Spotlight on Innovation: How Bryn Mawr is Closing Math Skill Gaps with Targeted Online Modules

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The US Department of Education has awarded multi-million dollar "First in the World" grants to 24 colleges and universities that are innovating to solve critical challenges with access, recruitment, retention, and student success. At AI, we have interviewed each of the recipients to learn more about the projects these institutions are pursuing, how their approaches are unique, and what other colleges and universities can learn from these new efforts.

by Lisa Cook, Academic Impressions

Bryn Mawr College has long boasted a strong history of women attaining STEM degrees, with more than a third of their students majoring in math or science. Now, Bryn Mawr is working to take the next step toward increasing the number of underrepresented, underprepared and low-income students attaining STEM degrees by targeting the needs of students who have gaps in specific math skills or who lack the overall mastery that would allow them to thrive in STEM. Their project, funded by a $1.65 million First in the World grant from the US Department of Education, will combine face-to-face coaching support and blended learning through online modules, in partnership with twelve other institutions.

The Challenge

The project targets the group of students who have passed Bryn Mawr's entry quantitative skills assessment but who are struggling with math in gateway STEM courses, explains Elizabeth McCormack, associate provost and physics chair. In some cases, a student has specific areas of weakness, perhaps in functional analysis or trigonometry. "Often there's a gap in time since students last used these skills," McCormack notes. In other cases, students simply lack the overall mastery that would allow them to thrive in STEM.  Either situation can leave students struggling and increase the possibility that they might drop out of a STEM program.

"Scaffolding can make a difference," McCormack notes. To address those needs, Bryn Mawr is partnering with Allegheny College, Denison University, Franklin and Marshall College, Grinnell College, Lafayette College, Mills College, Oberlin College, St. Olaf College, Smith College, Vassar College, Wellesley College, and Whittier College to created targeted online modules as a just-in-time aid.

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