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This summer, Khan Academy is joining forces with Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society to help get students ready for the fall. The College Tutor Challenge offers prestigious awards to the best tutors in math.


Interested in sharing this information with students at your college? Follow this link to learn more about the competition and email with any questions about promoting the challenge at your college.

Inside Higher Ed: Free Courses for a Big Problem

Inside Higher Ed writer Paul Fain discusses the use of education technology at a community college level and why resources like Khan Academy are working for them. 
Free Courses for a Big Problem

Free online courses have run into a backlash of late. But a handful of community colleges may have found a way to dial up open-source content to help tackle one of higher education’s thorniest problems: remedial education.

The two-year colleges aren’t offering massive open online courses as substitutes for their offerings, however, or for the instructors who teach them.  

They have created their own online content, sometimes tapping free lectures from the Khan Academy or other sources. And rather than using it for stand-alone courses, the colleges have designed supplemental study guides for remedial classes or for the placement tests incoming students take.

Remediation is a serious stumbling block for students. Research has found that just one in four students who place into remedial courses will eventually earn a college credential or transfer to a four-year institution.

Major MOOC providers, particularly Coursera, have touted the potential of their courses to help more students succeed in remedial and gateway courses. That suggestion has rankled some in the community college sector, particularly the possible “outsourcing” of remediation to startups and professors at prestigious colleges. But a few acknowledge that there may be lessons to learn from the MOOC playbook, particularly when they have a say in how to incorporate those ideas.

For example, Cuyahoga Community College, which is located in Cleveland and better known as Tri-C, earlier this year developed a free online math course. Khan’s lectures account for about half the remedial course’s material. College officials said the rest comes from the open-source TeacherTube and Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching, or MERLOT.

Tri-C’s new MOOC-style course isn’t aimed at the college’s students. It is shopping the class to local high schools, as The Quick & The Ed, a blog from Education Sector, reported earlier this year. The idea is to encourage students who are likely to attend Tri-C to brush up on their math skills before they arrive on campus.

Charles Dull, the college’s dean of eLearning and innovation, said Tri-C took the course on a “road show to a lot of the high schools in Cuyahoga County.”

And if students try the course but don’t end up at the college, he said that’s fine, too. “We opened it up to just about anyone who could benefit from it.”


Tri-C received a $50,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help develop the course. Gates last fall awarded a total of $550,000 in grant money to 10 institutions to experiment with MOOC content for remedial and introductory courses. Several other community colleges received the grants, including Wake Tech Community College, which is located in North Carolina.

The Gates grantees aren’t the only ones giving open-source courses a whirl. Bossier Parish Community College, a two-year college in Louisiana, has created five free online courses without outside seed money. All the courses match up with remedial courses in math, English and reading. And the “Open Campus” classes are available to anyone.

Faculty members designed the courses in-house, said Allison Martin, director of institutional effectiveness initiatives at Bossier Parish. The first five went live this spring, with almost 500 students registering. Two more are slated to debut in the fall.

Martin said the college looked at partnering with major MOOC providers to build the courses. Wake Tech, for example, collaborated with Udacity on a remedial math course. But Bossier ultimately decided to go it alone.

“We think we have a better understanding about our own developmental education population,” she said.

Instructors at the college are using the material in tandem with remedial courses, and are directing students to try the online content for extra help and as study guides. Bossier Parish is also distributing information about the online courses to students who plan to take placement tests over the summer.

The project’s leaders said they felt students at the college would react better to learning from online instructors they were likely to see on campus and in classrooms. That’s why they went with homegrown content taught by five faculty members from the college.

Most of Bossier’s students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, said Jim Henderson, the college’s chancellor. He said those students in particular do not react well to impersonal or “sterile” online courses.

“They’ve got to be able to see that face and know that ‘this is a person I can talk to,’ ” Henderson said.

Inexpensive Innovation

Both the Tri-C and Bossier Parish courses include more than MOOC-style experimentation. The courses are also self-paced and competency-based.

The Tri-C course is a “low-risk failure environment,” said Sasha Thackaberry, the college’s director of eLearning technologies. That means students can take each of its various modular levels as many times as they want. But they must master each level before they can progress to the next one.

That approach is grounded in game-style learning, Thackaberry said, which the college has been working on incorporating in courses for some time. “It actually teaches persistence and resilience.”

Most students are familiar with gaming. And college officials said nontraditional students in particular thrive on the positive feedback of progressing from level to level, rather than just receiving a single grade when they complete a course.

“The pressure isn’t on them to succeed,” said Dull. “It’s to learn.”

To pass the noncredit course students must master 80 percent of the competencies embedded in it. If they do, they receive a digital badge the college designed and registered with the Mozilla Foundation. Badging is a broad, nascent experiment aimed at signaling skills and knowledge outside of traditional credentialing.

