MOOC builds English skills

Getting Ready for College English, a massive open online course (MOOC) that helps students avoid remedial courses has attracted more than 650 students from around the world.

Emily Rosado, who teaches at Montgomery College in Maryland, developed the free course. It includes video lectures, an interactive discussion board and instructor feedback.

Accelerated teaching

Teaching “accelerated” English and math is very different from teaching a traditional remedial class, write Katie Hern and Myra Snell, in Toward a Vision of Accelerated Curriculum and Pedagogy. In the LearningWorks brief, the two community college professors draw on their work with the California Acceleration Project (CAP), a project of the California Community College Support Network (3CSN).

In traditional models of remediation, students often work on sub-skills, such as completing grammar exercises or reviewing a long list of arithmetic and algebra procedures from their prior schooling.

“We don’t believe that the basics should be separated out and front-loaded before students can tackle more challenging – and frankly, more interesting – tasks,” writes Hern. “Instead, we believe under-prepared students need practice with college-level skills, content, and ways of thinking. They need to reason their way through open-ended questions on topics that matter. They need to think. And if, along the way, we see that they are weak in some of the basics, we need to build in targeted support.”

At 12 California community colleges offering accelerated remediation, completion of college-level English increased by 50 percent. Accelerated math students were 3.3 times more likely to complete a college-level math course, according to preliminary results from a study by the Research and Planning Group.

Ninety percent of low-level remedial math students never earn a certificate or degree. That’s “Old Testament bad, rivers of blood bad,” says Uri Treisman, a University of Texas math and public affairs professor.

“The evidence is clear that requiring students to complete multiple semesters of remedial courses is just not working,” says Linda Collins, executive director of LearningWorks. But community colleges “need to think about not only curricular structure, but about how faculty are teaching.”

Robo-reader replaces human teachers

Automated Teaching Machine, which foresees “the end of human teachers,” was created by two California community college professors. Adam Bessie, who teaches English at Diablo Valley College, was the writer;  Arthur King, who teaches studio and computer arts, was the illustrator.

It was inspired by the introduction of an automated reading machine to score English-placement assessments at the college, Bessie told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Previously, English-department faculty members had created and reviewed the assessments manually, a collective exercise that gave them the opportunity to discuss standards, he said.

“We were told that the robo-reader could do the same job as us for cheaper, which seemed an absurd notion,” Mr. Bessie said. “I had, before this, never heard of a robo-reader and thought that I had the one job that couldn’t be automated: that written human communication was one area that technology could augment, but not replace.”

Here’s the first part of the graphic, which was published on Truthout.

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Adults: Math is most valuable subject

Math is the most valuable school subject in later life, say Americans in a new Gallup poll. English, literature, or reading came in second, but lost a few points since 2002. Science/physics/biology increased from 4 percent to 12 percent, passing history for third place.

Trend: Thinking about all the subjects you studied in school, which one, if any, has been the most valuable to you in your life? [OPEN-ENDED]

The importance of English rises with higher levels of formal education, tying math as the most important among four-year college graduates and coming in first among postgraduates.

Learning to listen with compassion

Sarah Zale combined “compassionate listening” with participatory theater to teach English 101 at Portland Community College in Oregon, building on the college’s program on “Theater of the Oppressed.”

Now she’s added social science, community service, multiculturalism and global awareness to create the Listening Tree Project at Shoreline Community College near Seattle.

In November, the Listening Tree Club staged a five-minute skit on “the prejudices and power differentials” experienced by Asian and international students of color.  Then the audience replaced the characters and tried to resolve the conflicts.

This quarter, Zale is co-teaching an interdisciplinary course with drama instructor Deb Jacoby called “Leading the Way: Social Justice Through Activism and Compassion.”

Next year, the Listening Tree will be a sequence of three classes that satisfy humanities or social sciences requirements and lead to a  Leadership Trainer Certificate.“More and more, employers are looking for something that says ‘Yes, I have these skills, I can be a leader in community building and conflict resolution and demonstrate active listening to multicultural perspectives’.”

Collaboration means less remediation

Community colleges can reduce the need for remediation by collaborating with feeder high schools to prepare students, reports Inside Higher Ed. 

In California, Long Beach City College faculty worked with Long Beach Unified teachers to align high school and college courses. By using high school grades, not just placement tests, to decide who can start in college-level courses, LBCC dramatically lowered remediation rates.

For example, 53 percent of the group took transfer-level English courses in their first semester, while only 5.5 percent of students from the same high school district took the courses the previous year – meaning they were 10 times more likely to jump directly into credit-bearing English. And their passage rate of 62 percent was roughly the same as the college’s typical passage rate in English.

