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.

Key Education Transitions

Shining a Light on Opportunities in College and Career

Daryl GrahamSenior Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds By Daryl Graham, Senior Vice President, Philanthropy, USA Funds

I often am struck by the many opportunities I have had in my career and my life, thanks to the college degree I received many years ago. And then I think about the challenges that today’s college students face — challenges that too often prevent them from enjoying the myriad opportunities my degree has afforded me.

That’s why I’m proud to have joined an organization so committed to ensuring that students not only have access to college or other postsecondary training, but that they also complete that higher education prepared for successful careers and fulfilling lives.

In fact, you could say I was a proponent of USA Funds®focus — Completion With a Purpose® — long before it became my job in February.

For 15 years I have worked to identify opportunities for grant making, sponsorships and volunteerism. I look forward to putting that experience to work both in the Indianapolis community, where USA Funds is based, and across the nation — particularly for at-risk youth and disconnected young adults.

daryl-graham-quoteI’ve long been committed to the principle behind Completion With a Purpose, that students need to understand their opportunities and follow their own surest paths to completing postsecondary education or training and succeeding at work and life.

Because where there are opportunities, there is hope. Hope not only for better-educated and productive individuals, but also for a better society in Indianapolis, across Indiana, and in other states and cities whose citizens understand and follow their clearest pathways to success.

Achieving these positive results for individuals and communities will require some rethinking, a willingness to embrace innovative ideas for higher education. We even need to consider the larger question of what quality postsecondary education means today.

Educational institutions at all levels as well as employers, policymakers and community-based organizations must be willing to work together to enhance the value of post-high school education. We must be open to evaluating data that show the best opportunities for success, whether those opportunities come through degrees from majority higher education institutions, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, community colleges, or through other forms of certification and credentialing.

And USA Funds already is helping to lead this charge for boosting college and career success.

In a professional life already filled with opportunity, built on the foundation that my education has provided, I consider my new role in helping USA Funds advance Completion With a Purpose to be one of my greatest opportunities yet. I embrace that opportunity and look forward to making a difference for students and their communities.

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.

Employer Engagement

Partnership Addresses Kentucky’s Talent Pipeline Needs

Derrick RedelmanBy Derek Redelman, Vice President, Research & Policy, USA Funds

Engage with any chamber of commerce in the country these days, and you’re certain to hear its members’ concerns about the workforce.

In my previous role, heading up education and workforce issues for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, no issue was more persistently at the top of our agenda. Sure, a lot of our members would identify some other issue as their highest concern — whether it was health care, a range of regulatory issues, labor rules, taxes or something else. But on the whole, across any state or regional business community, no issue was more persistent than their concerns about education and the workforce.

Moreover, those concerns have real consequences — real numbers that affect bottom lines, employment and, ultimately, the economy as a whole.

Just last year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were nearly 6 million unfilled jobs in our country. And numbers like that seem to persist, to a significant degree, regardless of overall economic conditions. During the height of our recent “Great Recession” — when unemployment rates in some states, like USA Funds®’ home state of Indiana, were flirting with double-digit numbers — 40 percent of the employers in the state reported they could not find qualified workers to fill vacant positions.

More recently, as unemployment rates declined, the Indiana Chamber reported that percentage had increased to 45 percent.

So it should be little surprise that those representing businesses, including chambers of commerce, have taken such a keen interest in education and workforce issues. At the national level, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has been a leader on such issues, from preschool to academic standards to workforce issues and more. The Manufacturing Institute, a branch of the National Association of Manufacturers; the Business Roundtable; and the Business-Higher Education Forum are among other organizations focusing on education and the workforce.

Affecting change
At statehouses across the country, chambers of commerce often are the most consistent, and sometimes the loudest and most effective, advocates of education reform and improved higher education and workforce systems. Moreover, their political action arms often are responsible for electing the legislators who drive these reforms. And in many states, chamber foundations add to these efforts with research and other special initiatives.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce ranks among the most active and effective chambers in its work on education issues.

So it is with great anticipation that USA Funds is providing a grant to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to help establish a Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center. Through that new center, the Chamber will engage the business community to help advance several initiatives for addressing the needs of employers. Among those efforts are:

  • Creation of additional business collaboratives, in concert with the Talent Pipeline Management initiative that USA Funds is supporting with the U.S. Chamber.
  • Assistance to employers who serve on state and local workforce boards or participate in other workforce or educational leadership roles.
  • Increased focus on data, including the supply/demand tools that USA Funds has helped to initiate through our college value-focused work.
  • Engagement of government and education leaders to help ensure better communication and cooperation between suppliers of talent and those who hire their trainees and graduates.

Announcing our partnership
On Jan. 25 I had the pleasure of attending and speaking to the Kentucky Chamber’s 2nd Annual Workforce Summit in Lexington. The capacity audience included an impressive group of workforce training and education providers, small-to-large employers, and key government leaders. Presentations and discussions focused on:

  • Workforce trends.
  • Employer needs.
  • Improving opportunities for military veterans.
  • Employer engagement.
  • Workplace learning and apprenticeships.
  • Improved use of workforce data.

USA Funds announced our commitment to the Chamber’s efforts at the event’s lunch, which also included the introduction of Beth Davisson as executive director of the new Kentucky Chamber Workforce Center. The Chamber recently hired Beth from a large pool of candidates, and she brings a terrific set of skills to this work. She previously served in both workforce and human resource leadership roles, and she has been recognized as a “Top Business Leader Under 40” and among the “Top 20 People to Know in Human Resources.”

Kentucky Chamber’s 2nd Annual Workforce Summit
Dave Adkisson, from left, and Beth Davisson of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce join Redelman at the Kentucky Chamber’s 2nd Annual Workforce Summit.

Developed in partnership with Anna Gatlin Schilling, USA Funds’ vice president for National Engagement and Strategic Communications, our investment in Kentucky also represents a new approach to investments in state leadership. Whereas previous state engagements have provided direct support to governors’ offices, this grant extends that work to a nongovernmental organization with direct connections to and support of a key education constituency: the state’s employers.

Importantly, however, the demonstrated partnership already developed between the Kentucky Chamber and the state’s new governor, Matt Bevin, played an important role in the decision to support these efforts.

As I told the attendees at lunch on Jan. 25, it’s quite impolitic in the middle of basketball season for a Hoosier native to speak so well of our neighbors to the south. But it is with great pleasure — and also high expectations — that USA Funds initiates this partnership with our neighbors in Kentucky.

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.