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ATC to Teach Critical Thinking Skills in Classroom

Augusta Chronicle, August 24, 2010 By Julia Sellers
A five-year initiative to strengthen Aiken Technical College instruction kicked off this semester with a bad joke and a chance to win an iPad.
As part of Aiken Tech's accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, focus groups have spent the past two years breaking down ways to improve learning, instruction and performance for their Quality Enhancement Plan.
The "Lost Art of Critical Thinking" treasure hunt for an idol on campus is the map for getting students involved with the plan.
Each Monday through September, clues will be posted around campus to find an idol to win an iPad. The clues use critical thinking tactics that instructors will begin implementing in several classes this fall, and will become a part of all instruction at Aiken Tech, said Bruce McCord, the school's history and social science chairman and focus and development committee chairman.
The contest began Monday with a clue about a "lying berry" to lead students to the library for the treasure map.
McCord said that throughout the focus groups, it became clear that instructors and business leaders needed graduates to have better critical thinking skills.
"Business and industry leaders said employees would come over and have problems in the workplace because they couldn't pick the best solution to problems," he said.
Though many of the college's degrees are in areas where problem solving is essential, such as engineering, McCord said a disconnect happened when so much testing was forced on K-12 systems.
"Educators have this pressure on them to focus on the details that might appear on a test, and it's stifled critical thinking and innovation," he said. "By the time they get to the college level, they aren't looking at the big picture or offering their own interpretations."
A team from York Technical College, which is part of the state's technical college system, assisted Aiken Tech in developing their plan last year.
Aiken Standard, August 20, 2010 By Rob Novit
QEP New Students
After a 15-year U.S. Army career, Marlowe Williams is back home in Aiken and delighted about starting school at Aiken Technical College next week.
He and about 300 other new students attended a volunteer orientation program Friday, touring the campus and hearing from ATC President Dr. Susan Winsor.
"I did four tours in Iraq," said Williams, a 1988 Aiken High graduate. "When I got out of the Army, I didn't want to be in law enforcement but wanted to do something different. I chose radiology (technology) and will look at going into sports or intervention radiology."
In a troubled economy, ATC saw a 21 percent jump in enrollment to about 3,100 in 2009. The student population hasn't changed significantly this year, and that is by design, Winsor said.
"That kind of growth is not sustainable," she said. "We don't have the classroom space or enough faculty. Unemployment is more favorable here than anywhere else in the state, and that has had an impact."
ATC officials took a number of small measures that added up to control every possible cost, said Winsor. That kept a tuition increase to 2.3 percent. With an increase in lottery tuition assistance of $36, however, the net impact is almost zero, she said.
"We're managing our resources closely," said Winsor. "We're making the best of it, but there are some things we cannot do. We have to be careful about launching new programs this year. We've got the paramedics program, and last year it was radiation technology. Both had solid enrollment."
As always, ATC welcomes teenagers out of high school and many older residents looking for new training or careers.
Brian Aspinall, a 2010 North Augusta High School graduate, plans to study criminal justice. At the orientation session, he was sitting next to Billy DeLoach, also a criminal justice major. DeLoach spent 40 years in the restaurant business and, four months ago, joined the ATC staff as a security officer.
"Now that I'm here, I thought I may use the time well," he said. "It's something different, and I'm getting excited about it."
Although the college offers many associate degree programs, students have other options as well, said Greg Rogers, the general education dean.
"They can start college here and have success anywhere," he said. "They have the potential to transfer to four-year colleges to complete their education in any field they've chosen. ... We have a bridge program to USC Aiken and articulation agreements with the University of South Carolina, Clemson, Lander and many others."
Earlier this year, ATC unveiled a five-year plan to formally focus on critical-thinking skills for students, said Prof. Bruce McCord, Department Chair for History and Social Sciences.
"It's something we are gradually integrating in our classes," he said. "The goal is for our students to learn more, earn more and live more with critical thinking."
The faculty and administrative leadership are approaching this outside of class in a fun way, McCord said. They hosted a problem-solving exercise with a "Jeopardy"-style format last semester. On Monday, they will introduce a treasure hunt, also intended to recapture "the lost art" of critical-thinking, he said.
In her opening remarks, Winsor noted that students invariably will face some challenging times. ATC does provide extensive support in terms of tutoring, counseling and advisement, she said.
"Take advantage of them if you find you need them," Winsor said. "We're here to help you walk across the stage and get that diploma. Thank you for entrusting us with your future. We will partner with you to ensure your success."
Aiken Standard, April 29, 2010 By Rob Novit
Critical Thinking Team
Business and community leaders in Aiken County and surrounding areas have stressed the need for critical thinking skills in their new employees, and Aiken Technical College has responded.
The college is embarking on a five-year plan to train faculty and introduce such skills to the classroom in all disciplines and technical fields.
Faculty members Steve White, Bruce McCord and Jay Pitzer are serving as co-chairs on the project, which is headed by Dr. Gemma Frock, vice president for academic affairs.
"We can teach the theory," White said. "But we did focus groups with students. Many lack the ability to apply the knowledge we're teaching to everyday situations in the work environment they will be going into. We want them to have the critical-thinking skills to take to the workplace, taking the theory and making it a real-world experience."
This week ATC brought in Dr. Enoch Hale with the California-based Foundation for Critical Thinking for a series of professional development workshops for some administrators and faculty members. Over the next four years, said McCord, all instructors will go through a faculty academy devoted to critical thinking in the classroom.
They will learn how to promote and teach such skills, encouraging students to see the patterns themselves.
"This will help our students in finding jobs and being more productive in the workplace," said McCord. "There's obviously a need in this area."
Aiken Technical College is hearing from employers that jobs and positions are changing, Frock said. Employers want new personnel to have interpersonal skills and to be able to think. They should have the ability to troubleshoot on an assembly line or other task before having to report to a supervisor.
"Employers expect more from new employees today because of the economy," said Pitzer. "There's not as much time spent for on-the-job training, and employees are expected to hit the ground running. An employee who can think through a situation is much more valuable."
Hale cited the need for multiple approaches in introducing critical thinking to the ATC campus. Faculty can provide personal instruction to help students achieve such skills. At the same time, the instructors will learn how to design a course tailored to include critical thinking components.
While modeling critical thinking skills is essential for the instructors, that effort alone is insufficient. The biggest beneficiaries among students would be those who are most accomplished. They may already have the social, economic and networking abilities, plus access to technology away from campus.
ATC officials held a kickoff to introduce students to the new program last week.
"We wanted to make this a fun process," said McCord. "We had some games for them, such as a 'Jeopardy'-style game and problem-solving activities. There was great enthusiasm from the students, and we'll be doing scavenger hunts in the fall, focusing on problem-solving and offering prizes."
As the process continues, McCord hopes to branch out and make connections with the Aiken County School District related to the new initiative. If critical thinking skills can be enhanced at the high school level, he said, it will help those students during their college careers.
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