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Community College Removes Barriers to Online Learning

New Jersey's Ocean County College has implemented an online readiness test and a suit of remedial course modules with the capability for adaptive learning.

by / July 15, 2015
The library and clock tower at Ocean County College, in Toms River, New Jersey. Flickr/ Daniel Collins

With the goal to efficiently place students on the college track, Ocean County College (OCC) in New Jersey has created customized online learning pathways based on results from students’ placement tests.

The two-year public community college has more than 9,000 students enrolled, and 66 percent of its incoming students require remediation courses prior to enrolling in courses that contribute to their degrees. To determine if remediation classes are necessary, students would formerly take placement tests through Accuplacer to measure math and English skills. However, in order to take the online remediation courses, students had to first travel to a test site — a library or community college — or make arrangements for a remote proctor.

“The placement test was created to eliminate barriers to entry for students,” said Jeffrey Harmon, executive director of e-learning at OCC. “We had some students who were requesting to completely skip the test outright and would have to take all of the online remedial courses because of the challenges associated with the test itself. All you’re doing is eating into financial aid and adding to the length of completion for students because of this issue. We were searching for a more efficient way of testing.”

In the fall of 2013, the community college implemented Pearson’s MyFoundationsLab, which includes an online readiness test and a suit of remedial course modules with the capability for adaptive learning.

“Students never have to leave their home,” Harmon said. “There’s no proctoring required.”

One of the most substantial shifts in the new platform is that the modules are tailored for each student. The courses include Reading & Writing I and II, Introduction to Algebra I and Introduction to Algebra II.

Students take a series of pre-tests to gauge skills in a particular area. They may test of out of modules entirely and move on to the next module. If coursework is necessary, a learning module is created based on the pre-test.

“One thing that we are interested in is shortening time to completion for students,” Harmon said. “Students can complete their remediation in a couple of days, if properly motivated. They don’t have to sit through content that they already know.”

Students purchase an access code for $125 to take the courses — one course or four courses cost the same amount.

“This product serves as the foundational cornerstone of the remedial course, but there’s content you have to build around it to smooth out the rough edges,” Harmon said. “We have to build discussion boards, student resources, readiness quiz exercises and the like. Each student has their own schedule, so we had to develop a way to let the instructors keep tabs on what they are doing.”

During the first semester of MyFoundationsLab, OCC saw a dip in student achievement due to the initial learning curve that the teachers experienced. But that has since changed.

“Teaching a course in MyFoundationsLab is not like teaching a normal course,” Harmon said. “In a normal course, all students submit assignment No. 1 of lesson No. 1 during week No. 1. Now, every student is on a different schedule, a different path. We had to learn how to keep track of different content items from different students being completed at different paces. The plus side is that the student is only engaging in content that they don’t know.”

During the fall 2013 semester, the average remedial English score was 64.33 percent and the average remedial math score was 73.39 percent. By the following fall, the average English score was 85.47 percent and the average math score was 86.37 percent.

Harmon said that the ultimate level of success will be based on how students perform in the college-level English and math classes when comparing performance scores between graduates of MyFoundationsLab and students who took the former remediation online courses.

Other determinants for success include a student’s time to complete the remedial courses and individual cost savings. With MyFoundationsLab, students bypass material that they have already mastered, shrinking course time. Additionally, students save up to $575 in textbook costs as there are no textbooks required with MyFoundationsLab.

“Remediation is a significant problem for the entire country that has large-scale negative consequences,” Harmon said. “It’s a financial cost. The credits don’t count toward the degree. It could eat up a full semester of time. And you’re just completely demoralizing students by forcing them to sit through content that they already know. We’re trying to shake that up a little while keeping students engaged and encouraged throughout the process."

Jessica Renee Napier Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.

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