"Let’s suppose for a moment that it’s the 1930s. You’re the captain of the luxury liner, the Queen Mary, steaming across the Atlantic to New York. Suddenly, you hear a low drone. You look up and see a Pan Am Clipper, winging its way from London to New York. Would you realize that the age of steamships is about to end? Would the steamship company understand that its business actually is transportation, not ships? Would the passengers guess that seats at the captain’s table, strolls on the deck, steamship trunks, and days at sea are about to become a six hour-flight in row 17 – a window or aisle please, but not the middle?"
--- April 9, 1999, President Gregory C. Farrington’s inaugural address, Lehigh University.
In much the same way that the Pan Am Clipper signaled new ways of thinking about transportation, the Clipper Project at Lehigh University is serving as the catalyst for the new ways of thinking about higher education.
MJ Bishop, Assistant Professor of Educational Technology, and Sally A. White, Dean and Professor, College of Education, are co-principle investigators for the second phase of the study known as "Clipper II." Recently supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a three year period, this new phase of the project focuses on exploring ways to help higher education improve "learning productivity" by offering Web-based college courses to high school seniors who have received "early admission" into Lehigh.
"Today’s entering first-year students encounter numerous academic, financial, and social barriers that prevent them from graduating from college," said White. The degree completion rate for those who enter college today is projected to be only 58 percent, with retention and graduation rates consistently lower for underrepresented minorities. "Anything we can do to help reduce the pressure and anxiety of the first- year experience —when the majority of students drop out— should help to alleviate this problem."
"Higher education’s retention problems have not gone unnoticed by the Bush administration. A new strategic plan for improving accountability in higher education calls for states to begin using college graduation and retention rates as productivity measures and to require these rates be broken out by race, gender, and ethnicity, and whether the student received federal financial aid.
"The issue here, however, is that the productivity problem in higher education may stem not so much from excessive costs, but from insufficient and inefficient learning," Bishop argued. "When learners master knowledge or skills in less time and/or with less costly inputs, learning is more productive. This is where Web-based technologies may make the greatest impact."
During the first phase of the project, Lehigh faculty and staff developed and offered five Web-based courses (Calculus I, Economics I, English I, Chemistry I, and Engineering I) to 90 high school seniors. To date, findings indicate that these students tended to be high achieving and technologically proficient "The additional funding will allow us to continue following these students through their college career in order to see if their Clipper experiences might have played some role reducing the dropout rates of this group," Bishop says.
Those who completed their Web-based course achieved as well as students who participated in the same on-campus sections. Feedback from these students on their experiences has been positive overall.
With some of this preliminary data gathered, the Clipper Project is well positioned to continue its research into how Web-based technologies can help higher education achieve its core teaching and learning goals by following these students’ progress through their career at Lehigh.
Specifically, the project will monitor retention rates, time to graduation, and first-year course loads of Clipper students to see to what extent participation in the project improves these factors. In addition, Clipper II will continue to explore student’s overall achievement in Web-based courses, the extent to which participation in Web-based courses prepare a student for advanced coursework, whether Web-based learning gives the student a broader understanding of learning, psychosocial indicators of success, and the effect Web-based teaching has on faculty involved in such a project.