faculty about the changes. She assured the Pinnacle that all faculty concerns are being addressed. The speed of implementation was a big concern. In response, said Woulfe, the timeline for implementation was relaxed. The original plan was to fully implement the new structure in all departments by January 2018. That deadline was moved to the summer, which made more sense for most departments.

Some departments that have a simpler structure felt prepared to proceed in January. It was decided that departments ready to proceed with the new plan, such as the Mathematics department, will do so in January. These frontrunners will effectively serve as a test going forward.  The delay in the timeline was a noticeable relief to many.

When the machines quieted one night, we went back to take a look at the new model of instruction.

Vice President of Instruction and Provost, Rebecca Woulfe, has been with Arapahoe Community College for about five years. She was Academic Dean from 2012 to July 2017, when she was appointed to the Vice President of Instruction and Provost position. Prior to her time at ACC, Woulfe worked about nine years at Red Rocks Community College, five of those at the Dean level. She has a total of 24 years in the education industry and is currently finishing her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership from the University of Northern Colorado.

Vice President Woulfe sat down with the Pinnacle and discussed the Sprint process, the new model of instruction and implementation, and the department reorganization.  Woulfe first noted that of 13 community colleges in Colorado, only two used the old model structure in defining and utilizing Dean positions, Red Rocks Community College and Arapahoe Community College. In addition, said Woulfe, many universities also use the new model, such as CSU Fort Collins and CU Boulder.

The following is a summary of the basic hierarchy under the new model:

Vice President for Instruction and Provost

Associate Vice President for Instruction (new position under model)

Collaborate on VPIP initiatives

Support Deans with school and instruction-wide projects

Supervise instruction-wide academic support units

Absorb many of the responsibilities previously done by Associate Deans

Academic Dean

Dean

Director (2 new positions under model)

Department Chair

Leader of the department

Conduct performance evaluation process for faculty

Collaborate with dean on program management and initiatives

Liaison for schedule and book orders

Oversight for adjuncts in collaboration with program and prefix leads

Oversight for concurrent enrollment in collaboration with program and prefix leads

Oversight for program-level assessment

Program Chair

(formerly department coordinators, program leads, prefix leads, and concurrent enrollment leads)

Under the previous model, three Deans each had about 35 faculty members reporting directly to them. Under the new model, faculty will now report to the Department Chair, and that position will now manage the processes for faculty performance evaluations and other managing duties.

The old model did not utilize or define the Department Chair position effectively for the department. The new model does these things, not just for the job prestige and title, but authority and ability to carry out the job’s duties and responsibilities in the department, see to the needs of the department, and enable faculty to see to the needs of the students.

The old plan also had a mix-match of titles at the program level, and the new plan sets out those roles more precisely and uniformly by calling them Program Chairs.

Woulfe expressed continued excitement about the new model of instruction.  She highlighted one of the intended results of the new model–empowerment. The faculty should be empowered under the new model, the administrators, and ultimately the students. Even at the program level, the new model appears to clear the hallways toward needed help or guidance for teaching by bringing control and decision-making authority back to the department level.

Come January we will begin to analyze results and numbers. Board Policies will need to be revised in conjunction with state Board Policies. Many guidelines, job descriptions, and rules will need updates, and Vice President Woulfe confirmed that the performance evaluation process is being reviewed for simplification. We will try to keep up.

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The student news site of Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Parker and Castle Rock
Arapahoe Community College New Model of Instruction: Shared Governance at Warp Speed?