APLU grant supports adaptive courseware in undergraduate teaching


Colorado State University is one of seven public universities selected to receive a three-year, $515,000 grant to expand the use of adaptive courseware in undergraduate classes to improve student success.

The goal of the grant from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities is to personalize and improve learning in high-enrollment, high-impact courses. APLU’s Personalized Learning Consortium hopes to make the most promising findings and practices of the seven grantees available to its more than 200 public university members across the country.

“The strength of adaptive courseware – essentially an online workbook of problems for the student to solve, coupled with instructional material— lies in the individualized feedback it offers as students work to master concepts and develop skills,” said Gwen Gorzelsky, executive director of The Institute for Learning and Teaching at CSU, which will be administering the grant. “But this individualized work can be isolating. It typically lacks the social dimension, engagement, and motivation generated by active learning approaches, and therefore students must be supported in new and innovative ways that will be explored under this grant”

CSU faculty are already using adaptive courseware in introductory classes such as Chemistry 111, as part of the university’s growing deployment of the “flipped classroom” concept.  In a flipped classroom, students study material traditionally delivered in lectures on their own, and class time is devoted to group discussion, problem solving, and other active learning techniques.

Expanding across departments

Gorzelsky said CSU will use its APLU grant to expand the integration of face-to-face, interactive “high-impact practices” with the adaptive courseware technology across more departments.

“By using adaptive courseware and high-impact practices to complement one another, we’re focusing on faculty members’ goals for their particular courses, from building foundational skills for problem-solving to teaching key concepts to reduce lecture time and create space for active learning,” she said.

Colorado State University and the six other participating universities – Arizona State University, Georgia State University, Northern Arizona University, Oregon State University, Portland State University, and the University of Mississippi – are all members of APLU. Each has demonstrated experience with and capacity to support adaptive courseware use at institution-level scale through a competitive application and review process.

“We believe personalizing learning – accelerating the student learning process by tailoring the instructional environment to address the needs and skills of individual learners – with adaptive courseware can lead to better student learning outcomes within programs and increased degree attainment across higher education,” said Personalized Learning Consortium Executive Director Meaghan Duff. “We further believe that faculty and pedagogical experts must play a central role in the adoption and delivery of digital courseware for adaptive technologies to take hold and to truly personalize learning for college and university students. We’re very excited about the potential impact Colorado State will find over the course of the grant that could help reshape the way general education courses are delivered.”

Gorzelsky, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Affairs Kelly Long and other CSU colleagues joined representatives of the other grantee schools in Washington, D.C., at the end of July for the launch of the initiative.