CORVALLIS, Ore. - Oregon State University is beginning a new three-year, $515,000 initiative that will use interactive computer software to help improve the learning and knowledge retention of college students, especially to overcome the hurdles of highly complex mathematics and science.
The project is part of a major national program announced today by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. It will offer some alternatives to the traditional classroom concept of lecture, textbook, and "everyone moves along at the same speed" - an approach that in some courses is largely failing across the United States.
New technologies, interactive learning systems and short quizzes can help ensure a student understands the material being studied, as they move ahead. If they are confused or still struggling to learn the subject, the software system will help identify the problem, allow them to back up, go through things again, and provide additional support and knowledge until they do understand.
If a student just needs more basic information, they can get it. If they need a contextual explanation, that will be available as well.
"We're facing a societal problem in a range of educational approaches, especially where class sizes are large and there's less individual assistance," said Julie Greenwood, associate dean for undergraduate studies at OSU and project manager of this new grant.
"For instance, almost all students have to take college algebra, and in some cases the failure rate can approach 50 percent. We believe that modern computer software can help address this problem, especially in math and the sciences, but also in liberal arts, social sciences and almost any field of study. We're really optimistic this is going to be a success."
Other collaborators in this program include Arizona State University, Colorado State University, Georgia State University, Northern Arizona University, Portland State University and the University of Mississippi.
OSU educators, Greenwood said, will help students work with existing software systems, find out which seems to work best or fit with the university's culture and approach to learning, and which approaches are most appropriate for different disciplines.
University officials say this project, called "All Hands on Deck," is an embrace of a new trend toward "adaptive," or personalized learning approaches. They believe it can improve both the rate of first-year student retention and the university's six-year graduation rate. It will initially be used in eight high-enrollment, general education courses, in such fields as mathematics, biology and psychology.
"This national grant will kick-start our efforts to move more aggressively toward personalized learning," said David King, special assistant to the provost for learning innovation at OSU. "The initiative will also provide our faculty with insight and information on a learner-by-learner basis, and give them the opportunity to develop more individual and unique student-teacher relationships."
OSU has been a national leader in new educational approaches and innovations, especially through its widely-recognized program of extended online education, or E-campus, and more recently through construction of a $65 million Learning Innovation Center to conduct research on new approaches to collaborative learning and education.
The most promising findings and practices emerging from this initiative will be shared among 200 public university members across the country, officials said, to better meet the general educational needs of today's undergraduate college students.