Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Implementing Adaptive Learning Courseware? New Guide Can Help

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo L. Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, Strada Education Network

One of the most innovative opportunities for addressing student success and personalizing learning today is the use of adaptive courseware. The courseware allows educators to tailor the instructional experience based on a learner’s individual needs.

A new guide aims to help institutions implement the tools that facilitate this personalized approach to instruction.

The Implementing Adaptive Courseware guide is the result of a two-year effort through the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). In that project, APLU’s Personalized Learning Consortium coordinated the development and implementation of adaptive courseware for use in first-year English composition instruction. Faculty teams from four universities — Georgia State University, Montclair State University, the University of Georgia and the University of Mississippi — developed and piloted the courseware.

APLU Personalized Learning Consortium
A new guide from the APLU Personalized Learning Consortium focuses on adaptive courseware development, use and evaluation.

The project featured collaboration between institutions, faculty and students to develop scalable adaptive learning practices. Twelve faculty members contributed to the courseware or deployed it in their English composition courses with 463 students in 2016.

Goals of the project were to:

  • Engage faculty in the development and use of next-generation learning technologies and explore how adaptive approaches can improve learner mastery.
  • Create a discipline-specific cohort of faculty.
  • Support the development of learning modules using an adaptive platform.
  • Pilot learning modules in English composition courses at multiple institutions.
  • Evaluate and report on institutions’ experiences with adaptive courseware, and its impact on student learning.

Strada Education Network℠, formerly USA Funds®, supported the project to help promote innovative approaches to college and career preparation. The work is in line with Strada Education’s focus on Completion With a Purpose®, enhancing student success in college — or other postsecondary programs — and connecting graduates to rewarding careers and fulfilling lives.

The new guide outlines the steps involved in engaging faculty in the development and implementation of adaptive learning technologies, and tips and ideas for overcoming obstacles along the way.

Lynn Brabender, APLU
Lynn Brabender

I asked Lynn Brabender, program manager for the APLU Personalized Learning Consortium, about the project and the lessons learned.

Q: Why was collaboration important in this project?

By collaborating across institutions, faculty members were able to share ideas and identify common skills, learning objectives and content for first-year English composition courses. They had the opportunity to brainstorm the potential use of adaptive courseware to support these learning objectives and identify technology platform capabilities to support instruction.

Q: How should institutions approach the selection of an adaptive learning courseware platform?

We brought together faculty members from the participating institutions and representatives of courseware vendors for an in-person meeting. After presentations by each vendor, the faculty selected the vendor determined to be best suited to provide the tools to develop the courseware envisioned.

Because adaptive learning platforms are emerging technologies, there can be challenges related to the courseware’s capacity to meet faculty expectations. We learned that, in selecting the right tools for the task, it is important that there is a clear understanding not only about your instructional needs and goals — but also about your timeframe for development.

Q: What role should faculty play in developing personalized learning courseware?

Engaging faculty members in this project allowed them to broaden their understanding of adaptive courseware and explore its potential use for personalizing instruction.

Regularly engaging participating faculty, in person when possible, allows them to track progress, discuss common areas of concern, and prepare for training. Even evaluating tools that do not meet their needs can help them — and their students — to engage in the adaptive learning process. A high level of direct support to faculty is critical to ensuring that they can best develop the learning platform, so we established regular office hours for facilitating that support during this project.

Q: What did you learn about the value of adaptive learning courseware?

Faculty expressed optimism about the potential of adaptive courseware as a valuable tool for personalized learning. Students enjoyed the interactivity of the courseware and ability to receive feedback from professors and were receptive to expanding the use of adaptive learning technologies.

We view this project, and the resulting guide, as a starting point for campus-based or multi-institution faculty teams seeking to launch adaptive courseware initiatives.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Top Education Ideas Connect College and Career Through Technology

Allison Griffin, Strada Education NetworkBy Alison Griffin, Senior Vice President, External and Government Relations, Strada Education Network

How might we better prepare all learners for the needs of tomorrow by reimagining higher education?

OpenIDEO has announced the Top Ideas in its Future of Higher Education Challenge — and the results suggest the answer to that question lies in connecting college and career through use of educational technology.

A tool that uses data to connect learners to careers. Apps that support students through the educational journey and beyond. Online options that support education for career advancement. The Top Ideas aim to help learners of all kinds evolve with the needs of tomorrow — not just as they pursue higher education but also as they put that education to work in their careers and communities.

And technology, the Top Ideas remind us, is important not only in meeting the changing needs of students and the workforce but also in making those solutions broadly available.

