Order of Operations: Online Course

Building on my 3-Column Table and UbD outline, I wanted to create an online mini-course for order of operations. This course primarily has two types of student in mind, a student preparing to go to college trying to “brush up” rather than take developmental education classes or a non-traditional student who needs a refresher.

Screen Shot of Schoology course designBecause of that, the course takes a little extra time looking at the concept from different angles with some fun analogies and exercises. Then, having established the need for order of operations, the next module goes into explaining order of operations on a more technical level–the way students have likely heard it before–before moving on to sets of practice problems so the student can try and self-assess.

A final, ungraded quiz helps students assess whether they are ready to move on or not. Finally, then, the last module connects the current mini-course on to another, related skill. It introduces the FOIL method, which is related to order of operations and can help bridge the student into further algebraic concepts.

There are many other subjects which would be good to cover with mini-courses like this. In looking at Stigler, Givvin, and Thompson’s (2009) research, the two most commonly missed types of problems related to fractions (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, mixed with other whole or decimal numbers) and least common multiple/greatest common denominator. Both of those seem like good candidates for a course of this type.


Have the implemented recommendations of the ELA Task Force improved student success and time to completion at Sauk Valley Community College? – A Literature Review

Update 7/2/2018: Corrected typographical errors

Have the implemented recommendations of the ELA Task Force improved student success and time to completion at Sauk Valley Community College? (PDF)

Academic Advising Approaches for Student Success in Developmental Education

See the related literature review for research background on this project. This is an update from my previous innovation plan, reflective of new research and a refined focus, with more to come.

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.

Developmental Education

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?

Innovative Methods

This is an area of much interest and the research shows very promising results. Some of these approaches—multiple measures, guided pathways, noncognitive assessments, predictive data modeling, and intrusive advising—are highlighted in the following presentation.

What method or methods will work best at Sauk? I believe the answer to that is a solid, “it depends.” Approaches that work well for, say, a large, urban college will not necessarily be the best approaches for Sauk as a small, rural campus. What works in California, Florida, or Texas may or may not work well in Illinois.

What is clear to me is that we must use data to determine what innovative approaches have worked and have not worked. When we try new approaches, a plan must be put into place to carefully analyze results. When students arrive for advising, we must be sure that we are collecting enough relevant data about the student so the advisors and faculty (as appropriate) have enough information about the student to be able to help them be successful.

The Plan

I would like to implement a three-stage approach to be implemented during the 2018-19 school year.

Phase 1: Noncognitive Data and Student Retention Data

This phase is already underway as part of the College’s HLC Quality Initiative portion of the accreditation process. For this initiative, the College is discussing collecting noncognitive data via the College Student Inventory™ (CSI) and developing a program for more intrusive advising for those students who we believe can be most effectively helped by more intervention.

However, for this program to be most successful, data needs be be aggregated from several different systems (e.g. student information system [SIS], learning management system [LMS], CSI, and others) and analyzed. Ideally, a system would aggregate this data in a way that could provide (or provide the ability to add on later) predictive analytics or apply machine learning to help us find patterns that we didn’t even know to look for. In addition, the system needs to be useful and meaningful for advisors and faculty so they have access to data and communication tools necessary to intervene on a student’s behalf in a timely manner.

We are currently in process with demonstrations from vendors, and I hope to have a solution selected or designed (if we decide to go with an in-house solution) and beginning to be implemented by the end of the fall 2018 semester.

Phase 2: Study Current and Past Approaches’ Effects on Student Success

Over the years, a number of solutions have been tested or implemented. However, often no data or only anecdotal data has been collected. I would like to develop a study on these approaches to see what effect they had on student success measures. These results could then be used to identify potential trials or approaches for the third phase. I would like to begin studying the following areas beginning in the summer 2018 semester with at least preliminary results available by the end of the fall 2018 semester:

  • Develop a baseline metric against which to measure student acceleration
  • What impact did these initiative have on student retention, pass rates for gateway courses, or acceleration?
    • Change to current ELA prerequisite/corequisite model
    • Change from COMPASS to Accuplacer/ALEKS for placement testing
    • Creation of first-year experience (FYE) course
    • Student success coordinator and activities (success week, success coaching)
    • Creation of College Study Skills (CSS) class
    • Creation of math lab and usage of Pearson MyMathLab

Studying these results will (1) give us a better sense of whether those initiatives are working and worth continuing and (2) will give us a better direction as we look to expand into new initiatives.

