Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education – Introduction

The area of college developmental education has been an area of focus recently at Sauk Valley Community College, with good reason. The reasearch shows that developmental education in its current form is often not effective and that working with students in high school, before placement testing, is more effective.

I propose studying the effectiveness of an online college-readiness program based on principles in the Maker Movement, namely a self-paced, collaborative program focused on authentic learning.

Development of the program would likely take the majority of the 2017-18 school year, with the first high school students starting to use the program in the spring and summer semesters of 2018. Studying initial results could start as early as the fall of 2018.

Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education – Implementation Plan

This is at an implementation plan for the developmental education project I am working on for Sauk Valley Community College. For background, please see the project overview and literature review.


Phase 1: Build Coalition, Get Feedback, Refine. (July-August 2017)

This phase will focus on presenting the plan for initial feedback and discussions. The plan could change dramatically based on the feedback received from key stakeholders. Once the plan is complete, the plan will be presented to as many people in the following groups as possible:

  • fellow administrators at SVCC,
  • members of Developmental Education Committee,
  • Sauk instructors, particularly in math and English departments,
  • high school and college students, and
  • high school teachers and guidance counselors.

In addition to gathering feedback to refine the plan, the hope would be for a coalition to emerge that could move the plan forward.

Phase 2: Develop LTI Q&A Forum and Courses  (August-October 2017)

Assuming the discussions in phase 1 show that the plan is generally on-track, the development phase could begin.

  • Research and/or develop learning management system LTI plugin for a Q&A-style forum with ranking and badges for answering questions.
  • Begin arranging course content, working with instructors to begin adapting existing online developmental courses or developing new one. Also explore alternative courses that could be incorporated to give developmental students exposure to different teaching methods.

Phase 3: Roll Out Courses (October 2017-January 2018)

This phase will focus on working with instructors and instructional technologists to finish developing and arranging courses, making them available to students, and letting students know the courses are available.

Phase 4: Begin Compiling Research (January-December 2018)

  • Compile baseline research, against which the results from new courses can be compared.
  • Monitor student progress through the developmental education courses to see what students’ usage patterns are.
  • Evaluate any available initial results (e.g. number of developmental education course placements)

Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education – Implementation Plan Draft

This is a first look at an implementation plan for the developmental education project I am working on for Sauk Valley Community College. For background, you can also see the project overview and literature review.


This is very broad at this point, but I’ll be building it out over the coming weeks and months.

Phase 1: Build Coalition, Get Feedback, Refine. (July-August 2017)

  • Present plan to administrators at SVCC.
  • Present plan to members of Developmental Education Committee.
  • Meet with instructors, particularly in math and English departments.

Phase 2: Develop LTI Q&A Forum and Courses  (August-October 2017)

  • Research and/or develop plugin.
  • Begin arranging course content.

Phase 3: Roll Out Courses (October 2017-January 2018)

  • Work with instructors and instructional technologists to finish developing and arranging courses.

Phase 4: Begin Compiling Research (January-December 2018)

  • Compile baseline research
  • Monitor student progress
  • Evaluate initial results (e.g. number of developmental education course placements)

Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education at Sauk Valley Community College

See the related literature review for research background on this project.

Community colleges have long fought the perception that they are just an extension of high school, or “high school with ashtrays.” This is certainly understandable, as they devote a lot of time and resources to striving to ensure that the quality of education is college-level. However, in another sense, assisting the transition from high school to college is an important role that community colleges fill — whether for those students who are not independently wealthy, not able or ready to move away, or who are not yet prepared for college-level work.

That third category — developmental education — is an area of the community college that is ripe for disruption. At Sauk Valley Community College, fewer than half of students are successful in developmental education courses the first time, and only half will continue as students past the first year . The current prevailing model places these courses as a barrier to be overcome before taking college-level coursework. A student — who may well have been receiving the message for years that they are “not good enough,” or “not college material” — takes a placement test, where they are told they are not good enough for college-level work. They must then enroll in and pay for classes — often multiple semesters’ worth — for which they will not receive credit. If they cannot pass the first time, the process repeats. Is it surprising, then, that the completion rates are so low?

I believe— and the reasearch shows— it is crucial to reach these students prior to college placement tests. Often this is done by pointing the finger at high schools, who are already facing extraordinary pressure to be everything to everyone. Instead, I would like to study the effectiveness of a self-directed, online college-readiness program based on principles espoused by the Maker Movement.

The biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the Maker Movement is to transform education. My hope is that the agents of change will be the students themselves. Increasingly, technology has given students more control over their lives, and even the simplest cellphone can change a person’s sense of agency. Students are seeking to direct their own education lives, looking to engage in creative and stimulating experiences. Many understand the difference between the pain of education and the pleasure of real learning. Unfortunately, they are forced to seek opportunities outside of school to express themselves and to demonstrate what they can do. 

Even if physically producing objects isn’t involved, I believe that some core ideas of the Maker Movement can make learning and particularly developmental learning more successful.

The Maker Movement is built around the idea that encourages people to try to do something; to take what then know and add something more. Traditional developmental education, by contrast, starts by reinforcing that the student is not good enough. Makerspaces are designed with collaboration, and particularly collaboration across areas, in mind. For example, to make a lamp, one may need help from someone who does ceramics for the body of the lamp, an electrician for the wiring, and a glazier for a stained glass shade. Everyone works together, and everyone gets to be both the teacher and the student. Developmental education classes separate students into the areas where they are weakest, further demoralizing them. A Maker has the freedom to proceed at the pace they are able to and desire to, whereas developmental education classes feature set times; if the student is not able to “get it” during that time, they must repeat the class.

A maker-style developmental education class, therefore, would

  • be encouraging to the student as they pursue college readiness,
  • be collaborative and enable the student to assist others as well as learn, and
  • be self-paced so students could move as quickly or slowly as they need to.

A core suite of online, self-paced college-readiness courses could be made available to high school students. Courses could have a common question-and-answer forum where students would be encouraged to ask and answer questions. A StackExchange-style reputation score for answering questions would encourage interaction and could be used as a basis for additional incentives such as digital badges or even scholarships and credit discounts. To my knowledge, such a forum is not available in SVCC’s Learning Management System (LMS), so I could find or develop a plugin using Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI). Classes and the forum could remain available to students even after college matriculation, connecting high school students with college students who have progressed through the course; they could also serve as refresher classes.

While this approach certainly would not solve all college-readiness problems, I do believe it is a model that could help lower barriers for many students who desire a college education but face challenges.


Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education – Literature Review

Developmental Education

The typical model for college placement, and the model employed at Sauk Valley Community College, is that the prospective student takes a placement test to determine if they can meet the required level and, if they do not, is placed in a developmental course of study to be completed prior to college-level work. However, many concerns have been raised as to the impact of this model on student success.

Scott-Clayton found that placement exams are better at predicting which students will succeed in college than who would fail and that multiple methods of placement would be more effective and could help more students be successful. Once a student has been placed into a developmental course, Park, Woods, Richard, Tandberg, Hu, and Jones found that taking developmental education classes has a significant impact on degree and career completion and many students simply do not ever take the core classes. In fact, less than half of the students complete their developmental education series of courses and nearly one third simply do not take the developmental education course . According to Hu, Park, Woods, Tandberg, Richard, Hankerson, Regional Educational Laboratory Southeast (ED), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (ED), and Florida State University , “the logical extension is that developmental education…was more of a barrier than a support in the aggregate.”   Nunez found this to be true at Sauk Valley Community College as well; fewer than half of students are successful in developmental education courses the first time, and only half will continue as students past the first year. He concludes, “It is pretty clear that if we are going to admit students to developmental courses, then we must do a better job at helping these students be successful the first time.”

There is, however, much promising study in this area as well to give hope. Hodara, Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest (ED), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (ED), and Education Northwest found that, since academic preparation during high school years predicts college success better than than socioeconomic or demographic factors, it is important to target students for remediation prior to enrolling in college. Even new first year experience courses were found to not help students move through developmental education faster or improve academic achievement . Further, after Florida disallowed requiring placement tests and developmental education classes, Hu et al. found that fewer students took developmental education courses but more passed them and that while more students both took and failed gateway courses, the ratio of all first-time college students who passed gateway courses increased. Finally, Booth, Capraro, Capraro, Chaudhuri, Dyer, and Marchbanks found that developmental education students reported being more successful as a result of being placed in a common cohort for collaboration.

Maker Education

Schank describes goal-oriented learning and learning by doing as methods to motivate learners. According to his model , learning involves having a goal and some obstacle, something to help you overcome the obstacle and accomplish the goal so you know how to do it next time; technology’s role can be to help provide the means to overcome the obstacle. This learning process will be most effective when the goal is an authentic one, one with real-world implications to the learner .

