Open-Sourcing Developmental Education at Bossier Parish Community College

Categories: 2013 December 36:4

Allison Martin, Director of Institutional Effectiveness Initiatives

Editor’s Note:  This article is based on a presentation given by the author and colleagues at the 2013 NACADA International Conference in Maastricht, The Netherlands.

Allison Martin.jpg

Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) has become the first college in the nation to create a cross-disciplinary, open-source series of free, online, non-credit developmental-level math, English, and reading courses called BPCC Open Campus. The initiative presently includes five developmental courses, and BPCC’s own students/prospective students are signing up at a brisk pace. Ultimately, the College hopes that what it is doing may serve as a valuable resource for other colleges and universities facing similar challenges of advising and remediating underprepared students.

Developmental-level MOOCs are still relatively new on the open-source scene, and most are targeting mathematics. Access to quality and consistent math prep is certainly a priority at BPCC; the College has created three developmental-level open-source math courses to address those deficiencies. Yet underprepared students often need help with comprehension, communication, and critical thinking skills. BPCC’s reading comprehension and grammar fundamentals courses specifically target those areas.

How is this related to advising?

About six years ago, as a faculty member, every semester I had as one of my advisees a long-haul truck driver who was taking online classes toward his associate’s degree in general studies. This student successfully completed one online course after another. Unfortunately, he was unable to enroll in math or English courses to complete a degree because he never placed above the developmental level on the College’s placement tests and, because of work restrictions, this gentleman did not have the luxury of attending face-to-face classes.

My advisee, like most “rising-potential” students who cannot attend face-to-face classes, was hindered by space/time limitations of the traditional classroom. As a result of poor retention outcomes, the majority of colleges have limited their developmental offerings only to students who’ve demonstrated aptitude markers for success. Certainly, developmental students are vulnerable from the start; they often require close engagement and, generally, are not self-starters—attributes indicative of students unsuccessful in an online environment.

When my student ran out of options, he and I, as his advisor, were stuck in a completion Catch-22. Eventually, I lost contact with him as he became discouraged over his lack of choice.

That experience left me thinking. In the past, I had designed several online courses for credit-bearing instruction and knew that some “seasoned” students, such as my truck-driver advisee (who was self-disciplined and focused), might have fared much better than the average first-time, full-time freshman if only I could design a user-friendly template tailored to a developmental-level skill-set.

I was uncertain as to how to offer a classroom “feel” in an online environment, but was convinced that face-to-face contact was an essential piece in the developmental student success puzzle.

On the other side of campus, BPCC’s Blackboard Administrator Gary Ware had researched an inexpensive lecture-capture technology that would not only allow instructors to record brief lectures but, also, to conveniently switch from white board/instructor shots to screen shots of slides, documents, and websites.

Ware and I partnered in offering a lecture-capture pilot in a face-to-face, developmental English course; from the outset, Ware recalls, “student feedback was overwhelmingly positive.” While other variables restricted the gathering of quantitative evidence within the pilot, Ware reports that students liked having the opportunity to view class lectures repeatedly as they prepared for writings and exams. He continues, “students expressed more confidence in their ability to process the notes, as they realized they could review unfamiliar details” (G. Ware, personal communication, August 29, 2013).

My post-graduate work, which focused upon Computer-Mediated Communication, and Ware’s certification in both learning management systems (LMS) and telecommunications production, allowed us to then team up to create a custom template which might better respond to the needs of developmental-level students. We had both trained in “Quality Matters (QM),” the gold-standard template for online higher ed coursework, and we started with the QM premise: that a quality, online course must be built upon a consistent, predictable framework.

Learning Modules, the template centerpiece for each course, contained only three basic features: brief video lectures, printable, open-source handouts, and multiple choice, self-graded quizzes.

Ware then researched inexpensive hardware and software options, and in April 2012, we brought our proposal to the attention of the College’s Chancellor, James Henderson. With Henderson’s endorsement and on a shoestring budget, the College’s MOOC series—BPCC’s Open Campus—quickly became a reality.

As a long-time BPCC faculty advisor, I had received much feedback from my students over the years about their classroom experiences; I knew which BPCC instructors students felt shared an enthusiasm for developmental instruction and which, in the eyes of their students, successfully “connected” with their students.

