Author: Dr. Jenny Billings, Chair of English and Study Skills at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and Cengage Faculty Partner

A year ago, I attended a state-wide meeting about changes coming to North Carolina Community Colleges: Developmental English was going to be redesigned, again. Rather than panic, pretend like it was going to go away, or wait around, I volunteered my department, my college, to be the first to pilot the proposed changes. I figured that if we were the first to pilot, we could help inform the System Office and possibly influence the decisions made. Plus, this is a good experience for all of us; we have been able to network around the state, travel to institutions to share what we have done thus far, and help cater the technology to our state’s needs. While a lot of work, it has been exciting to be part of such changes and all in the name of student success.

Our pilot began this term, fall 2018. We have two full years to make the new courses work for us. By fall 2020, all 58 North Carolina community colleges will implement this co-requisite model. While it probably won’t look exactly like it does now, it will be something that we can be proud of.

As someone who helped design and is teaching a co-requisite course as we speak, here are my top 3 pieces of advice while considering this model:

Tip #1: Involve advising, early. You cannot assume that all areas of the College understand changes coming to Academics as well as Academics. While we did meet with Student Services, host meetings to train Advisors, and provide crosswalks and other documents to help, that is not always enough. It is in your best interest to involve them from the start and keep them with you as you go. It is important that students are hearing the same message across the college, especially about a new model that impacts them directly.

Tip #2: Make sure students “get it”. As soon as you have access to your co-requisite student rosters, reach out to those students! My outreach effort was four-parted: college email, personal email, phone, and follow-up contact by a co-requisite advisor. We wanted to make sure that students got off to a good start and understood the purpose of the co-requisite course. While the co-requisite course is in support of the curriculum course, it is not “just a lab” or there “just in case” students need help. When we spoke with our students, many of them did not understand that the co-requisite course was a graded course, as well.

Tip #3: Create conversations between instructors. While the preferred method is to have the same instructor for both the co-requisite and curriculum corresponding sections, that is not always possible. If you will have two different instructors sharing students, they have to communicate. As a lesson we’ve learned: it is NOT necessary to map the co-requisite course to the curriculum’s course assignments. Meaning, if students are writing a narrative essay in the curriculum course, students do not have to write the narrative rough draft in the co-requisite course. They could, sure, but we have found success in more general topics, overarching lessons and ideas that will help the students no matter what instructor they have, no matter what pace their curriculum course has taken. Instead, we have students cover essay formatting, grammar, and read examples of narrative writing in the co-requisite course. Having said all of this, if the curriculum instructor has a concern or needs a student to focus on something in particular, they can communicate this to the co-requisite instructor. They can also work together to make sure the student sees the relationship between the two courses, to encourage attendance and participation, and to identify any interventions that need to take place.

When implementing new models, it is imperative that decisions and changes are driven by data. After our first semester, I’ll be happy to share ours with you. This model is new to all of us: advisors, faculty, and students…it is important that we treat it as such and keep everyone well-informed early on, make sure everyone is well-prepared for the roll-out, and stay well-educated along the way.