Building a community of caring with co-requisite courses

By Tabitha Whissemore

A Texas college works to advance innovation in co-requisite learning

Houston Community College (HCC) serves about 80,000 students annually. More than one-third need remediation. Most of those students are placed in co-requisite courses, which are college-level courses with developmental supports.

There have been challenges with that model, Catherine O’Brien, HCC’s associate vice chancellor of college readiness, said during an AACC Digital presentation. About 40% of students are not passing courses, and students of color are overrepresented in this group.

HCC partnered with the University of Houston to identify and learn from innovative faculty what works in co-requisite learning. They interviewed faculty members who were nominated by deans and faculty chairs for their highly effective teaching strategies.

What they learned

Building students’ confidence is essential for these students to succeed.

“Many students come in with notion that they’re incapable of doing the work,” O’Brien said.

Faculty encourage and support students with exciting, engaging teaching – not just lectures with PowerPoints.

That confidence built in co-requisite courses spreads to the rest of the classes they take at the institution.

“It sets them off for success,” O’Brien said.

A community environment

Successful faculty also use these courses to build a learning community. Students are placed in teams and get to know and learn from each other. That way, the classroom becomes a safe space where students can make mistakes, be vulnerable with each other and feel confident enough to raise their hands and say “I don’t understand this.”

O’Brien acknowledged that learning communities looked different during the pandemic. However, students in co-requisite courses still had opportunities to participate and engaged through synchronous online learning.

Highly effective faculty also show empathy and care. They realize students have complex lives. Faculty are more flexible and communicative, reaching out via email and text when students miss classes. And they pay attention to the quiet students, O’Brien said. When someone is struggling, faculty don’t single out that student, but rather explain a concept in a different way to the whole class.

“If we don’t believe our students can be successful, they’re going to sense that,” O’Brien said. “It’s important that we show our students we believe they have the potential.”

Another thing learned through talking with faculty was that they want ongoing professional development – and like their students, they don’t want lectures. They want to learn from each other.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily here.

Tabitha Whissemore

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.