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Emerging Technologies Ready to Reshape Community Colleges - Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Investments of $12.9 million aimed at boosting graduation rates, fostering faculty collaboration, creating new learning tools

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
206-709-3400
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: +1.206.709.3400
Email: media@gatesfoundation.org

SEATTLE -- The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced today $12.9 million in technology-related grants that promise to fundamentally change how community college students are educated and, ultimately, improve their graduation rates.

Last February, President Obama set a goal to again make America first in the world in the percentage of citizens holding a postsecondary credential. The most recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report indicates the United States is tenth in the world in the percentage of adults with a postsecondary credential and, if the current trends stay the same, is headed in the wrong direction.

While more students are enrolling in some kind of educational program after high school than ever before, not nearly enough leave with a degree in hand. Three-quarters of first-time community college students do not graduate within three years. Often it’s not a question of effort or motivation. Rather, these students face multiple challenges: many are not academically ready for college-level work; they juggle school and family responsibilities; the courses take too much time or cost too much; or the class work is not engaging or relevant.

For decades, technology has promised to improve America’s education system through improved teaching and learning, more flexible and engaging delivery options, and increased data transparency. Yet investments in educational technology have yielded lackluster results because technology has almost always been treated as an “add on” to traditional curriculum and teaching. Rarely has the power of technology been harnessed to fundamentally change how educators do their jobs.

Recent trends, however, suggest that teachers and technology developers are finally poised to make a substantial impact on our educational system. For instance, 20 percent of college students already take at least one online course, and Congress is weighing legislation that could pump $500 million into the creation of open, online courses.

The grants announced today promise to advance the role of technology at community colleges beyond online courses. The recipients will use their grants to:

  • In collaboration with community college faculty across the country, blend the best of learning science and technology to create, evaluate and continuously improve virtual learning environments that support teachers and accelerate students' academic progression.
  • Create Web 2.0 tools and social media to bring together the nation’s best professors in a virtual community to create a national certification for teachers of remedial (i.e. developmental) education.
  • Create engaging and dynamic virtual learning labs and make them freely available as open educational resources (OER).
“We are targeting the best new ideas that hold the greatest promise for improving the odds for low-income young adult learners,” said Hilary Pennington, director of education, Postsecondary Success and Special Initiatives for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The power of technology is its ability to connect people, foster collaboration, empower learners and teachers, and challenge the status quo.”

The emerging technologies that will receive funding from these grants promise to change the community college landscape for all students, but especially those that are least prepared when they arrive on a college campus and who also often face the pressure of balancing work, school, and family responsibilities. For example, online and digital courses have the potential to greatly reduce costs and promote flexible scheduling, allowing students to learn when and where it is convenient for them. Multimedia elements, social networking, and educational games can make learning interactive, enjoyable, and relevant.

“Using a mix of learning approaches, we can use technology to make learning more accessible to a wider range of students,” said Monterey Institute for Technology and Education’s (MITE) director of learning designer Ruth Rominger. “We can create learning environments that let students work through the courses in a way that is suitable for their learning styles.”

A summary of the grants announced today:

  • Global Skills for College Completion (GSCC) ($3.6 million) to innovate math and writing basic skills pedagogy via Web 2.0 and social media that consistently results in increased student pass rates, and is driven by an online community of 26 outstanding basic skills faculty in 16 states on 13 campuses. GSCC is a collaboration between the League for Innovation in Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Knowledge in the Public Interest, and the Community College Research Center.
  • Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE) ($5 million) to produce developmental mathematics course materials that will be made available as an OER. The project aims to dramatically increase the number of students that meet the required mathematics standards for admittance to desirable postsecondary educational programs and career opportunities through interactive and adaptive multimedia and games. Individual students and teachers will have free access to the material through the HippoCampus website, and institutional rights-of-use may be purchased with a nominal membership fee.
  • Carnegie Mellon University’s Community College Open Learning Initiative (CC-OLI) ($2.5 million) for the collaborative development, use, evaluation, and continuous improvement of web-based open learning environments for high-demand “gatekeeper” courses. The CC-OLI learning environments will be developed by teams of learning scientists, human-computer interaction experts, software engineers, and faculty subject matter experts from over 40 community colleges across the country. The project will use intelligent tutoring systems, virtual labs, simulations, and provide frequent opportunities for assessment and feedback to combine the best technology with person-to-person instruction in “blended” courses. The target, over the next three years, is to increase successful course completion rates in the classes using CC-OLI by 25 percent.
  • National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) ($1.8 million) to engage community colleges in redesigning developmental math based on proven methods of integrating technology and learner-centered pedagogy. Course redesign at NCAT partner institutions has resulted in an average of 51 percent increase in course completions and 37 percent reduction in instructional costs.
The Gates Foundation’s Postsecondary Success initiative aims to double the number of low-income students who earn a valued postsecondary degree or credential by age 26. Since 2000, the foundation has invested nearly $4 billion in grants and scholarships to improve opportunity in the United States by improving schools, raising college-ready graduation rates, and increasing college completion rates.

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