Addressing College Readiness Gaps in First-Year Composition

First-year students enter the University of Mississippi with varying degrees of readiness for college-level writing. Student preparation gaps are evident in foundational content knowledge and rhetorical skills, which are areas often under-assessed in writing classes. It can be difficult for instructors to identify precisely where these gaps exist and coach students individually to improve their understanding.

Recognizing that personalized learning technology could help address these problems, the UM Department of Writing & Rhetoric decided to explore digital courseware as a solution. They wanted to create open, interactive learning modules that would assist better-prepared students in refreshing and expanding their content knowledge while helping less-prepared students bridge gaps that might otherwise hinder their chances at college success.

Making Digital Courseware Work for Writing

After exploring a variety of personalized courseware options, the Ole Miss team decided to work with Lumen Learning’s Waymaker courseware. Working collaboratively with Lumen the team designed interactive “mini-modules” focused on core rhetorical knowledge and skills. They wanted the modules to bridge common gaps in students’ preparation to write effectively at the college level and reinforce foundational knowledge without adding to in-class lecture time.

The team was eager to use open content not only to ensure low cost, but also so they could adapt learning activities to make them engaging and relevant for students, and deeply connected to the experiences and needs of Ole Miss faculty and first-year students.

The courseware has been well-received. According to student surveys, 69% feel the personalized learning courseware helps improve success with major writing projects. Faculty members find the courseware helpful for diagnosing where and how to help struggling students. After a successful, 1000-student pilot, the courseware is now used across all sections of first-year composition.

Award-winning Recognition

In 2018, the team leading this initiative received a $10,000 Digital Learning Innovation Award for innovative use of Lumen’s Waymaker personalized learning courseware in first-year composition classes.

“Working with Lumen Learning to implement Waymaker, we’ve had the opportunity to develop precisely the type of tool our department was looking for, and to ensure it is a strong fit for our students and how we teach,” said Guy Krueger, Writing 101 Curriculum Chair at the University of Mississippi. “We look forward to continuing to enhance the courseware and how it supports student learning.”

The Path to Continuous Improvement

One of the most exciting aspects of this work is the ability to make continuous, data-driven improvements targeted at improving learning specifically for UM students. After implementing the courseware across all sections in fall 2018, faculty members worked with Lumen Learning to analyze where students used the content heavily but did not perform well on assessments. Student behavior and academic performance suggests these are areas where the content and assessments aren’t doing their job at supporting learning. In a collaborative workshop setting facilitated by Lumen, faculty teams diagnosed trouble spots in the courseware modules and identified how to improve the content to better support learning. 

Improvements are under way to address trouble spots. Because the instructional content is OER, Ole Miss faculty have permission to revise the material, add interactives, and make other improvements. In future terms they will test the effectiveness of these improvements, and going forward the team will continue to iterate module content to strengthen learning based on student needs and academic performance. 

Hear directly from the Ole Miss team in this recorded webinar where they talk about their experience working with Lumen Learning on personalized learning courseware for writing.


Photo: “Monument to James Meredith, who Desegregated Ole Miss” by Adam Jones, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0