Ithaka S+R is excited to be working on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s initiative on Gateway Course Completion.

The foundation is seeking a solution to the high DFWI (D, F, withdrawal, or incomplete) rate in high-enrollment, general education courses that serve as “gatekeepers” to degree completion. Research has shown that students who do not pass these gateway courses experience delays in their academic progress and are more likely to drop out of college altogether. Working with an array of partners, including Ithaka S+R, the foundation is exploring how to use digital-learning technologies to improve student outcomes in these gateway courses, focusing particularly on outcomes for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students, as well as students from low-income backgrounds. The ultimate aim of these improvements to gateway course completion is to close equity gaps in course and degree completion for students identifying in one or more of these groups.

As the foundation describes on its website, this initiative has three interrelated goals:

  • Expand the Availability and Awareness of High-Quality Courseware and Evidence-Based Teaching Practices initially in two gateway courses—Introduction to Statistics and General Chemistry. The foundation aims to launch a more comprehensive courseware research and development strategy to support the market development and scaled-usage of high-quality, equity-centered courseware; one that addresses gaps in availability, curriculum alignment between learning outcomes, activities, and assessments, and steers demand more proactively to quality courseware in two high-enrolling, high failure rate gateway courses.
  • Support Intentional Gateway Course Design Leveraging the Affordances of Courseware Technology and Evidence-Based Teaching Practices by identifying best practices in equity-centered learning experience design, along with incentives, policies, and approaches that enable faculty (including adjuncts) to shift their instructional approach from lecture-based practices to evidence- based teaching practices that can be enabled by high-quality courseware.
  • Strengthen the Evidence Base for Blended and Online Course Methods to better understand the effectiveness of blended and online learning methods, implementation conditions, and teaching and learning techniques affecting learning outcomes for Black, Latino, Indigenous students, and students from low-income backgrounds.

Ithaka S+R’s Role

Following up on work completed last year exploring the empirical research supporting several evidence-based teaching practices and how those practices can manifest through courseware, Ithaka S+R is currently reviewing and summarizing the scholarly literature about several additional topics known to impact student success. During this phase of the project, we are focusing on how student motivation and student engagement interact with the learning environment to support or challenge students’ learning as well as how course and courseware design can cultivate both motivate and engage students. We will also be looking at the way that students and instructors use their time to identify how courseware can be leveraged to encourage efficiency, allowing students to focus on deep learning and instructors to focus on building relationships and more personalized teaching.

In addition to this focused review of existing research, we are also supporting the program officers to understand, integrate, and make meaning of the diverse outputs from all of the project partners. This synthesis work involves being in regular communication with project partners, creating conceptual connections among them and their various outputs, and ultimately helping communicate those insights to internal and external stakeholders.