The Maker Movement exemplifies this approach by allowing learners to identify their own authentic goals and access to the means to reach those goals. Martin identified three key elements of the Maker Movement that can be readily applied to education: embrace of digital tools, community involvement and collaboration, and Dougherty’s  maker mindset, “a can-do attitude that can be summarized as ‘what can you do with what you know?’”  In many ways, this is nothing new; Viviano  observes that “This community that Martin speaks of exists right inside the walls of [Career and Technical Centers] and nothing exemplifies the maker movement more than Project-based Learning (PBL).”  However, in reality, high-stakes standardized testing often crowds out PBL efforts, as PBL takes longer in the short-term and teachers feel pressure to ensure that students perform well on annual standardized tests .

Conclusion

The preceding evidence suggest that an online, collaborative college preparatory program modeled around maker principles and made available to high school students could help students succeed in—or even bypass—developmental education courses and be more successful in their academic or career endeavors.


Applying Maker Principles to Developmental Education (First Look)

The following is an initial broad overview of a study I would like to develop and work to implement at my institution, Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, IL.


Community colleges have long fought the perception that they are just an extension of high school, or “high school with ashtrays.” This is certainly understandable, as they devote a lot of time and resources to striving to ensure that the quality of education is college-level. However, in another sense, assisting the transition from high school to college is an important role that community colleges fill–whether for those students who are not independently wealthy, not able or ready to move away, or who are not yet prepared for college-level work.

That third category–developmental education–is an area of the community college that is ripe for disruption. An alarmingly high percentage of students need to take developmental education courses, and the success rate for those students to complete their program is even more disturbing. The current prevailing model places these courses as a barrier to be overcome before taking college-level coursework. A student–who may well have been receiving the message for years that they are “not good enough,” or “not college material”–takes a placement test, where they are told they are not good enough for college-level work. They must then enroll in and pay for classes–often multiple semesters’ worth–for which they will not receive credit. If they cannot pass the first time, wash, rinse, repeat. Is it surprising, then, that the completion rates are so low?

I believe it is crucial to reach these students prior to college placement tests. Often this is done by pointing the finger at high schools, who are already facing extraordinary pressure to be everything to everyone. Instead, I would like to study the effectiveness of a college-readiness program based on principles espoused by the Maker Movement.

The biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity for the Maker Movement is to transform education. My hope is that the agents of change will be the students themselves. Increasingly, technology has given students more control over their lives, and even the simplest cellphone can change a person’s sense of agency. Students are seeking to direct their own education lives, looking to engage in creative and stimulating experiences. Many understand the difference between the pain of education and the pleasure of real learning. Unfortunately, they are forced to seek opportunities outside of school to express themselves and to demonstrate what they can do. 

Even if physically producing objects isn’t involved, I believe that some core ideas of the Maker Movement can make learning and particularly developmental learning more successful.

The Maker Movement is built around the idea that encourages people to try to do something; to take what then know and add something more. Traditional developmental education, by contrast, starts by reinforcing that the student is not good enough. Makerspaces are designed with collaboration, and particularly collaboration across areas, in mind. For example, to make a lamp, one may need help from someone who does ceramics for the body of the lamp, an electrician for the wiring, and a glazier for a stained glass shade. Everyone works together, and everyone gets to be both the teacher and the student. Developmental education classes separate students into the areas where they are weakest, further demoralizing them. A Maker has the freedom to proceed at the pace they are able to and desire to, whereas developmental education classes feature set times; if the student is not able to “get it” during that time, they must repeat the class.

A Maker-style developmental education class, therefore, would

  • encourage the student to pursue college readiness,
  • be collaborative and allow the student to assist others as well as learn, and
  • be self-paced.

A core suite of online, self-paced college-readiness courses could be made available to high school students. Courses could have a common question-and-answer forum where students would be encouraged to ask and answer questions. A StackExchange-style reputation score for answering questions would encourage interaction and could be used as a basis for additional incentives such as digital badges or even scholarships and credit discounts. To my knowledge, such a forum is not available in SVCC’s Learning Management System (LMS), so I would need to find or develop a plugin using Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI). Classes and the forum could remain available to students even after college matriculation, connecting high school students with college students who have progressed through the course; they could also serve as refresher classes.

While this approach certainly would not solve all college-readiness problems, I do believe it is a model that could help lower barriers for a great many students who desire a college education but face challenges.