- With college readiness low among many would-be higher education students, their likelihood of successfully completing a certificate or degree seems doubtful.
- Four educational institutions partnered to improve students’ college readiness and help them attain their academic goals by providing core academic and life skills that promote personal, professional, and academic success.
- Open Learning: Bridge to Success offers open educational resources in math abilities and learning skills courses to prepare students for success in higher education.
How can colleges and universities operate successfully in the blended world of the open learner, who might have avoided formal higher education despite wanting a college degree? What bridge can educational institutions provide to promote true openness in the learning environment? Approximately 60 percent of first-year college students are required to take at least one developmental course, yet less than 25 percent of community college students who enroll in a developmental course earn a certificate or degree within eight years of enrollment.1 These statistics make student readiness for college a matter of great concern. At the same time, the impact of the Internet and online access have changed the way we interact and gain information, including the way learners choose to learn. The Open Learning: Bridge to Success (B2S) project aims to help students improve their college readiness and successfully attain their academic goals.
The B2S college partnership has designed free and open online content that students can use to close gaps in their math ability, allowing them to move into college-level courses and complete a certificate or degree. Experts at the AACC, OU, and UMUC have transformed tested and proven educational content from OU for use in the United States and modified and adapted course content to align with curricula used by two- and four-year higher education institutions. The modular content is enhanced with activities (pre-assessment diagnostic activities, formative and post assessments) to engage adults in the learning process.
Why Open Educational Resources?
The B2S program has created open educational courses to assist students in assessing how they learn and in developing strategies of how to learn. The program also presents mathematics with real-world applications to strengthen students’ math skills and understanding of math. The goal is to close students’ developmental gaps so that they can move into college-level courses and complete a certificate or degree. The project is intended to offer open and free courses to improve college retention and to enhance recruitment from underserved populations.
The long-term objectives of B2S are to reduce the need for separate developmental mathematics courses and to positively impact student success and achievement in formal gatekeeper courses. The course content supports remediation and practice, accelerated time to complete the learning experience, and open pathways to new and enhanced skills. B2S aims for widespread adaptation and adoption of OER delivered on campus, online, or in blended formats. By offering two “bridging” courses — Learning to Learn and Succeed with Math — B2S provides gentle introductions to subject matter and online learning for underserved populations, nontraditional students, and those making a decision to seek higher education but unsure of their readiness. These content bridge courses can work for those new to any form of higher education and those who have little or no previous academic qualifications.
Content and Curriculum
The course Succeed with Math reviews key concepts in a nonthreatening manner to build confidence in students’ math skills and to reduce the fear of math. The online Learning to Learn program was designed for individuals thinking about starting or returning to college. Learning to Learn encourages participants to consider possible educational choices and the value of making plans for the future, and it helps individuals develop essential college and life skills. Course content is currently available by going to the website b2s.aacc.edu.
Learning to Learn Design
Learning to Learn is designed as a brief course for individuals considering starting or returning to college. The course is designed to:
- Build confidence
- Provide the tools and skills necessary for academic and workplace success
- Encourage the consideration of possible choices and the value of making plans for the future
- Increase personal awareness of qualities, knowledge, and skills
Course activities help develop the essential college and life skills of communication, problem solving, and self-management. Students are encouraged to explore their own learning experiences, consider the possibilities of using learning as a tool to achieve personal change, and develop a strong sense of who they are as learners. Students then hear from other individuals about what they achieved by pursuing the learning experience. Finally, students learn a variety of theories of learning and ways to apply them to their own lives.
Learning to Learn encourages students to consider personal change through reading, reflecting, and synthesizing their understanding of the course content. Some of the activities encourage them to develop a deeper understanding of the concepts presented. Students are asked to write down their thoughts after reviewing the written material or the video material. A “learning journal” can be created as they progress through the course to maintain a history of their written responses.
A number of tools are available to students as they progress through Learning to Learn:
- Activities: Assignments encourage the student to reflect on the reading and to critically analyze and respond in writing.
- Video Presentations: Video segments and transcripts of interviews with three students reveal their perceptions.
- Reveal Comment: After each video or activity, hints and other discussion points appear in a box.
- Case Studies: Case study reviews are included in the activities to explore the practical applications of the information.
- Figures and Diagrams: Visual examples are provided for requested assignments.
- References: Additional resources supplementing the content appear at the end of each unit.
- Length of Time: Each activity includes time estimates for how long it will take the student to complete the activity.
Succeed with Math Design
The design philosophy behind Succeed with Math is that math, as well as being a fascinating subject, underpins practically every aspect of modern life. Thus, this course moves from math in the abstract to an emphasis on practical math with real-world applications. Students are introduced to a range of key ideas and numerous practical examples that help them tackle everyday math problems at home, at work, or in their further studies. The goal is to build students’ confidence in their math skills, reduce their math anxiety, and provide a solid foundation for the pursuit of higher levels of math.