Strada Education Network℠, formerly USA Funds®, is a sponsor of the Future of Higher Education Challenge. I was proud to serve as an evaluator in this months-long search for innovative postsecondary education ideas, joined by my colleagues Craig Anderson and Tammy Lakes of Student Connections and Mike Marriner of Roadtrip Nation, both Strada Education companies.

In the Future of Higher Education Challenge, OpenIDEO called on the global community for ideas to better prepare students for active civic engagement, real-world employment and career success in an ever-transforming economy. The submissions named Top Ideas last week are:

Sidekick EducationSidekick Education tool that collects data about how students work side-by-side with industry experts to solve real-world problems, and uses that data to connect students to their ideal careers.

MyBoardMyBoard: Meet Your Own Personal Board app and desktop tool that places students with teams of “life board members” who meet regularly with those students during and following their education.

MAPP — My Action Plan with PurposeMAPP — My Action Plan with Purpose, which combines an interactive “vision MAPP” of careers and lifestyles with mentoring to guide learners to academic, personal and professional success.

Anyone’s Learning Experience (ALEX)Anyone’s Learning Experience (ALEX) online marketplace that helps professionals advance their careers by taking individual, in-person courses from across colleges, universities and training programs.

PeletonUPeletonU addresses the needs of nontraditional students by combining online, competency-based education with in-person support to help working adults succeed.

Those involved in the Top Ideas now will have the opportunity to discuss and refine their innovations with sector experts. We’ll learn more from those who submitted the Top Ideas at events such as the upcoming Strada Education-sponsored ASU GSV Summit.

And at Strada Education, we look forward to continuing to advance ideas like those selected as the leaders through the Future of Higher Education Challenge. They’re ideas that, like Strada Education’s own guiding principle of Completion With a Purpose®, enhance student success in college — or other postsecondary programs — and connect graduates to rewarding careers and fulfilling lives.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

The Intersection of Instruction and Outcomes

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

What is the relationship between college instruction and student outcomes?

A new paper examines that question in five key areas — making the case that “what faculty do and how instruction occurs matter, and matter greatly.”

“Unpacking Relationships: Instruction and Student Outcomes,” from the American Council on Education (ACE), argues for additional support for faculty, to ensure they’re equipped to follow the evidence-based practices that have a positive impact on student outcomes

ACEThe paper is part of a collaboration between ACE and USA Funds® to examine higher education instruction and assess the connection between quality teaching and an improved student experience, which may lead to increased retention, persistence, and success rates.

Author Natasha Jankowski, director of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, discussed the paper during a recent webinar for higher education faculty, support staff and administrators and employers.

The goal? To disseminate a composite of best practices in college instruction that often aren’t considered as part of the holistic student experience. This intersection between instruction and student outcomes, the paper concludes, includes the following areas:

Transparency: Students must have a clear understanding of where they are going, the criteria that will evaluate how they get there, and each course’s role in the curriculum.

Pedagogical approaches: Practices such as student-centered learning and personalized instruction generally lead to deeper understanding of a subject.

Assessment: Students learn best by receiving multiple opportunities to practice learning in a variety of situations and by receiving feedback along the way.

Self-regulation: Active participation in learning, using reflection in addition to experience, is an important component in student success.

Alignment: Content, instructional design, pedagogical approaches, assignments and evaluative criteria should work together to help students to connect the pieces in their curricula.

During the January webinar, the report’s author called for more-thorough orientation, training and sharing among instructors to encourage these best practices in college instruction. Up next are additional reports that go beyond connections between effective instruction and student outcomes to examine the impact improved student outcomes have on institutional efficiency.

ACE Unpacking Relationships
“Unpacking Relationships” is part of a USA Funds grant project aimed at improving the classroom experience for students.

Equipping faculty with the tools and techniques necessary to positively impact the curricular experience for an increasingly diverse student population is central to improving postsecondary attainment and student success.

Through our work together, USA Funds and ACE will advance the most central endeavor to the academic enterprise — effective instruction. We will help increase awareness of the need for quality assessment of faculty development that will ultimately lead to an improved classroom experience for students.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Key Themes, Practices Emerge in Re-Imagining First Year of College

georgemehaffy-aascuBy George L. Mehaffy, Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change, AASCU

A newly released study indicates that rich and poor students who graduate from college achieve similar income levels as adults, no matter the income of their families. This is an exciting finding, for it suggests that the American dream is still obtainable, despite growing economic inequality.

But college graduation rates — particularly those of low-income and first-generation students — are not as good as they should be. This lack of success in college wastes the potential of thousands of students, while limiting the capacity of our economy.

