March 10, 2003

This regular column highlights an institutional research (IR) study conducted by the staff of the Institutional Research and Planning office (IR&P) in each News Bytes issue. The goal is to inform more people about IR research so that more effective decisions can be made throughout the District.

Student Success in Learning Communities at De Anza College

This column features a study that examines the following question: Does the Learning Communities Program (known as “LinC,” Learning in Communities) at De Anza College, which integrates the curricula of several disciplines and relates them to real-life themes, improve student success?

“Research from other colleges indicates that students who are able to make connections in the curricula to real-life situations do better academically,” said Andrew LaManque, Ph.D., De Anza College researcher. “This research leads us to expect higher course success rates for LinC students than those in comparable non-LinC courses.”

Because this study was the first attempt to examine LinC, it only establishes a baseline of information. It does not attempt to account for differences in classroom teaching or grading, or differences in student motivation. The study’s goal is to determine whether student success rates (as measured by course grades) in LinC courses are higher than for similar courses.

About LinC

LinC was established at De Anza in the fall of 1996. The program involves an interdisciplinary curriculum that traditionally would have been taught as two or more distinct courses. LinC courses are clustered around common themes and are taught collaboratively by more than one instructor. The program aims to improve student learning by highlighting the connections between disciplines and interesting topics, thereby strengthening students’ intellectual curiosity and experiences.

Participating in LinC is entirely voluntary for both faculty and students. Edwina Stoll, coordinator, LinC, and speech instructor; Marcos Cicerone, director, Staff and Organizational Development; and Marcy Betlach, coordinator, LinC, and ESL instructor, provide support for faculty who wish to teach in the program. They offer faculty members a program orientation and help them develop their curricula. In a typical quarter, more than 200 students participate in 10 to 15 LinC sections, grouped into five or six “Learning Communities.” Visit the LinC Web site for more information on how the program works.

Study Findings

First, the analysis shows that LinC courses achieved, on average, a higher success rate (percentage of students earning grades of A, B, C or P) than comparable courses (see Figure 1). Figure 1 shows that 81 percent of LinC course enrollments resulted in a passing grade, while 74 percent of grades in similar courses were successful. Grades of D are not considered to be successful completion for the purposes of this study.


About IR

The IR function, led by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning (IR&P) in ETS, supports a “culture of evidence” through comprehensive information, data and research. College administrators, faculty and staff use these results for decision-making, planning, evaluation and reporting -- to maintain and continuously improve programs, processes and structures to better serve and educate students. You can find more information about IR, including complete reports, program reviews and research data, on the IR&P site (at the above link).

Figure 1

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Second, as depicted in Figure 2, a higher percentage of students earned successful grades in LinC than comparable non-LinC courses in 12 of the 16 quarters considered in the analysis. Three of the four quarters in which the LinC success rate was not higher occurred during the program’s early years. In the fall terms 2000, 2001 and 2002, the percentage of students succeeding in LinC courses outpaced the non-LinC success rate by more than 10 percentage points.

Figure 2

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Third, the data indicate that some LinC Learning Communities were more successful than others. Given the curriculum content, some courses benefit more from the integration of knowledge, theory and disciplines than others. As depicted in Figure 3, the difference in course success rates between LinC and similar courses varies with LinC topic and curricula.

Figure 3

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See full study (in MS Word format) for more information about the study methodology. The full study document also includes a table that lists the results for each LinC class separately, while this summary article only includes groupings of the classes. For example, the summary aggregates the LinC course, “Whose Country Is This Anyway?” from several academic terms.

Future Work

Future analysis will combine information on course success with classroom assessment data and other survey information to improve the LinC program and student learning. Additional variables such as previous language skills, success in math and English gateway courses, and economic need (initial analysis indicates that a higher proportion of LinC students receive some form of financial aid) will also be considered. Future analysis will also look at college persistence rates (an examination for one following term showed slightly higher rates for LinC students). Other areas of research will focus on taking into account student and faculty self-selection bias.