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A group of institutions and nonprofit partners look to enhance course delivery and student experience to improve success in courses with historically high failure rates.

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Equity gaps exist in courseware among learners in higher education, most often failing students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.

The Gardner Institute’s Courses and Curricula in Urban Ecosystems initiative (CCUE) connects faculty within and across five institutions to enhance course delivery and student experience, building off the Gateways to Completion (G2C) plan for improving success in courses with historically high failure rates.

What it is: CCUE participants include three institutions in Michigan and two institutions in California set in urban or metropolitan environments: Western Michigan University, the University of Michigan at Dearborn, Henry Ford College, Chaffey College and California State University, San Bernardino.

The overall goal is to improve student outcomes in gateway courses and reduce equity gaps in high-risk courses among institutions with undergraduate enrollments that are at least 30 percent students of color or students from low-income families.

Western Michigan University joined the CCUE partnership in fall 2022 but has participated in G2C since fall 2014, and its participation is also supported by the Kresge Foundation.

The initiative facilitates “purposeful and systematic” redesign of courses with high DFW rates using faculty member participation, explains Katie Easley, director of student success at Western Michigan.

Through the program, professors evaluate courses with traditionally lower student completion rates over three years and establish changes. From there, these modifications can be scaled up.

How it works: Easley oversees Western Michigan’s involvement in CCUE as the project liaison, housed in the Merze Tate College. The liaison team also includes faculty fellow Adrienne Redding.

At Western Michigan there are six departmental committees, each targeting a different course. Course departments include Spanish, the Institute for Intercultural and Anthropological Studies, philosophy, computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical engineering.

Together, professors analyze the factors resulting in high DFWI rates or equity gaps in completing and then test solutions, typically modifying teaching methodology, assignment types and design, textbooks or materials used, and assessment methods.

Each committee meets twice a month to lay the foundation for the course redesign. A steering committee—made up of the liaisons, departmental committee chairs and other university stakeholders like the library, disability student services and the office of diversity and inclusion—meets once per month as well.

At the end of the academic year, the departmental committees generate a summary report of their work, including a list of action steps. The liaisons summarize the reports for the Gardner Institute advisers, who in turn provide feedback for the committees.

“By the end of the third academic year, teams working to redesign specific courses should have a wealth of information and data-driven evidence for the design of the course in question going forward,” Easley says. “Practices of trial and assessment should be in place that motivate a continuation of review, testing and improvement.”

The Western Michigan project team will provide data for three years following the project completion as well, for ongoing tracking of lagging indicators.

Under evaluation: The biggest challenge at present is receiving faculty member involvement, as the course redesign does not come with a workload credit and is added on top of their other responsibilities.

Western Michigan will complete a full year of data examination and collection prior to establishing action items for the next two years, Easley says. The team will administer a student learning gains survey and discuss six key performance indicators to understand best next steps.

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