Students arriving at college from many high school classrooms, especially underrepresented minorities (URM) and other first generation or low-income students, struggle to apply concepts and retain skills in later course work. They need to achieve the greater fluency and self-efficacy in mathematics that is required throughout the STEM disciplines.
Research shows minority students can be better integrated into a campus through program design that is responsive to their needs (Gay, 2000; NAS 2011). Current literature also shows URM, first generation, and/or low-income students respond better to learning that is community-based. The traditional “one-size-fits-all” classroom creates an atmosphere of inequity: those students who are ahead can suffer from boredom and become less engaged while those who are behind suffer from negative emotional stress and discomfort and are more likely to become discouraged and afraid of attending class. This dynamic can exacerbate their feelings of being an “outsider” (National Academy of Sciences, pages 145, 165). It also hurts students’ ability to stay focused, learn, and retain information.
Studies have shown students’ and faculty mindset play a large role in teaching and learning. Recent research has demonstrated that STEM faculty who have a growth mindset have significantly smaller racial achievement gaps and significantly more motivated students (Canning, Muenks, Green, and Murphy, 2019; Dweck, 1995 & 1999; Boaler et al., 2015).
National research has also shown the lack of online learning components can particularly impact URM, first generation, and/or low-income students. Adaptive Learning Technology (ALT) has been used for teaching, learning and assessment, particularly in the K-12 educational systems. ALT can effectively identify the underlying mathematical concepts students are missing and provide just-in-time help needed when learning new concepts. ALT further provides very valuable information about strengths and weaknesses of individual students as well as the whole class to instructors. In addition, flexible ALT resources can accommodate the schedules and life demands of CSU and CC students. At the community college campuses, all students are commuters, and at California State University, Fresno, over 90% are commuters. The vast majority work part-time jobs—sometimes more than one—to support their higher education. ALT can act like a personal one-on-one tutor outside the classroom, giving immediate feedback to the student as they work through exercises on their own time. This extra level of support may be especially crucial for many URM, first-generation or low-income students who may not have the time to attend office hours or lack the same support system at home that others take for granted.
However, currently, ALTs are scarce in undergraduate education. The roadblocks to adopting ALT are either the costs of acquiring commercial ALT; the time- and resource-intensive process of developing ALT; or the need to support faculty development in using ALT effectively to support their desired learning activities.
The On-Ramp to STEM math team will develop and launch algebra and pre-calculus courses that form a better pathway for STEM Majors. On-Ramp to STEM, the proposed project, will develop Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) activities and modules for selected math courses, and then adapt, launch, test, and refine Student-Centered Adaptive Learning Environment (SCALE), an open-source adaptive learning technology to strengthen the impact of those activities. By addressing the absence of freely-available adaptive learning technology along the higher education pipeline, and by aligning that technology’s use with desired learning activities, the project will have a transformative impact on underrepresented minority and other first-generation or low-income students, many of whom come from under-resourced K-12 districts. The project will include the participation of 17 faculty and will directly impact approximately 1700 students during the grant period.
Modifying and enhancing SCALE will concentrate on ensuring teachers will be able to use its full abilities to help transform the culture in their math classrooms to be centered on student learning. The team will build a Knowledge Tree and Question Bank, outputs that will facilitate replication. Training will support faculty to, first, develop the new teaching activities and modules, and second, to pilot use of SCALE in their math classrooms to support these activities. Evaluation of and recommendations from the pilot phase will be used to improve the project’s work. The team will then implement a maximally effective version of SCALE, one readied for large scaling across similar institutions and able to enhance Culturally Responsive Teaching practices. Deliberate, consistent, and rigorous dissemination will make the results of this project available to CSU and community college campuses across the State of California.