Our department has been working on a new “Express Track” for developmental math and English for the past year, and we’re all set to launch a pilot in the fall of 2013. This project has basically been my life for the last year–research, conferences, meetings, planning, designing…phew!
If you’re not in Higher Education, let me assure you: Accelerated Developmental Education is all the rage. And with good reason: retention rates for developmental students are rather low—for a variety of reasons. Often, students languish in developmental courses, never making it to their college-level courses, dropping out before they’ve even had the chance to try that upper-level coursework. Students are often frustrated by the need to complete 1, 2, 3, or even 4 extra semesters completing required developmental pre-requisite courses before beginning the requirements of their major or program. Many students also get into their developmental courses and find themselves bored, reviewing material they already know. They zone out, and when the lessons they actually do need are introduced, they’ve already given up on the class as unnecessary and irrelevant.
So it makes sense that if we speed up the developmental sequence, we increase student retention. However, we can’t do that at the expense of the knowledge the students need to be successful in their credit coursework. So how do we manage to speed up the process without sacrificing needed skills and knowledge?
1. Modularize the course content for all developmental courses.
2. Remove the modules from their current “home courses” and put them into new “shell courses.”
4. Diagnostically test students.
5. Create individualized learning paths for students based on diagnostic testing.
6. Institute Just-in-Time-Teaching (web-based technology + active learning in class) for individualized instruction.
Now, I’ve been working on this project so long that I started to take for granted that people understand certain elements of the project that they actually don’t (you know, because they’re not in my field). One of those elements is Just-in-Time-Teaching (JiTT). I have been assuming when I use that term people understand what I’m saying. In the first few presentations I did, no one questioned it. They nodded along, excited about the acceleration (and not so concerned about how we would be handling it pedagogically). But as I continued to present the plan, people started asking, “Just-in-Time-Teaching? What is that?” and worse “Isn’t this just independent study? Self-paced learning?”
I, of course, nearly doubled over in my attempt to quickly squash any references to independent study or self-paced coursework. Because that’s not what we’re doing. What we are doing is individualized instruction and JiTT.
JiTT with individualized instruction is a pedagogical strategy that employs a web-based learning management system (such as Blackboard or, in our case, MyFoundationsLab by Pearson) coupled with active, participatory learning in the classroom. In short, students complete work via the learning management system online outside of class. The instructor reviews the work they’ve completed and then uses it to develop in-class activities, assignments, mini-lectures (and so forth) geared specifically to the needs of the students in the class. Thus, class time is used far more effectively. Further, students stay more actively engaged in learning and are more motivated to succeed. This is a key part of “Express Track-ing” students through pre-curriculum coursework and increasing student retention and success. To simplify, in the Express Track curriculum, we aim to meet students where they are and give them exactly what they need to get them where they need to be.
Now if I can just remember to explain that accurately in all my upcoming presentations…