Category Archives: Learning College Summit 2010


The last presentation I attended at the Learning College Summit 2010 was probably the best of the bunch. In a conference year marked by a paucity of faculty practioners, Prof. Betty Frost’s presentation on Jackson State Community College’s (Tennessee) Bellwether Award winning SMART (Developmental) Math program was inspiring. SMART stands for Survive Master Achieve Review Transfer. Camosun members of the department formerly known as ABE may find some remarkable similarities to our own late and lamented Open Lab at Interurban.

SMART Math’s goals are very similar to our own developmental math goals here at Camosun:

  • Improve Student Success
  • Increase Learning
  • Prepare students for career and educational goals – not just remediate high school deficiencies

Like our old math lab, the SMART Learning Environment incorporates two class sections of 30 each into a large learning centre. They are open six days a week as well as four evenings and staffed by instructors, professional tutors (possibly equivalent to our instructional assistants?) and student tutors. As MyMathLab/MathXL plays a key part in the instructional process, the centre is equipped with 76 computer stations, including an area set aside for proctored testing.

Before the ‘redesign’, they taught Basic Math through Intermediate Algebra in traditional classrooms. Students had to complete all three courses before enrolling in certain college level courses. Each instructor designed their own course materials and the class time was inflexible. If a student failed to complete in one term, they had to start over the next term. The pass rate was 42%.

The SMART Math objectives are based on mastery of competencies, not just self-paced. It provides more frequent opportunities for success with accommodation of learning styles, on-demand individual assistance and immediate feedback on tests and homework all offered in an environment that provides opportunities to progress more quickly (or slowly). The three original courses have been modularized with multiple exit options to fit individual student requirements based on educational and career goals. As a result, there are more frequent opportunities for successful completion.

Modularization was accomplished by separating the three traditional courses into 12 modules. Procedures were set up to provide students with multi-exit options based on their career choices. Rather than have students register for each separate module, three ‘shell’ courses were set up with a student completing four modules in each. Their grade for each course was the average of their four highest module scores. Students needing to complete more modules could register in a fourth shell course. Roles have changed for faculty. They are now facilitators and evaluators of student learning. As well as guiding each student’s study through developmental math, they also lead small group instruction on difficult topics.

New students begin with a pre-test on Module 1 which requires 80% percent mastery to move on. If they score less than 80%, they complete the MathXL assigned homework, a practice test and then a post-test. They require 80% mastery to move from one homework assignment to the next. Seventy-five percent mastery is required on the proctored post-test.

The program has been successful. Mean post-test scores have increased by up to 20% over traditional instructional approaches. More importantly the overall success rate has increased by 45% and overall retention by 14%. Cost savings have come to both the students and the college. Students can complete developmental math requirement in one term and also adjust their schedule to suit family and work commitments. In addition to reducing college costs per student by over 20%, college enrollment numbers have increased as students are now able to more readily meet course prerequisites for credit courses.

The model is certainly applicable to our developmental math courses at Camosun. While more exploration is needed on how this model could be adapted for our own essential skills agenda, it is certainly a way to respond to identified community partner learning needs.

Learning Summit 2010

I’m in Phoenix at the League for Innovation’s Learning College Summit 2010 conference.

The keynote presentation was by Terry O’Banion and Cyntia Wilson on the connections between the Principles of a Learning College and the Student Success/Completion Agenda.

According to O’Banion a learning college

  • Creates substantive change in the individual learner.
  • Engages learners as full partners in the learning process, assuming primary responsibility for their own choices.
  • Treats and offers as many options for learning as possible.
  • Assists learners to form and participate in collaborative learning activities.
  • Defines the roles of learning facilitators by the needs of the learners.
  • Succeeds only when it can document improved and expanded learning.

In the last few years more money has been spent on community colleges  than in the previous 100 plus years. Much of this money comes from foundations like Lumina and Gates. The focus of this money has been the Student Success/Completion Agenda goals. Key issues for these are

  • Focus on low-income, underprepared, and/or underrepresented students
  • Measures of success include
    • course completion
    • retention
    • certificate (one-year or more)
    • degree
    • job

The presentation asked us to discuss two ‘big questions’.

  • Do actions arising from the Principles of the Learning College improve and expand studen learning (as identified by the Student Success/Completion Agenda)?
  • How do we know?

While the context of this was distinctly American, there are parallels with Canadian and specifically Camosun College Community Learning Partnerships department issues around the Nine Essential Skills.

Some issues raised by O’Banion that resonated with us all are

“We have created a culture of access that limits student success.” He mentioned allowing late registration as an example of this.

President Obama has set a goal of increasing college graduation by 5 million by 2020.

The Lumina Foundation’s goal is to increase enrollment by 60% by 2025.

The Gates Foundation wants to double enrollment of younger (<26), low income adults wbho will earn ‘labor market value’ credentials.

Thes goals are set in the context of a college completion rate that  has been flat for 40 years.

To meet these goals foundations are giving more money than they have in all the previous 110 years combined of the existence of community colleges.

The commom elements of these initiatives are a focus on low income, under-prepared students.

The measures of success are connected to one year certification or more and NOT short-term course credentials. Course completion and retention leading to jobs are leading indicators of success.