California community colleges’ experiment with accelerated remediation: Maybe there’s more learning going on
Remedial courses in higher-education are important to get right, for lots of reasons. Certainly, that’s one of the big stumbling blocks in MOOCs — many people who start a MOOC aren’t prepared for that level material (or maybe, the MOOCs presume too much knowledge to start). The CAITE alliance was able to improve diversity in Massachusetts’ universities, by improving the transfer from community college, but that path sometimes requires remedial courses. If we could get remediation right, we might improve diversity, make distance learning more successful, and (as suggested below) improve graduation rates.
The story below is unusual: Make remediation better, by making it shorter. A simple time-on-task model would suggest that there’s less being learned. I hypothesize that it might be working (i.e., resulting in more learning), by looking at it from a different model.
At the Future Computer Science Research Summit in Orlando in early January, Nobel laureate Carl Wieman gave a talk where he referenced the famous Richard Hake 6000 subject study. One of the results of that study is that traditional lecture only results in students learning about 30-40 percent of what was being taught, but with student engagement pedagogies, 60-80 percent is learned.
Note the word: engagement. We can engage by using techniques like peer instruction. I wonder if we can also engage by saying, “This required course will be made shorter. You still need it to move on to something you want, but now, it’s less painful.” Could that result in more learning? Maybe that 30-40% becomes 50-60%? So a reduction of a few weeks in time may actually result in equal or more learning?
Remedial courses are widely seen as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to improving college graduation rates, as few students who place into remediation ever earn a degree.
The problem is particularly severe for black and Hispanic students, who account for almost half of the California community college system’s total enrollment of 2.4 million.
More than 50 percent of black and Hispanic community college students place three or more levels below college mathematics, said Myra Snell, a math professor at Los Medanos College. And only 6 percent of those remedial students will complete a credit-bearing math course within three years of starting the first remedial course.
A key reason for abysmal pass rates is the length of remedial sequences, argue Snell and Katie Hern, an English instructor at Chabot College, which, like Los Medanos, is a two-year institution located in California.
“The lower down you start, the fewer students complete,” Hern said.
The two instructors decided to do something about the problem. In 2010 they founded the California Acceleration Project. Armed with research from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advanced of Teaching and the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College, they encouraged their peers to offer shorter remedial sequences in math and English.