• Preparing for the underprepared: Leveraging education technology for equitable and inclusive education

    by Dr. Drew Berrett

    A man lies on his stomach on a bed, listening to headphones, writing on a notebook. A pile of books are on one side of him and an open laptop computer is on the other.

    Have you noticed students coming to class underprepared or unable to demonstrate proficiency in reading, writing, or mathematics at the college level? Over 60% of students who attend either a two-year or four-year university enroll in at least one remedial course to better prepare for their major courses.1

    Unfortunately, many of the academically underprepared are economically disadvantaged or come from marginalized or minority groups. For example, in California, over 90% of economically disadvantaged students require remediation in English language learning.2

    The impact of COVID-19

    The COVID-19 pandemic may have further heightened the struggles of underprepared students. With the shift to online learning, teaching quality varied substantially and transitions to remote learning were inconsistent. This enhanced the inequality for students who may not have access to the internet or a computer or don’t have the parental support they need.3

    Institutions across the country are looking for new ways to help learners succeed. How could your institution and instructors leverage education technology to improve access and utilization to support these underprepared students?

    Filling the gaps

    Learning gaps should be identified prior to enrollment or the start of a course to ensure students are as successful as possible. Technology can help identify these gaps.

    For example, Pearson Gap Finder assesses student knowledge and skills on prerequisite topics prior to enrolling in A&P courses. Students take an online diagnostic assessment and, based on the results, complete online learning modules focused on identified deficiencies so they’re more prepared for the rigorous A&P curriculum.

    Remediation

    Once learning gaps are identified, you can provide the remediation students need to be successful. Your institution likely has its own remediation courses that are prerequisites before entering into major courses. Research has found that many of these courses are unspecific, increase costs, and extend the time required to graduate, all of which can lead to increased drop outs.

    Using online instruction can compress these courses, allowing students to only receive remediation on the topics they need while co-enrolling with their major course. Plus this specification of courses increases affordability and access1 — helping you reach more students and meet your institutional goals of equity and inclusion.

    Leveraging technology for ongoing support

    There are many benefits to online instruction that level the playing field for many different social and demographic groups.

    • It allows for both asynchronous and synchronous instructional models. Asynchronous instruction (pre-recorded video, digital materials, etc.) provides for slowed and/or repeated delivery of instruction, making it ideal for English language learners.
    • Students can study anywhere at any time, which is great for students who are working while earning their degree.
    • Online tutoring provides the flexibility students need while still providing quality instruction.

    Smarthinking is an online tutoring service available for core subjects, including math, science, business, health sciences, reading, and writing. Assistance can be provided asynchronously and synchronously 24/7 by subject matter experts with graduate degrees. The writing portion of the program allows students to submit essays or similar writing pieces and receive personalized assistance.

    Watch my recorded webinar to learn more about supporting underprepared students

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  • Supporting learners and working parents in your organization

    by Christa Ehmann

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    Picture this: Joanna is a busy executive and single mom who works as a senior Project Manager at a large technology firm. Due to COVID-19, she’s been working from home since March, and her company just announced they’re extending work from home orders through at least July 2021.

    Although her travel schedule came to an abrupt halt once the pandemic began hit, her 10+ hour days are filled with back-to-back virtual planning meetings, client presentations, and conference calls. In addition to managing her job remotely, Joanna must also oversee her three teenage children who are now engaged in virtual at-home learning, likely through the end of the school year.

    Joanna’s daughter is in 8th grade, and is a severely dyslexic learner with an auditory processing disorder. She has online classes from 8:00 a.m. until 3:15 p.m. with 15- minute breaks between in each class. Joanna’s freshman and senior sons are also virtually enrolled in the public school system. Although the boys’ online schedules are less rigorous than their sister’s, they’re simultaneously navigating the expectations of high school learning and the college search process, with varying demands on workload, applications, and standardized testing.

    At any given point in the day, at least one of the kids has a question — a math equation here, a grammar exercise there, how to read a passage, what a particular chemistry assignment means, or how to start an essay for English. Their teachers say they’ll answer emails or provide study halls, but many times they aren’t available at the time of need. And even if Joanna can help with the content, she can’t interrupt her full docket of video calls and meetings.

    On top of everything else, the house is wreck. Joanna’s mother had typically lent a hand with cooking, cleaning, and helping the kids, but she can longer come to the house due to a weakened immune system. Exasperated & tired, Joanna’s work, her family, and her children’s education are suffering.

    Some employers are doing it right

    While the scenario above is just an example, corporations understand that this type of situation is becoming all-too familiar. Employees worldwide are newly burdened with pressures of working remotely while juggling distance-learning dependents at home. As such, companies are swiftly rethinking what employee benefits look like and aggressively investing in their workforces.

    Corporations spend $164B annually on employee training & education, which can include tutoring services. With the pandemic still creating upheaval for the foreseeable future, that number is likely to rise as employees’ struggles become clearer.

    Mental health offerings by employers are already seeing significant increases in recent years — from 34% in 2014 to 75% in 2018. With nearly half of Americans saying their mental health has suffered due to the COVID-19 crisis, this spending trend on well-being services is expected to continue to help workers deal with stress and anxiety.1

    Some larger companies have adopted new programs that offer heavily subsidized school day supervision for students on a part-time basis to help parents deal with the financial and mental stress created by juggling work and their children’s virtual classes. But even in the midst of the pandemic, some of the numbers around employee benefits are alarming. One report by The Society for Human Resource Management showed that only 4% of the member companies it surveyed offered subsidized child-care centers or programs. About 40% didn’t even offer a pretax dependent-care flexible spending account.2

    Still, there are bright spots. Minnesota-based food company Hormel recently announced that they’d pay tuition costs to two-year colleges for its employees’ dependent children beginning in the 2021-22 academic year.3 Other companies are providing access through their Employee Assistance Programs to education support services like tutoring, mental health activities to help employees stay physically and mentally healthy at home, and support in the form of free financial planning and credit monitoring.4

    Give employees academic help

    To support corporate employee dependents & family members during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, Pearson offers Smarthinking. With 24/7 online tutoring and writing support available on-demand, Smarthinking can help employees and their families with normal coursework, reskilling, and upskilling, from middle school through college, graduate, professional, and certificate level. This relieves the extreme pressures on parents working remotely by assisting their at-home students with writing and other school work — in real time and asynchronously.

    For more than 20 years, we’ve successfully served millions of students through our university partnerships and direct to learner models. And now, when your workers and their families need assistance, we can help you offer the best academic and skills-improving support available.

    Sources

    1Erica Sliverman, Increased spending and COVID-19 impact 2020 benefits landscape,” BenefitsPRO.com, August 17, 2020.
    2Jena McGregor, Big firms offer stressed parents new perks such as subsidized tutoring,” washingtonpost.com, August 20, 2020.
    3Madeline St. Amour, Free Tuition for Children of Employees at Hormel Foods,” Inside Higher Ed, September 1, 2020.
    4Alan Kohll, How One Company Is Taking Care Of Employees During COVID-19,” Forbes.com, Apr 6, 2020.

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