Phase 3: Trial Initiatives

As mentioned above, this phase will depend heavily on results from the previous phase. However, some possible example initiatives might include the following: develop a corequisite support class for a gateway math, develop high-quality online developmental education courses, and expanding multiple measures for placement to include other measures (such as high school GPA). I would like for the trials for this phase to be developed in the spring 2019 semester for implementation in Summer 2019 or Fall 2019.


Nunez, S. (2015). The use of academic data and demographic data from recently graduated high school students to predict academic success at Sauk Valley Community College [Thesis, Ferris State University]. http://fir.ferris.edu:8080/xmlui/handle/2323/5285

Developmental Education Innovation Plan – Presentation

My innovation plan has undergone a substantial shift particularly over the past couple months. Whereas my previous focus had been on developing a set of college preparatory courses based on maker principles, my focus has now shifted to the admissions, advising, and placement process. As I studied the subject more, I’ve discovered that some similar projects were already in play. Further, in my role as Director of Information Services, I have much more ability to directly influence these strategies—particularly as they relate to providing access to data.

Following is a presentation slide deck I developed to share with a Sauk audience outlining my vision for exploring data-driven advising at SVCC.

Alternative Placement & Remediation Professional Learning Plan

Particularly with my new focus on a data-driven placement and remediation model in my innovation plan, a professional learning plan is a vital part of this project’s success. Previously, I gave a brief outline of a professional learning approach to include the 5 principles of effective professional development. Now, to flesh out that outline a bit, I have developed a modified 3-Column Table for the learning plan. In addition, I have developed the framework and initial content for a hybrid online/in-person professional learning course as part of the prior approach. I will continue to flesh out and revise the course content with more citations and relevant content. Contributors will also have the ability to add additional resources, so the course will continue to grow throughout its duration as well.

View the Course in Canvas

In addition to the mentoring program mentioned in the outline, I have also included modeling by including videos from a number of different colleges that have implemented these programs to provide another level of modeling.

I believe that this approach of encouraging employees to work collaboratively to help solve the problem of ineffective developmental education, combined with providing them with resources and access to data, will give them ownership of the process and allow them to make the most of this professional learning opportunity.

Mathematical Order of Operation Course Design

In a discussion with a math professor at SVCC, he mentioned that one of the common concepts he sees students not understand is order of operations (Megill, 2017), so I thought I would use that as a subject to develop a course design.

Course Design Tool Comparison

Having worked with both Fink’s 3-column table and the UbD template, I can see why each would have a following and why both are useful in developing significant learning environments. The 3-column table is most useful in putting down broad, learner-centered goals and aligning activities with those goals. UbD, with its maddening level of detail and specificity, forces the designer to fill out those goals and activities and develop a much more well-rounded course.

I certainly prefer starting with the 3-column table. It’s much less rigid and allows me to get down the learning goals and connect them with activities and assessment. I generally prefer to move from goals to learning activities to assessment because I that helps me frame the activities around authentic learning rather than crafting them to suit the assessment. I would much rather adjust the assessment activities to fit learning activities than the reverse.

Once the broad goals are sketched out, disassembling the structure and rebuilding it in the UbD framework forces me to look at the activities and goals in a different way, helping me to find and fill holes in the course design. Honestly, I find it difficult to imagine going through the whole UbD process for every lesson, module, or even every course, but I can certainly see that at least thinking through the process will result in a better course design.

Updated 10/1/2017 to a new version of the 3-Column Table (prior version) and added the UbD template and course design tool comparison.

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)