Program Aims to Improve Retention Rates by Educating Administrators on Digital Pedagogy

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The Association of Chief Academic Officers (ACAO) recently announced the launch of the ACAO Digital Fellows program, an initiative designed to educate provosts and chief academic officers on the uses and effectiveness of digital learning methods. Its goal is to increase understanding of digital pedagogy resources among college and university leadership in order to improve student learning and retention.

To lead the program, ACAO selected Kenneth C. Green, PhD, founding director of the Campus Computing Project, the largest continuing study of the role of computing, eLearning, and information technology in American higher education.

Green says the ACAO Digital Fellows program, which is supported by a more than $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is focused on improving educational outcomes for “the new majority” of students — specifically, first-generation, low-income, and minority students, who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education. Although higher education has become more accessible for these individuals, Green says they still have lower retention and graduation rates than their peers.

Math is one area in which digital learning resources can aid these students. Green says using these tools can help the large number of students whose K-12 experience didn’t adequately prepare them for college algebra. Specifically, these digital tools can provide math-learning techniques that are tailored to a student’s skill level and engage him or her individually in a way that isn’t always possible in a traditional classroom.

In its first year, the ACAO program will accept 30 fellows — primarily provosts and chief academic officers from public institutions that serve this new majority of students. Over the course of four retreats, fellows will receive special training on the use and dissemination of digital learning resources, as well as learn how to address issues such as institutional challenges to innovation. There will also be an on-campus component in which chief academic officers will work with technology teams and faculty to implement digital learning strategies.

In addition, fellows are encouraged to share the knowledge they gain through the initiative with others in academia, Green says. “It is a clear expectation of the Gates Foundation that these provosts be out there amongst their peers, sharing these experiences well beyond the end of the program,” he says.

Green believes digital pedagogy lends itself to more adaptive, individualized, and engaged learning experiences, which he says can be particularly helpful for students who did not receive the same level of college preparation in K-12 as their peers. “There is a clear and explicit link between digital pedagogy and not just learning, but also retention and graduation,” he says.

Fellowship recipients will be announced in late April. For more information, visit acao.org/digitalfellows.