Ed-tech grants target remedial college courses

Social networking soon could be used to help form a virtual community of campus educators charged with creating a national certification for teachers of remedial college courses, after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $12.9 million in new education technology funding for community colleges Dec. 3.

The funding will be spread through a host of higher-education programs, according to the foundation’s web site–but a central goal will be boosting remedial education for students entering college without math and reading skills to meet basic requirements.

More than 60 percent of students in community colleges need some kind of remedial class–most often, math training–before they can take credit-bearing courses, according to recent studies. This comes with a price tag: A study published this summer shows that community colleges spend more than $1.4 billion on remedial courses every year.

The Gates Foundation has earmarked $3.6 million of the grant money to be used for remedial training. A group of 26 college faculty from 16 states will forge an online community aiming to boost the number of educators teaching remedial lessons in two-year schools.

“Using a mix of learning approaches, we can use technology to make learning more accessible to a wider range of students,” said Ruth Rominger, director of learning design for the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE). “We can create learning environments that let students work through the courses in a way that is suitable for their learning styles.”

George R. Boggs, president of the American Association of Community Colleges, said offering a financial lift to programs and groups that lay the educational groundwork for remedial students would help tackle an increasingly common problem in community colleges.

“The investment announced … by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation addresses two of the most urgent challenges confronting community colleges today: how to improve success rates for the millions of underprepared students who come through their doors, and how to harness the power of technology to expand capacity and enrich the learning process,” Boggs said in a statement.

The Gates Foundation also will allocate $5 million for the development of new remedial math learning material that will be freely available to students and teachers through the web site www.HippoCampus.org.