USA Funds’ Lorenzo Esters, left, joins Mehaffy after the presentation of the USA Funds RFY grant in 2015.
USA Funds’ Lorenzo Esters, left, joins Mehaffy after the presentation of the USA Funds RFY grant in 2015.

We know that there are a series of strategies and programs that can dramatically improve student retention and graduation rates. But, too often, implementation has proven to be a problem.

Re-imagining education
To address these implementation issues, we created the three-year project “Re-Imagining the First Year of College (RFY),” supported by USA Funds® and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

RFY seeks to identify and test a series of programs, strategies and tools that will increase retention rates and success for all first-year college students. The project, which began in January 2016, involves a diverse group of 44 campuses that are members of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU).

As part of the initiative, a team from each participating institution is developing a campus plan for innovation in students’ first year. Members of that team are administrators, faculty members, student affairs professionals and students.

Themes for change
In the first year of the project, as we have engaged in this work with our campuses, we have found ourselves addressing several recurring themes:

  1. How do you build a commitment to simultaneous, scalable change? What we’ve seen is modest — almost timid — efforts at innovation. It’s easy to be innovative if you are not trying to be comprehensively innovative. But the era of pilots and boutique innovation is over. What we now must have is large-scale innovation that dramatically changes the student success profile for a campus. This innovation requires multiple sets of changes across all parts of the enterprise. It is a daunting challenge, but we see examples of campuses that are achieving remarkable results.
  2. The most fundamental problem with American universities is that they were designed for us, not for our students. Classes offered at inconvenient times. Administrative offices in separate buildings. Services that are not available at the times that students need them, or are available only in distant locations. These examples and a host of others grow out of an organization designed primarily for its faculty and staff. In their 1995 Change magazine article, Robert Barr and John Tagg put it this way: The core problem with higher education is that our institutions were designed as teaching institutions, not as learning institutions, confusing means and ends.
  3. Two factors in institutional change stand out: culture and leadership. A 2005 AASCU study examined 12 high-performing institutions to determine the critical factors that contributed to high graduation rates. The study repeatedly found that a campus culture that supported student success, by assuming some of the responsibility for success, produced higher graduation rates. Strong institutional leadership that emphasized the campus obligation to student success was key. Now the challenge of how to change campus culture is a constant topic of our work.
  4. Some student failure is not the fault of students but of the structures, policies and practices we have put in place. We have to examine the conditions we created that contribute to student failure. Arcane language, a complex and often unforgiving system to navigate, and a host of other factors all contribute to student failure. And these factors — under our control, not the students’ — have the most deleterious effect on low-income and first generation students and students of color.

Promising approaches
As our 44 RFY campuses have designed new policies, strategies and practices, here are some approaches we think are most promising for redesigning the first year of college:

  • Belonging: Having a growth mindset both in student self-perceptions and in academic design.
  • Pathways: Providing well-defined pathways, detailed degree maps, and alternatives to college algebra.
  • Careers and meta-majors: Placing special importance on these choices in the first year.
  • Remedial: Offering co–requisites and summer bridge programs.
  • Course redesign: Reworking gateway courses, focusing on learning outcomes, including high-impact practices in all courses, and developing classes that focus on student interest and engagement.
  • Advising: Using a team of professional advisers, informed by data analytics.
  • Predictive and data analytics: Building in early alerts, based on communications with faculty and advisers.
  • Faculty hiring and development: Focusing on new faculty selection, extended onboarding, faculty development, and greater support for adjunct faculty.

This project, in summary, is both sobering and heartening at the same time. The work of changing an institution is enormously complicated, with a huge array of forces at work, many working in opposition to one another. But the campuses in the Re-Imagining project are alive with energy, excitement and commitment, engaging in substantive conversations and altering long-existing practices to contribute to student success.

Perhaps most importantly, I have been struck by the belief that, in helping more students succeed, we are helping our country succeed. This is work that all of us in higher education must undertake.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Advancing the Higher Education Innovation Agenda

Bill HansenBy Bill Hansen, USA Funds President and CEO

Sixty years ago this October, the Soviet Union’s launch of a tiny satellite called Sputnik shocked the United States out of its complacency over the education levels of its citizens. Our nation responded with an array of innovative new policies and practices to enhance Americans’ skill levels — especially in science, math and engineering — and open the doors of higher education to millions of new students.

With economists now reporting that we are nearing “full employment,” and with recent wage gains, our nation again risks becoming complacent about the results it is achieving from its higher education system. Even with these gains, the level of economic angst remains high, fueled in part by the large number of working-age adults who have dropped out of the workforce and concerns about the quality of the new jobs being created.