The new course at Tri-C, and the Gates’ grant that supported its creation, enabled the college to combine competency-based education, badging and MOOCs – all concepts faculty members and administrators have been discussing.

“It was a great way for us to pursue a lot of ideas that we thought would be successful,” Thackaberry said.

Tri-C and Bossier Parish used Blackboard’s CourseSites, a free learning management system, as the platform for their open-source courses. Officials from the two colleges said CourseSites was user-friendly.

In addition to continuing to offer the course to local high school students, Tri-C is considering using it as a preparation tool for incoming students. The college is studying how students perform in the course and is making the material available for other institutions to use.

Bossier Parish is also tracking how its MOOC-style courses might affect remedial placement rates. College officials said they expect to see a bump in the number of students who are deemed college-ready and place directly into credit-bearing courses.

If that happens, it will be a hard-to-achieve payoff for a small investment. The college spent about $20,000 to cover its instructors’ time designing the courses. The courses’ hardware and software costs were $3,000.

Henderson said Bossier Parish has no choice but to find inexpensive and innovative ways to serve students. That’s because during the last four years, the college has seen its enrollment grow by 70 percent while its state support declined by 50 percent.

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Nashua Community College using Khan Academy for Math Boot Camp

Telegraph writer Danielle Curtis covers Nashua Community College’s use of Khan Academy in their summer math boot camps  

NASHUA – Mathematics was never Emily Palizotto’s strongest subject, but she did well throughout her four years at Hollis Brookline High School.

So she was surprised when she took the Nashua Community College math placement test – twice – and failed to earn a score high enough for a college-level course, being sent instead to the option of remediation.

“I was in trigonometry last year, and a lot of what was on the test was algebra, which I hadn’t seen in two years,” Palizotto said. “It didn’t really seem fair.”

But Palizotto wasn’t about to sit around feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she decided to take advantage of a new program offered this month at the community college: Math Boot Camp.

The boot camp program allows registered students to review the basic math skills needed for success on the placement test, the Accuplacer, and in a college-level math course. The program began July 15, and runs for three hours each day Monday through Thursday for two weeks.

At the conclusion of the boot camp, students take the Accuplacer again in hopes of testing into a higher-level course.

Students watch You Tube-style videos from Khan Academy, a math instruction website. They practice problems on the site as well, working one-on-one with instructor Scott Holbrook when they need additional support.

There are about 30 students enrolled in the program, said Katherine Costa, associate vice president of academic affairs, and interest is growing.

“I was surprised,” Costa said. “I’m happily surprised. I’m glad that students took advantage of this opportunity. It’s a really big step for a lot of students.”

The community college has been working hard to reduce the number of incoming students who need to take remedial courses in math and reading.

Costa said she could not provide exact numbers, but that most students who enter into some type of remediation struggle with math.

The remediation courses cost hundreds of dollars, but do not earn students college credit. And Costa said research has shown that the more remediation a student needs, the less likely they are to complete college.

Math Boot Camp was developed with help from a grant, awarded by the New England Board of Higher Education. The charge of the grant: find out how effective Khan Academy is in helping students turn around skills gaps in mathematics.

Khan Academy has been used by schools around the country, but Costa said NCC had never used the program for a course before. After seeing the way students have responded, however, she said the college is hoping to incorporate it into other programs.

Students in the machine tool or automotive program need very specific math skills, she said. And using Khan Academy could help them gain those skills without having to take an entire math course.

Holbrook said he’s been surprised by how well students have responded to the Web-based math lessons in the boot camp.

“They can work at their own pace, and they can keep working at home,” he said. “A lot of students have math anxiety, or a pre-conceived notion of math being hard, but this is online. They can watch the videos over and over, practice with no threat of trying something once and failing.”

Holbrook said students have been very engaged in the work and in improving their scores on the Accuplacer.

For Palizotto and her friend Brianna Yeaton, some of the motivation is financial. Neither student, both 18, wants to spend hundreds of dollars on a math course that won’t earn them college credit.

“It’s just not worth it,” Yeaton said.

The two young women sat in the college computer lab Thursday watching videos and practicing problems in notebooks. They chatted whenever they had an issue, sharing problem-solving tips and discussing particularly hard questions.

Palizotto said she’s hopeful a refresher on the math skills she learned in her early high school years will mean a higher score on the Accuplacer.

Costa said the college is hoping for the same thing and will be tracking students’ success to see just how well the boot camp boosts performance.

The data will compare before and after Accuplacer scores for each student involved in the boot camp and likely follow those students through their first college-level math course.

The results, Costa said, will help determine whether the boot camp is offered every year, or even before the spring semester.

“The more we can do for students, to help them succeed, that’s better for everyone,” she said.

At least one more boot camp session will be held next month. The course is open to registered NCC students only, and is free.

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