Can you revitalize developmental classes by simply changing their name?

A group of professors push for a 'high-impact' approach to teaching basic academic skills

A group of professors at Queensborough Community College wanted to change how their developmental education program was perceived by faculty and students alike—so they changed the name, write instructors Regina Rochford, Cary Lane, and Jed Shahar for Community College Daily.

A new name might seem like a simple shift—the Department of Basic Educational Skills became the Department of Academic Literacy—but the instructors argue the change helped reframe the role of developmental education at their community college. The department realized that the skills they teach, like how to interpret college-level texts or express thoughts clearly, aren't "basic" at all, but rather integral to every member of the academic community.

As they explain, the new name also represented a shift in how the department engages with students. In the past, students were taught with "fill-in-the-blank exercises and de-contextualized assessments," but in recent years, the department has moved to a "high impact" model.

Their new approach "integrates campus and community resources for service-learning, student-led research and capstone projects," write the instructors. Other faculty members have adopted the center's approach and show off their new skills at annual "symposia" on campus.

Ultimately, the instructors say, the new name kicked off an entirely new approach. The office went from teaching a "narrow band of skills" to engaging holistically with students in a way that honored the seriousness of the skills they were learning (Lane et al., Community College Daily, 10/2).

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