A portal to learning

With human counselors in short supply, some colleges are trying to use technology to help students make good choices, improve study skills and connect to support services. A Web portal diagnoses students’ “learning styles” and lets instructors and counselors  follow their progress at Central Piedmont Community College in North Carolina, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Its Online Student Portal learning system, a Web site, assesses the learning styles of at-risk students (whether they learn best through reading, hearing, or hands-on work) and helps them understand how their personality traits might connect to study and career choices. It also provides a ready link to college counselors and instructors, allowing them to send so-called “early alerts” if a student starts having trouble in a class. And it carries a record of these interactions from term to term, so students and advisers can easily see where students have been—and where they’re going.

From 2004 through 2008, students who participated in all aspects of the Web-portal program, along with a “college success” course, did much better than those who didn’t participate. They were about 9 percent more likely to stay enrolled from spring to the subsequent fall term. They were about 11 percent more likely to get A-through-C grades in their courses, and about 3 percent more likely to graduate. And their retention rate in their first college term reached 87 percent­—a big leap from the previous figures for overall retention.

Now Central Piedmont, with money from Next Generation Learning Challenges, is giving the portal technology to six other community colleges.

Timothy A. Graham, a 49-year-old unemployed truck driver, had been out of school for a long time before enrolling at Central Piedmont. “So it’s really helpful to be told, ‘This is what you need to do to succeed here.'”

In addition, the portal makes it easy for instructors to communicate with counselors about students who are missing class or struggling.


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