Despite an uptick in the economy, a persistent misalignment of graduates’ skills and competencies with the needs of the workforce threatens our future prosperity. This misalignment results in many graduates’ having too long a glide path to rewarding careers, and leaves many employers challenged to find qualified candidates to fill the jobs they need to grow their businesses.

To address this challenge, I believe we need to ignite a new spirit of innovation and creativity in higher education within the academy, abetted by employers and policymakers, and tapping well-tested solutions from private enterprise.

Bill Hansen, left, with David Johnson of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership/BioCrossroads, answers audience questions at the Jan. 24 Economic Club of Indiana luncheon.

I had the opportunity to share the following examples of innovative new approaches with nearly 600 business, civic and education leaders at this week’s luncheon of the Economic Club of Indiana:

Listening to the voice of the consumer in higher education. I believe the experiences that former students had in higher education and the outcomes of those experiences can inform and enhance efforts to improve student success rates. Our partnership with Gallup will share these insights from surveys of 10,000 adults every month.

Helping college-bound students and their parents, as well as working adults, make better postsecondary program choices based on outcomes rather than inputs. Groundbreaking resources such as Indiana’s College Return on Investment Reports and Indiana College Value Index allow students to compare college programs based on their cost and student debt levels, employment rates for and earnings of their graduates, and graduates’ satisfaction with their jobs and lives.

Equipping students and working adults with resources to explore how they can translate their life passions into careers. Resources such as those offered by Roadtrip Nation  allow both students and adults to discover their unique paths through education to their life goals. I am especially proud of the recent production The Next Mission, which follows three veterans of military service as they explore with other vets the transition to civilian life.

Building a strong connection between K-12 and postsecondary education. Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis, which will open this fall, is an exciting effort to improve the connection to college, and ultimately to rewarding STEM careers, for inner-city students.

Modernizing the financing of college. Our financial aid programs have successfully promoted near-universal access to higher education. But those programs are less successful in promoting college completion, and our federal student loan program was built for a different era. I suggest that we explore promising alternatives, like income-share agreements, such as Purdue’s Back a Boiler  program. Money management and student loan repayment support programs, like those from Student Connections℠, help ensure students have the “fiscal fitness” to complete college and launch their careers without drowning in debt.

Supporting all students, but especially low-income and first-generation students, to persist and complete their studies. These students typically arrive on campus without the college survival skills or support networks that their classmates enjoy. An initiative involving the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Indiana State University, Ivy Tech Community College  and Inside Track to provide student success coaches  to 21st Century Scholars so far has shown promising results in improving retention rates for these low- and moderate-income students.

Exposing students to the world of work throughout their years in education. Quality internships, apprenticeships and work experiences, such as that offered by Education at Work, help students earn income and tuition assistance to pay college costs, while also equipping them with “soft skills” that they will need in their careers and connecting them to potential employers.

I believe these examples represent the start of a higher education innovation agenda that will produce better outcomes for students and help employers enrich their talent pipelines. I invite you to share and discuss this list with your colleagues, and submit your suggestions for this agenda in the comments section by selecting the comment icon at the upper right of this article.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Collaboration Fuels Higher Education Innovation

Allison Griffin, USA FundsBy Alison Griffin, Senior Vice President, External and Government Relations, USA Funds

There’s strength in numbers, and nowhere is that more evident than in the world of higher education innovation.

I recently had the honor of taking part in a panel discussion, hosted by New America, about the progress of the University Innovation Alliance. The alliance is a group of 11 institutions that are using innovative practices to serve more students, and more effectively.

uia-logoThese next-generation universities are tackling some of the biggest issues facing today’s campuses, using approaches like predictive analytics and intensive advising. Their goal: to improve outcomes for all students, regardless of background.

The UIA is showing that, by working together and bringing solutions to scale, higher education institutions can make a real difference for their students and their communities.

USA Funds® is one of six private organizations funding the work of UIA. The UIA participating schools’ clear commitment to collaboration is one reason its initiatives are such a good fit for USA Funds’ support.

USA Funds’ guiding principle is Completion With a Purpose®: enhancing postsecondary education completion rates while also helping graduates more successfully launch into rewarding careers. One way we advance Completion With a Purpose is by partnering with groups of institutions whose focused leaders — working together — are transforming the way we prepare students for careers and life in ways that individual action can’t.

It’s through collaboration, like that shown in the work of the UIA, that institutions have the greatest capacity to tap into the pipeline of students most at risk of not receiving postsecondary degrees.

New America Panel
Taking part in the panel discussion “Defining Next Generation Universities” were, from left: David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Hilary Pennington of Ford Foundation, Tina Gridiron of Lumina Foundation, Alison Griffin of USA Funds, and Kevin Carey of New America.