It was not difficult to solicit instructor support, and by mid-fall 2012, five developmental instructors (three math, one English, and one reading) enthusiastically began designing their content and video-recording their lectures in the small studio the team had set up. I have never experienced such a true team effort. We were all of the same mind, and we all wanted to produce a quality product that would benefit students and non-students alike.

Thirteen months later, BPCC’s Open Campus opened its enrollments to the public. Within five weeks and with only word-of-mouth advertising, the series had enrolled almost 400 students. By September 1 of that year, course enrollments skyrocketed past 1,300 students, growing at a rate of 100+ per week. Other colleges including Delgado Community College, Grambling State University, and Wiley College began to express interest in BPCC’s model.

As the fledgling Open Campus team begins phase two of its initiative, BPCC’s mission for the project remains the same: to provide individuals free and open access to quality, consistent developmental instruction.

Ultimately, while BPCC’s own students benefit from access to additional instructional support, the College offers those same resources freely to any individuals or colleges interested in closing knowledge gaps that may hinder student success in higher ed.

The Specifics

BPCC’s initiative is unique among popular MOOC sites (such as Coursera) in that courses are specifically tailored to developmental student populations. Open Campus courses have been produced “in-house” by BPCC’s most dynamic developmental faculty and feature learning modules with brief videos of lectures, hand-outs, and multiple-choice quizzes.

Each learning module/unit within a course lists its learning outcomes up front, and modules reflect the order in which course material is commonly presented. Many instructors recognize that some students may need to brush up on specific weak areas, rather than to complete the course linearly and in its entirety. “Front-loading” the learning outcomes allows students to navigate toward module content that responds to their perceived weakness.

Instructors encapsulated their video lectures into brief segments, in most cases fewer than 15 minutes. Instructors also segmented their video content so that students might avoid feeling overwhelmed by too many ideas presented at once.

Ultimately, the team felt it most important that students view an instructor’s face during the lectures, instead of hearing merely a voice over a static PowerPoint presentation. Even during screenshots, almost all videos include a minimized “head-shot” of the instructor in the lower corner explaining the concept on screen.

I strongly believe that nothing can take the place of face-to-face instruction. Practically all instructors recognize that, in a perfect world, one-on-one teacher/student interaction provides the optimal results. For most of us, that’s a pipe dream. It is all we can do to provide meaningful dialogue with 30 students in a classroom. Few institutions refuse a 30-to-one course delivery method just because it isn’t as effective as a one-to-one delivery method.

While online instruction does not present the optimal learning environment, the medium offers rich potential to extend access to those with few options.

BPCC faculty and staff worked together to design courses that help students prepare for college-level placement testing and serve as supplements for college students enrolled in credit-bearing coursework. Yet since BPCC’s Open Campus series is open to anyone, without strings attached, individuals (regardless of status) may enroll and use instructional materials in any way they please.  BPCC’s Open Campus courses are open to anyone, any age, anywhere, anytime, without cost or obligation. Course enrollments are quite scalable so that underserved populations can benefit. Sign-up is user-friendly, and, once they self-enroll, participants can access their courses through popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google.

Courses now available include Basic Math, Beginning Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, Fundamentals of Grammar, and Reading Comprehension. “Phase Two” courses premiering fall 2013 include Fundamentals of Writing, College-level Algebra, and Introductory Science.

I have not forgotten about the truck-driver student whose plight prompted me to seek a solution. That single student who lacked quality, consistent instruction, who never placed out of developmental coursework, had long since dropped off the BPCC radar screen and was never able to complete his degree at the College. That lone student remains our inspiration to reach the underprepared and underserved populations who long for free access yet need instructor ‘face time’ to have a chance at success.

Allison Martin-Maastricht.jpg“We’re all working to reach the same end result,” Ware says, “to better prepare people to achieve success in their education and career goals” (G. Ware, personal communication, August 29, 2013).

For more information about BPCC’s Open Campus, please contact me at the email address below.

Allison Martin
Director of Institutional Effectiveness Initiatives
Bossier Parish Community College
amartin@bpcc.edu

Cite this article using APA style as: Martin, A. (2013, December). Open-sourcing developmental education at Bossier Parish Community College. Academic Advising Today, 36(4). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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