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AASCU Trying Crowdsourcing Approach to Improving Student Outcomes

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by Catherine Morris


George Mehaffy, AASCU’s vice president for academic leadership and change, said the schools in the project will “build a comprehensive profile of all of the strategies that seem most promising for producing student success.”

George Mehaffy, AASCU’s vice president for academic leadership and change, said the schools in the project will “build a comprehensive profile of all of the strategies that seem most promising for producing student success.”

Can crowdsourcing work as a viable model for determining best practices in student outcomes? The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) will try just that in a new three-year project that will be funded by the Bell & Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds.

George Mehaffy, the association’s vice president for academic leadership and change, said on Thursday that 44 of AASCU’s 420 member institutions were chosen to participate in a three-year program.

The program’s goal is to improve college completion by “redesigning” the first year of college, with a particular emphasis on improving the experience of first-generation, low income and minority students. Representatives of the 44 institutions will share best practices at the association’s 2016 Academic Affairs Winter Meeting in Austin, Texas.

At the meeting, the 44 schools will “build a comprehensive profile of all of the strategies that seem most promising for producing student success, [such as] a data system that gives you real-time data and predictive insights into students and their success. Things like clear pathways and a reduction in choice. Things like redesigning courses to increase engagement and interest,” Mehaffy said.

“Part of what we’re doing here today is we’re gathering data and ideas, and we’re going to build a menu of the most promising practices that have been demonstrated by research to be effective. Then the 44 campuses will go back after this week and go back and build a campus plan for themselves which focuses on innovation across four categories or areas.”

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Mehaffy said that AASCU’s program has parallels in national initiatives such as Achieving the Dream (ATD), which is also a Gates Foundation-funded program, in that both involve “building a subset of the universe of institutions of a particular type,” and working together to develop effective practices, all while quantifying and recording the results of the projects. In ATD’s case, the key distinction is that the program is focused on community college success, whereas AASCU is concerned with four-year colleges.

Mehaffy said that relying on “crowdsourcing” to share knowledge reflects changing norms. “[In the 20th century] knowledge was typically organized and distributed through solitary experts. At most universities, people who were deeply steeped in their discipline produced a gestation on their own, taught classes on their own,” he said. “I think the 21st century is going to be a century where there’s much greater collaboration and much more collective wisdom applied to problems.”

 

In other words, the 44 schools will not be dependent on external advisers or consultants to find solutions; they will look at practices that they have already developed internally and attempt to apply them more broadly.

 

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.

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