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7 Ways to Use Tech to Improve College Student Success

Educational attainment, academic achievement, student persistence, learning and development, and college completion. The success of college students is getting more attention these days with rising expectations, greater accountability (yet shrinking budgets), and dismal statistics, like this one:

Only about one of every four community college students who take a remedial course graduates within eight years.

The reality we face in higher education today invites different approaches to promote student success.

That’s what NGLC is all about. Our first challenge to the field was to find ways to bring to scale those different approaches—and even more specifically, technology-enabled innovations that promote student success in higher education.

The infographic below sums up that funding challenge, which we called “Building Blocks for College Completion.”



The infographic highlights seven practices that facilitated the successful implementation of the innovations funded by NGLC. They are framed to offer you evidence-based advice on how to use a classroom innovation fueled by technology to get the outcomes for students we all want to see—and that students deserve.

The Seven Practices

  1. Achieve greater impact with “whole-course” models: It’s likely that projects funded by NGLC that used whole-course models—where instructors adopt an entire course design that involves a new instructional approach and curriculum using technology—had a greater effect on student outcomes because they represented more comprehensive, tightly specified instructional change.
  2. Design student success innovations with active, self-paced, data-driven learning: NGLC-funded projects that replaced lectures with active learning methods, incorporated mastery learning components, and provided instructors with information about student progress and risk status were associated with stronger student outcomes.
  3. Cultivate the involvement of faculty with early engagement and ongoing training and resources: Projects with the highest significant positive effects featured active face-to-face contact between grant teams and instructors, and several gave attention to more systemic issues of change, such as institutional culture and collaboration among faculty.
  4. Engage students as designers and facilitators of an innovation as well as learners: Some NGLC-funded projects encountered challenges regarding students’ technology readiness and reluctance to use new instructional approaches or resources. Projects were more successful when they promoted the innovation’s academic relevance to students, engaged students directly in designing and building the solution, and trained students to use the technology.
  5. Join project communities to accelerate adoption and efficiency: Projects involving college systems or consortia appeared to have an easier time spreading their student success innovation to a larger number of campuses within those systems. Cross-institutional communities working together to adopt an innovation—and existing user communities of technology tools—can share resources and best practices.
  6. Address a student success innovation’s functionality as well as its academic requirements: Some NGLC grantees overcame challenges with functional aspects of their implementation by solidifying the support of senior leadership, planning ahead how the innovation would operate within campus systems, and incorporating data management practices.
  7. Create enduring impact through long-term planning and design: Project teams found that early attention to long-term financial, operational, and cultural issues could foster the student success innovation’s sustainability.

Stay tuned! Over the next several weeks, we’ll dive into each of these seven practices more deeply and offer examples from the grant recipients themselves.

These seven practices synthesize findings drawn from an external evaluation conducted by SRI International as well as grant recipients' results and observations. NGLC thanks Judy Pirani of Sheep Pond Associates for pulling all of this material together in a way that clearly communicates lessons learned and their practical applications.



Good afternoon, I am currently a graduate student studying Higher Education and have found this blog extremely informative and insightful. Reading through your post, specifically the seven practices, brought to light several productive ways to incorporate technology into higher education. Could you please elaborate further on the practice of engaging students as designers and facilitators. Do you believe we should always allow students to be a part of the process and solution, or do you believe it to be more successful for those students and classrooms that are not initially as receptive?

Thank you!

@Michael.Little: Thanks so much for your comment and your question. You can read a great blog post by Judith Pirani that dives more deeply into the practice of engaging students as designers and facilitators: Student as Designer: Making EdTech that Increases Student Success on the Next Gen Learning blog. 

I enjoyed reading your Blog and was stunned at the statistics as it relates to community college graduation rates.   I look forward to seeing how the seven practices work.  What type of universities/colleges were chosen as grant recipients? 

@LynnM: The statistics are indeed jaw-dropping. You can find the list of grant recipients at Each grant recipient was called to scale their innovation at other colleges and universities and worked with a range of partner institutions. Of the 282 institutions involved, about 50 of them were community colleges and the rest were 4-year institutions. 

Are these 50 community colleges fully funded by their local municipalities to outstand the competition among 282 intitutions?

I really enjoyed reading your blog. In your opinion how effective do you think the use of technology be in a college student's success? Do you think it will make a great difference in student outcome, slight different or a gradual difference over time?

I ask because in a previous course, this was a hot topic, and many of my peers felt that too much technology may take a from the full college learning experience, i.e., the library, using the library data base to do research. I agree with them to a certain extent, but still have my doubts. Can you provide some insight for me?

@NMStone: I think you raise a good question, but I also think the question shouldn't focus just on whether technology is good or bad. In my opinion, it's not about technology per se, but about how technology is used and what it makes possible. The tech-enabled innovations funded by NGLC (like blended learning, learning analytics, and open educational resources among others) had varying degrees of making a difference in college student success: as Lessons #1 and #2 above show, innovations that involved completely redesigning a course, and innovations that involved active, self-paced, and data-driven learning, were more likely to improve student outcomes (like course completion, course grades, and persistence to the next semester) than other innovations. If technology can make learning more accessible to students and if it can change the way students learn in college (based on learning science and empirical evidence), then I think it can definitely contribute to the college experience, helping to create one that is more positive and results in greater success. 

 I can't say more since most of the things needed to learn is written already in this article. I am looking forward for this into positive results for the students. I am a freelance  writer and if given a chance, will do things for the students as well to know more about writing. It is a good craft to be chose of and may help them improve in the future. Cheers!