USM and Ithaka S+R Launch Rigorous Study of New Technologies' Impact on Student Performance

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Awards $1.4 Million to Ithaka S+R to Fund Project

Adelphi, Md. (Nov. 13, 2012) -- As universities explore the potential of online education and other new technologies to improve student learning and graduation rates while lowering costs, the University System of Maryland (USM) is partnering with Ithaka S+R on a project to measure how well online learning platforms are working. Ithaka S+R, the recipient of a $1.4 million grant from the Gates Foundation, is a nationally known higher education research and consulting group.

The partnership will seek to accelerate the use of new learning technologies across higher education. The USM will serve as a test bed for online or hybrid courses (those that blend face-to-face instruction with online instruction) in a range of subjects at campuses throughout the System.

"As a nation, if we have any hope of overcoming the challenge of decreased public funding, with the resulting rise in the cost of higher education, and still meet our obligation to produce more college graduates, we must embrace interventions like highly interactive online learning.  These interventions hold out real hope for improving learning outcomes and containing the growth in costs," said USM Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan.

These new teaching technologies can deliver tangible cost savings, from engaging faculty in the most efficient manner to ensuring more students are able to graduate and complete their degree in less time.

The main focus of USM's partnership with Ithaka S+R will be a series of tests of online learning methods. These tests will be conducted during the 2013 spring, summer and fall terms.  They will mostly be side-by-side evaluations of learning outcomes, comparing traditionally taught sections with hybrid or online-only sections in courses offered for credit. 

Students of traditionally taught sections and hybrid sections using Coursera and possibly other massive online open courses, or MOOCs, will take common final exams. This methodology will allow the partnership to assess the effectiveness of the different course delivery models. Students also will take surveys at the end of a term to give feedback about their experience in the courses.

"We are energized by the opportunity to be a central resource that is on the cutting edge of these learning innovations, working with Ithaka S+R and our academic colleagues within the System," said Joann Boughman, USM senior vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Among its 11 campuses, USM includes the full range of institutional types that comprise American higher education. This breadth of institutions includes historically black universities, research universities, and the University of Maryland University College-the nation's largest non-profit online university. Given the System's strong record of experimenting with new teaching and learning technologies, the USM provides an ideal testing platform for how an individual campus can adopt advances in online learning.

Furthermore, the USM was the first university system in the nation to embrace the use of technology and innovative educational techniques to redesign entire courses, resulting in better learning outcomes and lower costs.

"An important next step is to go beyond individual course redesign to consider online learning at the departmental and institutional levels," said Deanna Marcum, Ithaka S+R Managing Director. "Which online learning strategies will work in which circumstances? Can costs be reduced while maintaining or bettering learning outcomes? How can faculty interests and administrative interests be aligned? These are some of the questions that we want to explore and share our findings with the broader higher education community."

The USM partnership with Ithaka S+R reflects the priorities of Powering Maryland Forward, USM's strategic plan.  One of the plan's major strategic priorities is to transform the academic model with course redesign strategies that help more students understand material, complete their degrees, and become better-qualified to join the workforce.

Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719