Gates, MOOCs and Remediation

Early returns show that massive open online courses (MOOCs) work best for motivated and academically prepared students. But could high-quality MOOCs benefit a broader range of learners, like those who get tripped up by remedial classes?

That’s the question the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation wants to answer with a newly announced round of 10 grants for the creation of MOOCs for remedial coursework.

“We’re trying to seed the conversation and seed the experimentation,” said Josh Jarrett, the foundation’s deputy director for education and postsecondary education.

MOOCs tend to provoke strong feelings in the academy, and in the wake of Gates’s announcement this week, some observers questioned whether free, widely available online courses could be tailored to students with remedial needs. But others, including experts on developmental learning, welcomed the attempt to tackle one of higher education’s most vexing problems.

“This has the potential for raising the quality of instruction in developmental education, if used properly,” said Hunter R. Boylan, director of the National Center for Developmental Education.

The foundation seeks applications for MOOCs with content that focuses on a “high-enrollment, low-success introductory level course that is a barrier to success for many students, particularly low-income, first-generation students.”

That’s a tall order, said Amy Slaton, an associate professor of history at Drexel University. MOOCs are about economies of scale, she said, which are not compatible with the personalized support remedial students typically require to succeed. Doing high-touch teaching on the cheap “doesn’t work in the real world,” said Slaton, an expert on technical education and workforce issues. “When you spend more, more kids learn.” (Read more.)

Via Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed.

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Texas Completes Ready For Next Phase of Completion Plan

​A group of five community colleges in Texas will soon start implementing a statewide student success and credential completion effort called Texas Completes.

The group last week announced its initial action plan and strategy to improve the Texas community college completion rate based on findings from its first year. It will focus on implementing the following initiatives as a first step in the effort to create a unified student pathway to success:

  • Revise the curriculum to quickly get students into programs of study, streamline time to degree and facilitate transfer to four-year institutions.
  • Create a comprehensive student advising and management system that ensures students a strong start and consistent feedback along each step of their way through college.
  • Restructure developmental education to reduce time spent in pre-collegiate coursework.

With its planning phase funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation under the former initiative Texas Completion by Design, the new Texas Completes initiative will move ahead with the financial support of state and regional funders. (Other two-year colleges selected to participate in the national Completion by Design program are in Florida, North Carolina and Ohio.)

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Colleges Misassign Many to Remedial Classes, Studies Find

Two new studies from the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College have found that community colleges unnecessarily place tens of thousands of entering students in remedial classes — and that their placement decisions would be just as good if they relied on high school grade-point averages instead of standardized placement tests.

The studies address one of the most intractable problems of higher education: the dead end of remedial education. At most community colleges, a majority of entering students who recently graduated from high school are placed in remedial classes, where they pay tuition but earn no college credit. Over all, less than a quarter of those who start in remedial classes go on to earn two-year degrees or transfer to four-year colleges.

The studies, one of a large urban community college system and the other of a statewide system, found that more than a quarter of the students assigned to remedial classes based on their test scores could have passed college-level courses with a grade of B or higher.

“We hear a lot about the high rates of failure in college-level classes at community colleges,” said Judith Scott-Clayton, the author of the urban study and a Teachers College professor of economics and education and senior research associate. “Those are very visible. What’s harder to see are the students who could have done well at college level but never got the chance because of these placement tests.”

The colleges’ use of the leading placement tests — the College Board’s Accuplacer and ACT’s Compass — lead to mistakes in both directions, the studies find, but students going into college-level classes they cannot handle is not as serious as unnecessary remedial placement, which often derails college careers.

Although the placement tests have been widely used since the late 1980s, students rarely understand how much is at stake. Typically, students are told that they need not worry about the tests because they are for placement — and very few colleges encourage them to prepare as they would for a college-entrance exam like the SAT. (Read more.)

Via Tamar Lewin, The New York Times.

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