There is strength in numbers and power in sharing information. Those are the overriding lessons that our higher-ed institutions—early adopters with a passion for improving student outcomes—have drawn from a successful and ongoing experiment in collaboration. Sharing data, best practices, learning maps, and survey results has moved the needle on adaptive learning forward at our schools.
Colorado Technical University (CTU), University of Maryland University College (UMUC) and University of Central Florida (UCF) have been collaborating on issues around adaptive learning since early 2015. UCF has led our discussions about research in the field. Below, we focus on the joint work of CTU and UMUC, which, along the way, have discovered a common passion for using digital tools to promote student learning.
How did our collaboration come about?
Uniting Around Adaptive Learning
We met at edtech conferences, where it was apparent that many institutions, including ours, were engaging with adaptive learning in their student populations. At first, we attended one another’s presentations. Drawn to the content, we sought each other out and spoke of our digital learning initiatives, quickly realizing that sharing our experiences and data was giving us meaningful insight into successful adaptive learning practices. We discussed vendors of digital tools and how to work with them effectively, and we compared ways to support faculty as they put new digital tools in place. We talked about how to lead change management in education.
Seeing each other present led to opportunities to co-present, which led to sharing best practices via teleconferences and webinars and visiting each other’s institutions to collaborate.
We found that CTU and UMUC share a similar philosophy in addition to sharing similar student profiles. Simply stated, both encourage technology and digital tools to improve student experience and student outcomes. We share, too, the need to bring technology to scale in a classroom environment of adult learners.
Setting the Stage
We established a few ground rules prior to working together.
There had to be a level of trust that our work was for the greater good and that working together would be a positive experience for both institutions. We wanted participants in the collaboration to be diverse, with faculty, staff, administrators and curriculum designers contributing, and we wanted students to be the focus of our discussions. We promoted openness to ideas and to each other's work, going into the process with the mindset that that each institution could learn from the other despite any differences in student population, faculty and structure. The expectation for our collaboration was that we would work collectively to move the community of digital learning forward.
Our Teams Engage
CTU was interested in having several adaptive learning maps validated by colleagues who were not part of the university. Emma Zone, CTU’s vice provost, traveled to Maryland in the spring of 2016 with the school’s program director of general education and program director of business and spent a day with the UMUC team. Together, they reviewed the maps and exchanged insights about curriculum design and ways to work effectively with faculty. The UMUC team was open and receptive to the discussion, and CTU benefited from the external validation and feedback on adaptive learning content.
The CTU visit also was beneficial to the UMUC community in many ways. In particular, it sparked a series of conversations that gained UMUC critical perspective on many aspects of the adaptive piloting work that the school had done to date. UMUC is piloting adaptive learning in courses such as accounting and finance. Our goal at UMUC has been to determine where in the student learning lifecycle adaptive learning is most relevant and how much adaptive learning will suit our learners’ needs. Shared insights from CTU enabled UMUC to create efficiencies in the pilot development cycle; reimagine and more broadly define the dynamic nature of assessment use; and close gaps in faculty development training.
A team from UMUC will visit CTU later in 2016.
Facing the Future Together
From the start, we believed that the results of our collaboration would be the beginning of a community of innovators that could provide a framework for arriving at mutually beneficial outcomes. What are we doing to better serve our students? In higher education, we have long struggled to use innovative practices to answer this question within our own university. Creating this opportunity to network with others straddling the chasm of innovation has allowed us to configure our collective resources to meet this goal.
As we continue to look for new ways to improve the student learning experience we will find the opportunities exciting yet complex. As early adopters of solutions-oriented approaches, it is critical that we foster partnerships that allow us to iterate improvements within a group of open-minded people who share a similar vision.
What we have discovered working together is that we share a passion for technology in learning and enjoy each other’s perspective and opinions. To us, success in adaptive technology in one institution can help to motivate success in another.
Cristi Ford is associate vice provost in the Center for Innovation in Learning and Student Success at University of Maryland University College. Connie Johnson (@DrConnieJohnson) is the chief academic officer and provost at Colorado Technical University.