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Davidson College, in partnership with the College Board and edX, has created a suite of free, instructional modules addressing the most challenging concepts in Advanced Placement (AP) subjects; the initiative – which launched July 22nd on edX.org – is called Davidson Next.

These modules are designed to help students master difficult concepts in the AP curriculum (as defined by 2011–13 AP exam data), while also providing AP instructors opportunities to create blended learning environments shown to be more effective than purely online or traditional instruction. Anant Agarwal, edX CEO, underscores the power of the Davidson Next collaboration: “Leveraging the power of MOOCs, students and teachers around the world will be able to access this content to both prepare for higher education and to supplement existing classroom material.”

Davidson Next currently offers modules in three AP subjects, including:

The Davidson Next team spent the past 18 months developing modules in each topic, in concert with well-respected AP instructors from across the U.S. and four Davidson College faculty members who have more than 80 years of combined experience writing AP curricula and exams.

Scope Scale, and Support

Davidson Next recognizes the value of the edX platform as a way to scale high-quality AP instruction around the world in innovative, unexpected ways. The original focus of the Davidson Next project was to support AP teachers through content designed to supplement teacher-led instruction in real classrooms (blended learning). Those designs remain true, but have been adapted such that any student with Internet access has the opportunity to gain mastery of difficult topics in the AP curriculum.

Davidson Next content represents a departure from the design of many other available Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in several ways:

  • It is collaborative and distributed in efforts to create modular content;
  • It is data driven; and
  • It aims to provide teachers modular content to supplement their own classroom instruction.

Content Creation and Collaboration

Each Davidson Next course features 14 modules, and each module is designed and delivered by a high school AP instructor, all of whom have worked with the College Board to write AP curricula and exams and/or grad AP exams. Between the summer of 2014 and the spring of 2015, thirty-eight AP instructors from across the U.S. traveled to Davidson College to film instructional videos and finalize content for their units with course editors and the Davidson Next team.

All units follow the same general structure:

  • “Let’s See What You Already Know”—a series of pre-assessment questions to help students and teachers gauge their preparation.
  • “Learning Cycles”— between 2 and 4 sequences containing an instructor-led video; technology-enhanced activities (to be shared in follow up post) and questions meant to mimic AP-style exam questions.
  • “Let’s See What You Have Learned”—a set of post-assessment questions that allows teachers to gauge their students’ mastery in a given topic and self-paced students to determine if they should continue reviewing (questions are written with AP exams in mind).

Pilot Program Data Drives Development

One hallmark of the Davidson Next project is the pilot program launched in 2014 in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district and several other high schools in North and South Carolina. During the pilot, 34 AP instructors used Davidson Next modules with more than 1,100 students.

Data collected during the pilot identified bugs in content and illuminated the types of support teachers need for using technology in real classrooms, all of which informed the final program design. Along with standard data sets collected and processed by edX, periodic surveys were given to teachers and students to help refine or gauge their attitudes towards the materials and the edX platform as a whole.

Overall, the Davidson Next team learned a lot from managing this pilot program, such as the need for student permission slips and the process for collecting more specialized data from districts (such as AP exam scores).

Expanding Support for Teachers

Since the July 22 launch of the Davidson Next modules, about 2,000 learners have enrolled in each course, and entrance surveys indicate that a large number of those enrollees are teachers. In addition to the available modules, Davidson Next is working with edX and MITx to provide private access to modules, allowing teachers to run their own customized versions within their classrooms. The so-called Custom Courses on edX (CCx) will provide teachers access to due dates, grades, and the ability to select specific modules for use with only their students.

Teaching with Davidson Next 

These private versions are being run in conjunction with a professional development course called Teaching with Davidson Next, which offers specific ideas about how to use Davidson Next modules for blended learning and flipped classroom formats.

From the Campus to the World

Why is Davidson College pursuing this project?

The idea for the free, online instructional modules was initially inspired by Davidson faculty members who have worked closely with the College Board for decades: Dr. Stephen Davis currently serves as the Chief Reader for AP Calculus, Dr. Larry Cain has served as the co-chair of the AP Physics Redesign Committee for nearly a decade, and Dr. Clark Ross helped the College Board begin the Macroeconomics AP program in 1988.

Their collective, unique expertise, coupled with the increasing use of open online education, spurred ideas on how to scale out AP instruction to teachers and students around the world. The Davidson Next initiative underscores Davidson College’s efforts to expand educational access to high-quality instructional materials beyond only Davidson College, and we are thrilled about this opportunity to help students from around the country.

This is the first part in a series of posts on Davidson Next.

This guest post was written by the Davidson Next team, including Daniel Seaton, Davidson College Educational Technologist, Julie Goff, Davidson College Project Manager, and Aaron Houck, Davidson College Assessment Coordinator.

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