Gates Foundation Gives $10.6-Million to Improve College-Completion Rates With Technology

Today the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that 29 organizations have won its inaugural Next Generation Learning Challenge, sharing $10.6-million to test projects for improving college-completion rates and course success.

The winning proposals focused on four areas: blended learning, interactive games and social media for class engagement, open course resources for introductory math and English classes (which often have low rates of student success), and analytical software to measure what works best. Grant winners together serve more than 117,000 students through more than 200 institutions, including 78 community colleges.

The winners include the Iowa Community College Online Consortium, a tuition-supported partnership between seven Iowa community colleges to provide online classes. The organization already uses data from its course management system to track the progress of students and notify academic advisers of at-risk students. With a $750,000 grant the organization hopes to improve that process.

“We don’t feel like we’re able to get data in the hands of the proper people in a way that’s as timely as we like,” says Steve Rheinschmidt, the consortium’s director.

He hopes that what they develop can also be shared with other schools.

Another winner, Wake Forest University, will use its $250,000 grant to continue programming and development of its interactive e-textbook, BioBook, and test it at four nearby colleges.

“We need a massive scale-up,” says A. Daniel Johnson, a senior lecturer in biology at Wake Forest who oversees the program. “We are looking to develop an infrastructure that doesn’t exist.”

The text, designed to be used in an introductory biology course, can be customized by professors and students and is accessible via a Web browser. Professors can rearrange the order of the included lessons or replace them with their own work. Students can notate the information, share it with others, and contact professors and other students directly from the page.

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