This instructional approach is closing student achievement gaps

Mastery-based, self-paced system helps students reach benchmarks and achieve academic success

student-achievementResearchers at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) report that a technology-enabled, self-paced learning approach developed at the university reduces the achievement gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.

The U-Pace instructional approach at UWM, enabled by D2L’s Brightspace platform, combines self-based and mastery-based learning to support student success as they reach benchmarks with tailored feedback.

U-Pace incorporates concept mastery in an online learning environment with instructor-initiated, proactive support, which has shown to produce positive student outcomes at UWM. It is course-agnostic and doesn’t require anything beyond a learning management system, said Diane Reddy, director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and a psychology professor at UWM. Reddy spearheaded the UWM U-Pace initiative.

(Next page: How student outcomes increased at UWM)

Those outcomes include:

  • U-Pace significantly reduced the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and non-disadvantaged students from 14.08 percentage points to 8.54 percent
  • 47.6 percent more of UWM’s low-income learners earned As and Bs after working in the U-Pace program
  • Overall, 41.9 percent more U-Pace learners earned As and Bs than traditional students did

Through the U-Pace approach, students study small units at a time and must demonstrate mastery and competency before they progress to new material.

Course instructors use learning analytics within the platform, such as quiz scores, number of quiz attempts, and time elapsed since the last quiz, to determine the type of amplified assistance, or proactive support, students might need.

Instructors have access to templates that help them respond to the learning analytics in order to meet students exactly where they need help.

While the approach helps close the achievement gap between Pell Grant-eligible students and those who are not Pell Grant-eligible, it also helps students who are academically underprepared—those who come to higher education with lower ACT or SAT scores, or those who are enrolled in remedial math or English courses, she said.

“Using these learning analytics, we have this great information about students, so we can personalize what they need to help them achieve success,” Reddy said. “It recognizes that small successes lead to large successes.”

Laura Ascione