Fully 60 percent of the students in the program, which is dubbed “Promise Pathways,” placed into transfer-level English courses, compared to 11 percent of the college’s overall student population.

LBCC now places 31 percent of Promise Pathways students in college-level math, compared to 7 percent of students overall.

South Texas College, located near the U.S.-Mexican border, has works closely with high schools to prepare students for college.  Sixty-eight partner high schools offer dual enrollment programs, giving students a head start on an associate degree.

. . . the high school partnerships have helped drive down remedial placement rates to 17 percent, an extremely low number for a college that serves a largely lower-income, first-generation college population. The remedial placement rate has dropped by 45 percent since 2004, and Shirley A. Reed, the college’s president, credits dual enrollment as being a big part of that improvement.

“The high schools have accepted responsibility for college readiness,” Reed said. “Now we share in the responsibility.”

Preparing students for college success is the high schools’ job, write Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers in an Ed Week blog.

Democracy’s college? That’s over

Community colleges were supposes to be “democracy’s college,” writes Keith Kroll, an English professor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College in Michigan. That “grand experiment” is coming to an end, Kroll writes. From President Obama on down, community colleges are seen as job training centers providing workers for local employers, not as places where students begin higher education.

Within the next 20 years, 80 percent of classes will be taught online, he predicts. Ninety percent of faculty will be part-timers who may never meet their students or each other.

In the community college of the future each department will have one full-time “faculty manager,” whose responsibilities will include distributing prepackaged, business-driven curricula and course syllabi; selecting the common textbook from which all faculty members will “teach”; scheduling and assigning classes . . . and managing the online grading program that all faculty will use to assess student performance. There will no longer be in-person department meetings, faculty representation on college committees, shared governance, or professional development . . . (faculty) will no longer be teachers, but technicians with no say in what they teach and how they teach.

English instructors will teach writing solely to give students the practical skills required by employers, he writes. Literature — indeed all the liberal arts — will be eliminated on grounds they have “no economic value.”

The revised mission statement of the Association of American Colleges and Universities is “to make liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice in higher education.” I’m not sure what “inclusive excellence’ means.


Accelerated students do better

High-level remedial writing students are more likely to complete college-level English courses if they participate in Community College of Baltimore County’s Accelerated Learning Program (ALP), concludes a Community College Research Center follow-up study.  Furthermore, ALP students were more likely than non-ALP students to persist to the next year.

ALP lets developmental students take classes with college-ready students. College-ready students in ALP English 101 did as well as similar students in  wholly college-ready sections, but slightly lower subsequent college-level course enrollment and completion.


Math, English aren’t only ‘obstacle courses’

Introductory math and English courses are gatekeepers at community colleges: Many students don’t make it through. But via other introductory courses are “obstacle courses” that can block completion, according to a new study by Matthew Zeidenberg, Davis Jenkins and Marc Scott if Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia.

. . .  if colleges want to increase students’ chances of earning a credential, they will need to pay attention to student performance in a broader set of courses beyond simply college math and English. They should also rethink college remediation or developmental instruction, which tends to focus on math and English and not on other obstacle courses.

“Obstacle courses” include:  College Success Skills, Introduction to Computer Applications and Concepts, History of Western Civilization I , Introduction to Business, Principles of Accounting I and Beginning Spanish I.

A student’s overall grade point average — not the grade in any particular course — was the best predictor of success or failure.

Report: Scrap most remedial courses

College remedial education requires  “transformation,” not just tinkering, concludes a national coalition of higher education groups. Core Principles for Transforming Remedial Education recommends scrapping most remedial courses. Instead, most poorly prepared students  would be placed in college-level, for-credit courses with extra support, such as tutoring, computer labs and extra classroom time.

The report was issued by the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas, Complete College America, Education Commission of the States, and Jobs for the Future.

 “Half of all America’s undergraduates and 70% of its community college students begin college in at least one remedial course, and only one in four remedial community college students ever make it to graduation day,” said Stan Jones, president of Complete College America.

For every 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial English, fewer than three ever complete a college-level English class. Only one in 10 students assigned to three or more semesters of remedial math passes a first-year college-level math course.

The report also calls for changing requirements so students take the subjects they need for their program of study, but don’t have to take irrelevant courses. That means not everyone would take algebra.

“This is especially important in math, which is the most significant barrier to college success for remedial students,” said Uri Treisman, director of the Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin. “Too many students today are required to pass college-level algebra when statistics or quantitative literacy would be much more appropriate preparation.”

In a joint statement, the groups called for “immediate, large-scale changes” to turn remediation from a barrier to a gateway.