The course contains a variety of material aimed at maintaining the learner’s interest and motivation. It includes case studies, activities, puzzles, and historical snapshots as well as mention of more modern developments. There are also audio and video clips, online math games, and quizzes. Two learning tools specific to this course are “Pencasts” and an online calculator. Some of these items are indicated by graphics in the text:
- Activities are short questions in the text to help the students check their understanding of the previous text. They often have:
- Hints to help students, which are then followed by:
- Solutions to the question.
- Hints to help students, which are then followed by:
- Video clips, articles, or math games are taken from various sources on the web to bring the math topics to life.
The following two video clip examples provide interviews explaining real-world applications of math.
Potter Jeremy Ogusky explains how he uses math on the job (1:26 minutes):
Firefighter/EMT Robert Swanson talks about using math on the job (2:27 minutes):
- Audio clips provide background information on the topic being reviewed. Transcripts are available as an alternative to listening to the audio clips.
- Self-check problems and quizzes test the student’s understanding. These quizzes are available at the beginning and end of each of the units, and students should be encouraged to try them.
- Pencasts are short audio graphic/audio clips — the online equivalent of “chalk and talk” classroom sessions (see Figure 1). An instructor explains step by step how to solve a math problem in an animated PDF.
One Pencast created for Succeed with Math shows division by fractions (Figure 2).
- Online calculator provides a quick way for students to work through math problems. Available at http://web2.0calc.com/.
- Extensions and Further Exploration provide extra material for students who want to extend their understanding at the end of each unit. Instructors might want to encourage students to work through them for greater mastery of the content.
- Self-check (checklist) at the end of each unit summarizes the topics and skills covered.
The course content is currently being introduced in pilot programs throughout the United States. UMUC is currently offering Learning to Learn, facilitated by a campus instructor, as a bridge between enrollment and a student’s first day of class. The instructor-created forums for discussion encourage interaction between the students as they progress through the content. AACC is currently integrating the Learning to Learn content into a number of pilot programs across campus, including integration of the course content into Orientation Programs, Freshman Year Experience coursework, Adult Basic Education programs, and traditional college classes needing some enhancement of learning skills. The Succeed with Math content will be offered as a course alternative for students recruited by the AACC math department to start in January 2012.
No fewer than 10 additional colleges and universities, along with a number of Maryland State Agencies, are testing this open learning model. They will be piloting the course content in a number of ways:
- Added-value course material in addition to the already existing curriculum
- Standalone course material offered in formal and informal class settings to support students identified as needing developmental math and reading courses
- Utilization through online tutoring programs accessed via statewide library systems and formal tutoring programs
- Incorporation into course curriculum with Adult Basic Education Programs and Workforce Development Programs to support movement toward vocational and preparatory GED/High School Diploma programs
The B2S project is assessing student access, use, and effectiveness of content. Each student is assessed using a pre- and post-questionnaire to determine their level of growth and the impact on individual student enrollment and retention. Samples of the Learning to Learn questionnaires for assessment can be accessed at:
- Self-Reflection Questionnaire (pre-questionnaire)
- Please tell us what you thought of the course (post-questionnaire)
The instructors and facilitators of the pilot programs evaluate the course content, solicit student feedback, and observe mastery level of subject matter by their student participants.
B2S offers an opportunity for other educational institutions to operate in the blended world of the open learner. The pilot opportunity is open to any institution, organization, or agency that wants to add value to the educational opportunities they offer their current and future students — to offer true openness to anyone who wants to learn, build their academic skills, and pursue an educational degree. If you want to participate in piloting the Open Learning: Bridge to Success learning opportunities or find out more about how to connect to an open learning environment, please contact us through our website: b2s.aacc.edu. The B2S project also provides professional development opportunities with more information about OER and the project as a webinar training series. The website describes the upcoming webinars and provides the connection to register.
The pilot experiences will allow the Bridge to Success project to evaluate and assess the impact of the course content, evaluate the product design and the student/instructor experience, and measure student outcomes. The key data collection points will also consider the level of content mastery, deeper learning, and impact on student retention and enrollment. Best practices will be a direct outcome of this research activity, to promote continued efficacy of these open educational resources for the learner.
Online Learning: Bridge to Success is funded by a $750,000 Next Generation Learning Challenge (NGLC) grant. NGLC is led by EDUCAUSE, in partnership with the League for Innovation in the Community College, the International Association of K–12 Online Learning, and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation helped design the Next Generation Learning Challenges and fund the initiative.
- Thomas Bailey and Sung-woo Cho, Issue Brief: Developmental Education in Community Colleges; Prepared For: The White House Summit on Community Colleges (New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, October 2010).
© 2011 David Lascu. The text of this EQ article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.