As a new school year gets underway, we cannot pretend that this school year's start is like the ones in years past. The threat of the COVID Pandemic, causing outbreaks on campus' remains real, coupled with the growing economic downturn resulting from COVID lockdowns, has forced many educators and students to rethink their learning plans. Workers recently laid off are considering going back to school to enhance their training, and students are looking at new career paths to maximize their likelihood of finding a viable job after graduation. One segment of the economy that sees a boost during these uncertain times is community colleges; students typically enroll at higher rates during economic downturns than they do during a strong economy.  But faced with reduced funding by governments, lack of investment in technological innovation and changing business models, community colleges cannot deliver a learning experience that is exceptional for their students.
Lack of funding and investment from governments has led community colleges to face some unique challenges, namely, the ability to increase student learning efficacy with up-to-date technologies. We'll break down the challenges community colleges and their students face, and how Kritik can help address those concerns.
One of the biggest concerns for educators today is ensuring their students can access adequate technologies to learn effectively. Demographically, community college students, on average, hold lower-incomes than those who attend universities or other private institutions. Therefore access to technologies is limited. Whether computers, high-speed home internet, or classroom technologies and resources such as digital textbooks, community college students do not have the economic means needed to invest in these technologies.
Removing price as a barrier to access was a critical first step in ensuring community college students access Kritik's learning platform.
Lack of personalized support for students
Student success is dependent on their ability to receive feedback on their work and apply those learnings to future assignments. Given reduced budgets, educators in community colleges are often constrained for time. Between managing multiple courses and grading student assignments without the assistance of teaching assistants or teacher aides, personalized feedback directed to students is often brushed aside to divert more attention to course management.
In a recent study conducted by Kritik, we found that over 90% of students say that receiving personalized feedback on their work is critically important to their success. Utilizing tools like Kritik's free peer assessment platform allows students to receive the personalized feedback on their work that they need while reducing the amount of time educators spend on grading. That saved time, which would have been spent on grading, can now be allocated to more 1:1 time with students.
Developing soft skills
The presence of soft skills is as significant as the mastery of hard skills for students seeking new jobs post-graduation. Some of the vital soft-skills students need to learn are critical-thinking skills, assessing different viewpoints and working collaboratively. On average, community college is focused on providing students with skills training required from most jobs post-graduation. Skills training often does not include soft skills, so community college students face a unique gap; if a student is learning computer programming basics, how do they build critical thinking skills? Critical thinking skills are developed when students can assess multiple pieces of information and form together solutions to complex problems. Building this skill set requires time and constant effort. Through peer assessment, students are continuously exposed to new viewpoints and are challenged on their way of thinking. Being able to reassess and adjust their points of view based upon feedback a peer has given to them on their assignment, will instill a deeper level of learning for students.
Improved Assignment Structure
For most community college students, the typical assignment presented at a university might be too rigorous for them to complete; large research papers or final exams may not adequately showcase a student's skill set. Therefore educators must adjust their typical forms of assessment to allow students to perform better. Consider breaking down larger papers into smaller mini-assignments – scaffolding assignments – to maximize the amount of feedback students receive. With increased assignments, increased grading may also come as a result; however, by utilizing peer assessment, educators are able to shift the onus of grading to their students, thus saving them time and increasing the amount of personalized feedback each student receives.
Nearly two-thirds of community college students work part-time in addition to attending school.  The balance between work and managing school assignments can be a lot for students to deal with effectively. That is why it's imperative for educators to create assignments that offer students value for the time they put into completing it. A single 15-page research paper with a grade once submitted, is less effective than five mini-writing assignments with targeted feedback & commentary for students to improve on.
Enhancing learning for community college students
While access to increased investment from governments is needed for community colleges to succeed, technology platforms like Kritik – which offer students and educators free access to learning tools like peer assessment – can help bridge the learning gap faced by many community college students.
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