Seven courseware developers are winning finalists for $20 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for online courseware that helps low-income students in 100- and 200-level college courses with large enrollments.
The goal is to develop courseware that is better than the current options on the market — by quality, price, ability to scale, and adaptability — and to boost the success of more than one million low-income students by 2018.
The Gates Foundation initially asked more than 100 developers for proposals in May, and 51 applications were received — including multiple applications from some groups. In July, the pool of candidates for funding was narrowed to 17 organizations. The projects that win funding will agree to a three-year design, development, and implementation period, including third-party evaluations to measure the impact on students and a broad sharing of lessons learned.
So who are the finalists vying for Gates funding?
A subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University, Acrobatiq is a developer that incorporates a cloud-based platform for writing, delivering and adapting its courseware, along with learning analytics and data collection and modeling in real time. The firm builds on Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative, a grant-funded group founded in 2001 that offers online courses to anyone who wants to take them or teach them.
Cerego is the developer of a memory management tool to help improve students’ learning speed, retention and re-learning. As described by the company, the tool measures how quickly the student is absorbing and forgetting information, while calculating when the student should review to achieve “maximum memory strength.” The company’s Memory Bank shows individualized learning progress and strength of memory for each course and individual item studied. So far, students have used the Cerego platform for 3.7 million study hours to learn more than 1.6 billion items.
A cloud-based adaptive learning platform, CogBooks can be used as a stand-alone online solution or integrated with a learning management system or existing massive open online courses, according to the company. The CogBooks platform tracks detailed data on each student’s learning behavior and performance that can be used for learning analytics and data mining. CogBooks says it is working with NBC Learn, Arizona State University, Cambridge Assessment, and 15 major colleges and universities to get to the more than one million students required by the Gates Foundation.
Lumen Learning is a consultant that helps colleges, universities, and K-12 institutions schools use open educational resources to replace textbooks. The benefits, according to Lumen: textbooks that typically cost $100 to $200 can be replaced with a $5 course materials fee, and the courses supported by Lumen typically have higher pass rates than textbook-supported courses.
Rice University’s nonprofit, foundation-supported OpenStax College offers free online textbooks — written and peer-reviewed by professional content developers — to meet the requirements of most courses. The books can be adopted with no changes, or modified to individual teaching approaches, and they can be offered in a low-cost printed form. OpenStax also has a large open educational content repository that can be viewed on mobile devices, through Google Play, and on LearningPod, a new free app.
Smart Sparrow is an Australian startup that develops adaptive and personalized learning technology. The ed-tech company’s founder is Dror Ben Naim, former leader of an intelligent tutoring and educational data mining research group at the University of New South Wales and developer of the Adaptive eLearning Platform, which created engineering tutorials. The Smart Sparrow platform allows teachers to use existing learning management systems, create their own online interactive content, make it adaptive, deploy it to students, analyze the students’ learning, and share the content with other professors.
Open Learning Initiative
The Open Learning Initiative at Stanford University is headed by Candace Thille, who moved from the Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative last year. Just like the Carnegie Mellon version, the Stanford OLI is grant-supported and pledges to offer online courses to anyone who wants to learn from them or teach them. OLI is housed in Stanford’s Graduate School of Education, and its online courses and materials are shared openly, designed to support students who don’t have an instructor. It also has a goal of developing a community where the courses can be improved with the help of continuous evaluation.