Undergraduate success in higher education is often dependent on a student’s performance in gateway courses – or those required entry-level classes that provide the academic foundations for selected majors.
Recognizing the importance of gateway courses to students’ long-term academic success, faculty at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) began efforts to improve student performance in these courses nearly two decades ago. This multiyear initiative has addressed numerous gateway courses on campus and is yielding positive results. The ongoing efforts in recent years have been housed in the Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE) as part of a program called the Course Innovation Initiative (CI2).
For its efforts in helping students succeed in these necessary classes, UHD was awarded the University of Houston-System Board of Regents Academic Excellence Award. UHD was formally recognized with this honor during the Board’s May 18 meeting on the University of Houston campus.
“This award is a validation of UHD’s commitment to its students,” said UHD President Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “Success in gateway courses is essential to a student’s progression in a university setting. Too often, those who transition from high school to an institution of higher learning are challenged by a new academic standard and new ways of learning. Our faculty and staff have worked diligently to help students overcome these challenges and stay on the right path toward finishing UHD strong.”
Examples of strategies used by faculty in gateway courses include:
- Reading guides or interactive online video lectures that help students prepare prior to attending class.
- Team environments in which students collaborate with each other and supplemental instruction leaders (peer tutors).
- Classroom problem solving activities.
Improved student engagement and learning was the primary goal of course redesign efforts. This was measured in a variety of ways, but is reflected most prominently by the percentage of students earning a “C” or better in selected courses. At the conclusion of the fall 2016 semester, students’ grades in gateway courses had improved significantly.
Some of the most marked improvements included scores in College Algebra with 64 percent of students earning A’s, B’s or C’s. Previously, 42 percent earned a C or better in this course. Another leap was made in General Biology. By the conclusion of fall 2016, 65 percent of students earned A’s, B’s or C’s. Prior to that semester, 38 percent of students scored a C or higher. Additional program outcomes are detailed in this chart:
|Course Name||2016/17 Enrollment||Baseline % ABC||Current % ABC|
|English Composition I||1050||54||74|
|English Composition II||1044||56||69|
|Integrated Reading & Writing||213||70||83|
|US History I||1294||52||71|
|College Math for Liberal Arts||246||53||65|
|General Biology I||390||38||65|
|General Chemistry I||385||44||56|
These impressive academic results have helped students overcome trepidations regarding the leap from high school classrooms to university learning spaces. Faculty confidence also was bolstered as professors collaborated together on course design strategies and observed positive outcomes in the classroom.
“I began seeing a level of engagement I had never seen before in any of my other classes,” said Dr. Lisa Morano, professor of biology and microbiology. “I began to realize that influence from peers was an incredibly motivating factor for students.”
Faculty efforts to improve student success in gateway courses through the support of the CTLE are complemented by other initiatives aimed at supporting First Time in College students (FITCs). These include Supplemental Instruction, freshman seminar courses, Gator Gateway, an expanded orientation program for freshmen, faculty mentoring, and Gator Ready, which is aimed at simplifying the registration process for FTICs.
The video, Active Learning and Gateway Courses, was created to document faculty and staff efforts to improve student learning in gateway courses at UHD. The video, featuring faculty and student testimonials, can be viewed here.