Each year, more than one million U.S. students start college by enrolling in remedial education; however, many won’t complete the work. According to a study from the US Department of Education, only 27% of students in remedial math will ever earn a bachelor’s degree; that means that 73% will not.
For these students, developmental math is not simply a barrier to a degree—it’s a barrier to their career and personal goals. On a broader scale, this has a significantly negative impact on the health of the workforce, and the economy, in the United States. Changing this statistic is absolutely crucial for the future of our country, and the challenge to do so belongs to all of us.
As experts in educational content, pedagogy and technology, at Cengage Learning we are in a position to be a catalyst for change. Our focus on the student is a core tenet of our mission as an organization; we want to put students front and center of everything we do.
In order to create a solution that truly addresses the needs of students in developmental math courses, we needed a new approach. We needed to start from scratch and we needed to start with the student.
First: Understanding Today’s Dev Math Students and Their Needs
How do you build a product with the student at the center? The first step is to listen to those students!
We threw out all our preconceived notions about product development, our student populations, and implementation of the course. My colleague Liz Covello, our Vice President and General Manager for Developmental Studies, likened it to “pretending we were the alien in the room”—asking, observing, and listening to students as though we were engaged in a completely new experience. (Which we were!)
We conducted an ethnographic study that looked at students’ habits, from the start of the day to its end. Not only did we ask students about their experiences with developmental studies curriculum and their coursework, we sought to learn about what happens in the “white space” as they hold down jobs, raise children, and manage other responsibilities on top of their academic commitments.
We made some surprising discoveries about students’ pain points, as well as the disconnect between instructors’ expectations and students’ experiences. After listening to these students, and hearing their powerful stories, we knew we had to build a solution that addressed all aspects of students’ busy lives.
We also came to realize what’s truly at stake for the students. Helping students succeed in developmental math isn’t just about one course; it’s really about setting up students for success in college and their careers.
Developing with students, for students
Based on the high stakes, our mission was to develop a solution that truly engages students—which, in turn, would make them more likely to persevere through the curriculum. By staying engaged, students would better retain the information and develop critical thinking skills for success. We involved students in every stage of the process—more than one thousand students, in fact. They impressed upon us the importance of tools that would help them master time management; learning anytime, anywhere with their mobile devices; and collaborating and communicating with their instructors and other students in real time.
Constant feedback from students and instructors
I’m often asked: “How do you balance a product that appeals to both instructors and students?” To do so effectively, we relied on a feedback loop. Every time we created a new feature, game, or video, we put it in front of students in a live, one-on-one setting. Students would see and interact with the games and learning path during the development process. We gave faculty the opportunity to do this as well, which gave us the chance to show the solution and demonstrate how our data on students’ needs informed each and every feature we developed for the product.
The results: The new MindTap Math Foundations
You’ve probably heard of MindTap, our integrated learning solution. However, it’s important to note that this MindTap has been designed differently in order to reach this unique population of students.
MindTap Math Foundations is highly personalized and adapts to the needs of the student. Students can easily see how to get to their assignments. If they want to learn or review on the go, they can complete a learning burst or gaming activity that will help them build their skills. In addition, they have access to a skills dashboard, which allows them to track their progress on each learning objective.
We’ve also ensured that MindTap Math Foundations provides useful benefits for instructors. They can see, from their own dashboard, how students are doing as individuals and as a class. With this simple way to check on student progress, they’ll immediately know if (and how) they need to intervene with an individual student or if they need to re-address a particular concept with the entire class.
We’re extremely proud of MindTap Math Foundations, and believe that it will prove to be a game-changer for students—so much so, that we’re offering a pricing guarantee for success to those students who use the solution at least three hours per week. It’s definitely among the most important solutions we’ve created, and we’re eager to share it with you.
Jim Donohue is Cengage Learning’s Chief Product Officer.