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Grant will expand project to support student success at UNG

Ashley Armour, a lecturer in reading and English, discusses a reading assignment with students in a developmental reading course. The University of North Georgia has received a grant that will expand a project using technology to provide interactive, personalized instruction so students can contribute to classroom discussions and group work.

The University of North Georgia has received a $99,999 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand a successful technology-based project that could help more students complete college.

UNG will be part of the Gates Foundation's study of the effectiveness of adaptive learning, which uses technology to provide interactive, personalized instruction so students can contribute to classroom discussions and group work. In a pilot program with two UNG developmental reading classes using the technology, students who completed at least 90 percent of the program had a pass rate of 92 percent on exit exams.

Students who don't score well on college placement tests are enrolled in remedial or developmental courses to improve skills in deficient areas. Studies have shown that students who perform well in developmental courses are better able to succeed in other college courses and complete college.

Dr. Kristen Roney, UNG's associate vice president and dean of University College, is excited about the potential to improve remedial education, one goal of the university's Complete College Georgia plan.

"Reading can be such a frustrating class for students who come into college and are told that they need remediation, but by the time they get through the reading program, they're highly successful in their courses," said Roney, who also is an associate professor of English. "This grant provides us with the opportunity for the faculty to engage in professional development specifically related to transforming remediation. It gives us a very intentional and supported opportunity to think through what UNG's remediation program can look like with technological support."

Complete College Georgia was announced by Gov. Nathan Deal as a statewide initiative in the wake of a 2011 study that found Georgia will need to increase the percentage of its population with some level of college completion from a current 42 percent to 60 percent to meet projected workforce needs by 2020. The state’s public colleges and universities have developed individual plans to support the initiative, which include coordination with technical colleges and other community organizations.

Roney is project co-director with Karen Redding, an assistant professor of reading and English on UNG's Oconee Campus. Since last fall, Redding has been working with McGraw-Hill, using that company's LearnSmart/Connect 2.0 software in two developmental reading courses.

The software gauges each student's skill level and adapts as the student improves; students also must create a personal learning plan to learn at their own pace. Instructors can see how a student or an entire class is proceeding and make changes as needed during the semester.

Redding found that the students who completed at least 90 percent of their personal learning plans had a pass rate of 92 percent on the exit exam, compared to a 60 percent pass rate among students with less than 90 percent completion.

"I saw them improve overall, not just their test scores, but their competence and their confidence. Many students in developmental courses have low self-confidence that higher-achieving students don't struggle with," Redding said. "This is an incredibly exciting time for UNG; we have an opportunity to serve our current students and use the data we gather to help future students."

Rather than lecturing or instructing students strictly on skills and concepts, Redding challenged students to use the knowledge gained in their independent study to contribute during class discussions involving literary analysis.

"This confidence in seeing the 'big picture' led to confidence in their ability to lead class and group discussions, and, importantly, to take ownership of their knowledge and of their grades," Redding said.

The grant, awarded through the University of North Georgia Foundation – Gainesville, Inc., will expand the program to developmental reading and English classes on the Gainesville Campus and to additional reading and English classes on the Oconee Campus.

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