CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is redesigning more than a dozen courses in which students have historically struggled in a bid to help them and their instructors cover the material in ways that are more personalized and effective.

OSU’s efforts are piloting a national push supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities.

The other universities in the pilot cohort formed in 2016 are Arizona State, Portland State, Louisville, Mississippi, Georgia State, Colorado State and Northern Arizona.

Goals include improving student success in general education courses and, in particular, better support for low-income students, students of color and first-generation students.

The key component of what OSU and the others are doing is “adaptive courseware,” computer platforms that act as personalized learning tools students can use to review, practice and develop the requisite skills for a particular course.

At Oregon State, a total of 18 first- and second-year courses in math and psychology are being retooled to incorporate adaptive courseware. The courses involve more than 20,000 students annually and are defined as “high impact” – meaning that lots of people take them and that many of those students perform poorly.

Such courses are also known as “gateway courses” or “barrier courses” in that success in them generally leads to further academic success.

“In the initial year of project implementation, we observed double-digit increases in pass rates for many of the adaptive sections with a large majority of students reporting a positive experience,” said Julie Greenwood, associate provost for transformative learning at Oregon State. “Surveys indicate students prefer this approach even though they acknowledge it makes them work harder. It’s also important to note that the adaptive redesign allows faculty to spend more of the class time engaged with students in active and collaborative learning.”

Giving the effort a boost, the APLU last week released a guidebook for implementing adaptive courseware that draws on the experiences of OSU and the other seven universities.

“While most colleges and universities are aware of the benefits that adaptive learning can offer students and instructors, many institutions are unsure of the process for effectively implementing adaptive courseware,” said Karen Vignare, executive director of APLU’s Personalized Learning Consortium. “Our hope is that this guide will help more institutions utilize adaptive courseware and move along the implementation learning curve more quickly.”

Courses are often delivered in a blended format that includes direction from professors who are able to tailor their teaching based on student progress data that the adaptive courseware provides, Vignare said.

The eight pilot universities are already reporting a range of positive statistics, she noted.

General OSU

About Oregon State University: As one of only three land, sea, space and sun grant universities in the nation, Oregon State serves Oregon and the world by working on today’s most pressing issues. Our more than 34,000 students come from across the globe, and our programs operate in every Oregon county. Oregon State receives more research funding than all of the state’s comprehensive public universities combined. At our campuses in Corvallis and Bend, marine research center in Newport, OSU Portland Center and award-winning Ecampus, we excel at shaping today’s students into tomorrow’s leaders.

Story By: 

Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039
​​​​​​​[email protected]


Julie Greenwood, 541-737-1190
[email protected]

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