Nearly a decade ago, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) made a commitment to helping low-income and first-generation college students achieve postsecondary success. Their aim is to remove barriers that contribute to the education gap including college readiness, affordability, and flexibility in terms of location and schedule. In 2014, The Foundation invested $20 million in a program they called The Next Generation Courseware Challenge. Educational technology companies selected for the challenge designed adaptive courseware that could be scaled for high-enrollment classes. The courseware is designed to solve two problems in higher education: personalizing the learning experience for students in high-enrollment classes and scaling the personalized learning experience so that it can be available to thousands of students at the same time. Research in the early stages of adaptive courseware adoption by community colleges, technical colleges, and traditional universities indicated that adaptive courseware used in blended courses (some online and some face-to-face time) increased student success. More research needs to be done, but the courseware’s potential to make postsecondary education more accessible to at-risk students convinced the Gates Foundation to move forward with it.
The Foundation worked with the Association of Public Land Grant Universities (APLU) to select eight universities to adopt the courseware in general education courses with high drop, withdrawal, and failure rates. In the summer of 2016, the University of Mississippi was one of the universities chosen for the grant.
To support faculty implementing personalized learning in their classes.
- To support student success, particularly among first-generation and low-income students, through the implementation of personalized learning strategies.
- To research and promote innovations that support faculty teaching excellence.
- To work with UM faculty support partners including CETL, the FTDC, ORSP, and the Office of the Provost.
- To build relationships with institutional partners with a shared commitment to innovation in higher education.
Team-based course development
We are looking for teams of 2-4 faculty in the same department and teaching the same general education, high-enrollment course to work with adaptive courseware suppliers to transition lecture-format delivery into interactive and adaptive lessons in adaptive courseware.
Benefits to departments and faculty teams
Stipend – PLATO will provide each faculty team member a $5,000.00 stipend during development of their course (year 1), another $2,500.00 during the pilot phase of the course (year 2) , and an additional $1,000.00 when the courseware scales to 50%+ student enrollments in a particular course during a particular semester (year 3). Stipends are distributed during the 3-year period of the grant, January 2017 – December 2019, so the sooner faculty join PLATO, the more money is available.
Interactive content and more meaningful use of class time – Adaptive courseware is an interactive delivery of course content that frees instructors to use class time addressing higher level learning, conducting discussions, and having students engage in collaborative problem-solving.
Successful students – The combination of adaptive courseware and the blended, flipped course format has proven to increase student success and student satisfaction.
Faculty development – PLATO will provide several faculty development opportunities each semester and in the summer months. These include hands-on workshops, communities of practices, webinars, and conferences.
Research opportunities and support – Adaptive learning is a relatively new and unstudied area of teaching and learning, thus there is a lot of interest on the part of universities, suppliers, policy makers, and charitable foundations on how to best implement it on scale, integrate it into the curriculum, and measure its usefulness. Both the APLU and SRI have funding available to support faculty research in their use of adaptive learning. In addition, PLATO has made a commitment to fund graduate assistants to help with research and to help with the use of adaptive courseware data to improve teaching and learning. Graduate student funding terms are ½ stipend each semester for each course (not section) taught using adaptive courseware.
Community of practice – Faculty who participate in the PLATO Program will regularly meet with others on campus doing the same work. There are also department and course-specific communities of practice at the national level who are supporting each other in adaptive learning.
Conference travel support – PLATO will help fund faculty who wish to attend edtech conferences, APLU meetings, or their own disciplinary conferences at which they are presenting on adaptive learning.
Responsibilities of faculty teams
Duties related to PLATO Program – You will be asked to work with the program manager to review suppliers, choose adaptive courseware that works for your course, and scale the use of adaptive courseware so that at least 50% of students who take that particular course are doing so using adaptive courseware any given semester. You will be asked to meet with the program manager and other PLATO Program faculty on a monthly basis, participate in APLU site visit meetings, participate in campus-wide PLATO Program events, and take part in faculty development events related to adaptive teaching and learning.
Duties related to your class – We ask that you
- integrate adaptive courseware as the primary delivery source of course content, practice, and review;
- have your students complete pre- and post-semester surveys regarding the use of adaptive courseware (we will provide those to you);
- report to us student success rates in the classes in which you’ve integrated adaptive courseware;
- include collaborative problem-based and/or active learning in your class sessions;
- use the instructor dashboard to track student progress and intervene when students are falling behind or in trouble;
- use the data analytics to review content areas and assessment questions that give students trouble.