Technology-enhanced approaches to improving math college readiness

Concurrent Session 3

Brief Abstract

Innovative approaches to improving math college readiness are flourishing. Many emerging approaches rely on learning technologies to address individual student needs in place of traditional lock-step developmental courses.  Panelists will share recent research on the effectiveness of technology-enhanced models and one college’s experience implementing EdReady and accelerated, mastery-based developmental modules.


Rebecca Griffiths is a principal education researcher at SRI Education, a non-profit research institute. She specializes in blending qualitative and quantitative methods to understand the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of technology-enhanced instruction in postsecondary education. Her work also examines organizational and systemic facilitators and obstacles to adoption of educational technologies. Griffiths has led large-scale research and evaluation projects involving numerous institutional partners and stakeholders. Her work spans multiple sectors of postsecondary education, including research universities, regional comprehensives, community colleges, and liberal arts colleges. Specific areas of focus are college readiness, open educational resources, and hybrid/blended learning.
Bruce A. Johnson currently serves as the Associate Dean of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) in Charlotte, NC. His educational background includes graduate studies in mathematics education, applied mathematics, educational leadership and community college leadership. After serving as a mathematics instructor, mathematics department chair and academic dean for other North Carolina community colleges, Bruce Johnson joined CPCC in 2009 as the Director of the Mathematics Division. In that time, he has been a key contributor to a number of college, statewide and nationwide educational initiatives, led CPCC’s recent mathematics curriculum reform efforts, established a cost-efficient and high-quality online placement test prep tool for CPCC students and has blazed new collaborative trails with faculty and staff in the K-12 sector. In 2013, Bruce began serving as CPCC’s Associate Dean of STEM; providing oversight for the Associate in Science degree and administrative leadership for the mathematics and sciences divisions. As a former community college student, Bruce Johnson is very familiar with the experiences and challenges that students face when attempting to navigate to, and beyond, the 4-year university. More recently, as a result of his creative vision for success, and as a testament to his commitment to student success, CPCC was recently awarded a $1.5M grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish the North Carolina STEM Alliance (NCSA). The primary goal of the NCSA is to increase the number of underrepresented minority students that earn bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines. Bruce is a passionate and genuine leader that has a proven track record of placing the needs of others before his own preferences so that all involved can be better positioned to exuberantly move forward towards excellence.

Extended Abstract

Traditional approaches to remediation are not working for a large share of aspiring postsecondary students. A large body of evidence shows that substantial numbers of students fail to make it through lock-step, semester-long developmental courses, especially in math, and thus are unable to attain degrees. Moreover, research suggests that frequently used mechanisms for placing students in developmental math are too blunt, and that many students who are assigned to developmental sequences could succeed in college-level math with certain supports.

Educators across the country have been experimenting with a variety of innovative approaches to improving students’ math skills and helping them succeed in college-level math.  For example:

  • High schools and summer bridge programs provide students with access to learning software designed to improve their placement test scores;
  • Colleges and universities are streamlining developmental sequences so that students can address their skill gaps more quickly and efficiently;
  • Co-curricular supports are emerging to enable students to enroll directly in college-level math courses and remediate skill gaps on an as-needed basis.

Most of these models rely on learning technologies to enable more personalized instruction targeted to the specific needs of each student.  Some use “mastery-based” systems that enable students to “test out” of topics they have already learned and focus their efforts on specific gaps in their skills and knowledge. Some technologies are instrumented with adaptive algorithms that aim to provide students with customized learning paths. In most cases, these technologies are administered by instructors or facilitators who provide structure, encouragement and sometimes tutoring to help students succeed. 

What do we know about the effectiveness of these technology-enhanced models and of specific technology systems? The panel includes two researchers and one practitioner who has led developmental math reform. 

The first panelist will share findings from a randomized controlled experiment involving Pearson’s MyFoundationsLab, a mastery-based program designed for remediating math college readiness skill gaps. This study, supported by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, tested whether an online-only summer bridge program designed around MyFoundationsLab can improve students’ placement scores and math credit attainment during their first year of college. The panelist will describe findings from the three sites: whether students took advantage of the program, how it impacted their math placement test scores, whether there were differences in first year math achievement between students who received the intervention and those who did not.

The second panelist will describe new research examining use of EdReady, a personalized college math readiness application designed to help learners test their college readiness, see study options, and gain a personalized learning path to fill in knowledge gaps. EdReady is designed and maintained by The NROC Project, a community-guided non-profit. This research is part of a multi-year evaluation of EdReady conducted on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  During the 2014/2015 academic year researchers documented ways in which the EdReady system is being used in K12 and postsecondary contexts, identified facilitators and barriers to adoption, and catalogued emerging evidence from pilot studies.  During the 2015/2016 academic year researchers conducted multiple quasi-experimental studies to examine the impact of EdReady use in a variety of models. The panelist will share key findings from both years of study.

The third panelist leads STEM education reform efforts at a community college in North Carolina and also serves on a statewide task force to improve college and career readiness through K12-postsecondary collaborations.  He will describe his experience redesigning a developmental program using EdReady into accelerated, mastery-based modules at his college and how the new model is helping improve student access to college level courses. He will also describe strategies being piloted across the state to improve math college readiness and how secondary schools and colleges can work together to bridge the gap. 

Finally, all three speakers will reflect on what they see as the most promising way forward for improving math college readiness based on available evidence.  Panelists will invite questions from the audience and will also ask audience members to share relevant experiences with these or other emerging approaches to improving students’ ability to succeed in college math.