Working as a team, institutions can learn from each other even as they’re developing and implementing innovative approaches to higher education. And then, once their efforts yield results, the reach of a group of institutions is greater than that of a single university to share the ideas and outcomes with others.

UIA member Georgia State University, for example, has found that a data-driven, personalized advising system helps to close achievement gaps for at-risk students. And Arizona State University, also a member of the alliance, is another example of success in data-driven student advising; the institution has implemented an electronic program that closely monitors and alerts students of their academic progress.

In these cases — and in other UIA success stories — an entire group of institutions then works together to implement similar programs on their own campuses and spread the word to others.

This collaborative approach to higher education innovation hasn’t been the norm, but endeavors like UIA point to a new era of enhancing student outcomes. The old protect-and-defend mentality is beginning to give way to efforts that tap into the collective strength of universities, to better address access and completion challenges for students from all walks of life.

It’s a change in mindset that already is paying dividends in helping to ensure the economic mobility of students and communities universities serve.

Innovation in College & Career Preparation

Bold, Intentional and Focused: Early Lessons From MSI College Value

Lorenzo Esters, USA FundsBy Lorenzo Esters, Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

If you had $325,000 and three years to improve the success of students and the value of a college education, what would you do?

USA Funds® posed that question to a group of minority-serving institutions through a competitive grant process, selecting seven of the schools for the award based on their responses. The MSI Measuring College Value initiative aims to help institutions more effectively use data to help students stay on track to completion and successfully navigate into rewarding careers.

Over the last few months, I’ve had the pleasure of joining project consultants Randy Swing and Yael Kidron in meeting with teams from each of the institutions. We’ve considered their answers to that all-important question as they begin their work on improving college and career success for students.

Lorenzo Esters addresses the board of Wiley College, recipient of a USA Funds Measuring College Value Grant, during a recent visit there.
Lorenzo Esters addresses the board of Wiley College, recipient of a USA Funds Measuring College Value Grant, during a recent visit there.

Here’s one lesson we quickly learned: Higher education professionals value every student with whom they work. The hope for 100 percent success for all students drives many dedicated educators every day. As one individual put it, “I’m proud to say that I have never given up on any student.”

But there are times that require triage and choices to ensure the best outcome for the most individuals.

Saving all students

One of the difficult decisions the seven grantee institutions face is foundational to any college or university wishing to improve student success: Do you focus on the students who are most at risk, or focus on students who are closest to being successful and most immediately able to benefit from support? There are valid reasons to pursue either option.

It was clear that all seven schools wanted to “save” all students. One philosophy is that “a rising tide raises all boats,” meaning that bringing up the lowest-achieving students will benefit everyone. Since peer-to-peer relationships have a huge impact, it is reasonable to expect that success, motivation and pride can sweep through an entire organization when the least likely to succeed beat the odds that are against them.

The catch is that helping the most at-risk student often requires intense focus and considerable resources — and yet carries significant potential of still being too little to change the outcome.

Alternatively, many management experts suggest that the fastest way to “move the needle” on organizational achievement is to focus on the areas of “near-success,” where removing small barriers boosts individuals over the success line.

Using fewer resources to move students to success is rewarding — but taking this route comes at the cost of knowing that it leaves the most at-risk students behind.

Targeting the assistance

Another observation from our visits with the seven grantees was the challenge of narrowing the scope of any targeted intervention. All students are different. And different populations require different interventions and support systems.

For example, focusing on all first-time students may be too broad of a focus. But a decision to focus specifically on first-time-in-college, first-generation, low-income students may yield findings and interventions that boost the success of that particular population of students. An institution then could choose another population on which to focus. The college or university could develop interventions based on what it learns through data related to that population.

The decision about how to best use limited resources is the kind of choice that tests institutional mission and resolve. The right choice is the one that fits an institution’s culture and mores, and it must come from within the institution.

Experience, however, suggests that there is one wrong approach to using data to promote college and career success: failing to be intentional and strategic. Action that isn’t intentional and strategic risks the desired outcomes by spreading resources too thinly. Using data and professional knowledge in decision making begins with being intentional about your target issue and target cohort of students.

The takeaway: In advancing college completion and career readiness, be bold, be intentional, and be focused.

Enhancing college value

The seven minority-serving institutions in this program are well-positioned to set the standard for enhancing college value.

Over the next few months, they will finalize their action plans by establishing the populations of students on which they’ll focus, and the steps to take to improve college value. In the subsequent two years of the initiative, they will work with faculty, staff, students and employers to implement practices and policies and revise curricula in an effort to enhance the career readiness of students.