College coalition’s new research center aims to improve online learning

Columbia will help lead self-directed education initiative.
By: | July 20, 2021
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With more than a third of college students taking online courses, and that number expected to grow, there is a groundswell of academic support for self-directed learning. There’s also a fair amount of financial support pouring in, too, including $10 million.

Sparked by that sizeable grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Science, a new research center focused on education technology and teaching is being launched by the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Columbia University’s Teachers College, nine other colleges and non-profits SRI Education and Achieving the Dream.

So early in the development stage that it hasn’t been named, the center will provide students with enhanced guidance on individual learning, a path becoming more popular in virtual spaces. The three organizations plan to develop a toolkit and provide other resources as they build out programming.

The project will be led by Deborah Jonas, director of Center for Education Research & Innovation for SRI Education, a division of SRI International. and Nikki Edgecombe, CCRC senior research scholar and professor of education policy and social analysis.

“It’s an amazing opportunity to partner with CCRC to strengthen teaching and learning for all students,” Jonas said. “With Achieving the Dream and our partner colleges, the center will promote cross-sector knowledge sharing and national uptake of the evidence-based training resources the team will develop.”

Many of the colleges taking part have a sizeable reach in their communities and serve a large number of diverse and non-traditional students. They include Bunker Hill Community College in Massachusetts, Calbright College in California, Macomb Community College in Michigan, Odessa College in Texas, Palm Beach State College in Florida, Portland State University in Oregon, Tulsa Community College in Oklahoma, Virginia State University, and Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina.

Along with CCRC, the colleges and nonprofits will be sharing best practices and innovative ideas that can improve the future for online learners, many of whom understand the concepts being taught but struggle with organization and study skills in digital environments.