Better Courseware a Gateway to STEM Success

Abstract molecules

A grant from the National Science Foundation will support a partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY), Maryland community colleges and Carnegie Mellon University on a project to improve STEM courses. Using CMU's Open Learning Initiative (OLI) adaptive courseware, the schools aim to reduce costs and improve student outcomes for a broad range of gateway science, technology, engineering and math courses. This project, called Community-engaged Courseware for STEM Success (CCSS), will involve faculty and staff at 16 community colleges and impact thousands of learners.

Gateway courses are general education courses that students are required to take to continue in a field of study, such as anatomy and physiology or general biology. If students fail these courses, their academic trajectory could be impacted for years, and high failure rates contribute to equity gaps throughout and beyond post-secondary education.

Norman BierNorman Bier (left), executive director of CMU's Simon Initiative and director of OLI, said that making sure students succeed in these courses is crucial for training a talented and diverse STEM workforce.

"If students don't do well in these courses, it can put them on a bad path," Bier said. "If they fail a course, it may not be offered again until the next fall, re-enrolling could be expensive. It's much better for the student if we are able to help them stay on track."

Incorporating OLI courses into community college curriculums could help do that.

Bier and his team at CMU have successfully used OLI to improve learning outcomes in the past. The courseware, which has evolved over two decades, combines an interactive textbook with learning activities, assessments and rich simulations, and includes a robust analytics dashboard that teachers and students can use to assess their learning in real time. OLI currently has 14 STEM courses, including statistics, engineering, computer science, mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy & physiology, and robotics. The CCSS project would vastly upscale the number of students enrolled in these classes, improve user experience, and help learning science researchers better understand the way students learn in STEM classes.

Nicole Simon, a professor at Nassau Community College in New York, is leading efforts from the SUNY side. An expert in using educational technology in STEM courses, she said she is excited about using OLI's data-driven approach to teaching and learning.