Skip PictureThe seeds for On Course were planted at Baltimore City Community College more than 20 years ago. At that time I was teaching English and feeling frustrated as semester after semester I watched perfectly capable students sabotage their academic success. Nothing in my doctoral program in English had prepared me to address this problem, so I set out to discover strategies that would support a significant increase in my students’ academic success, retention, persistence and graduation rates.

Among other things, my quest led me back to graduate school for a master’s degree in counseling psychology. After much trial and error, I focused on two factors that paid the highest dividends. First, I applied an essential finding from brain research that emphasizes the importance of engagement in learning, and I sought innovative learner-centered strategies that engage students at a very high level. Second, I saw that 12 or more years of education had turned most of my students into passive learners, their major question being “What do I need to know to pass the test?” I realized they needed to be empowered to be the active, responsible and successful learners they had been as little children.

The combination of engagement and empowerment had an immediate and measurable impact on student success and retention among my students. For example, developmental English students in this program were 348% (not a typo!) more successful in passing English 101 than developmental students not in this program. A publisher heard about this unique approach and asked me to write a student success text book, which became On Course: Strategies for Success in College and in Life. Educators from other colleges asked if I would show them how to engage and empower their students across the curriculum, so I developed the first in a series of On Course Workshops (On Campus and Public) which launched in 1996. Not long after the launch of the workshops, I began publishing the free On Course e-Newsletter, in which innovative learner-centered educators share best practices that they have found to be successful in helping their students learn and thrive in higher education. In 2005, a group of workshop attendees formed a group they called the On Course Ambassadors (which now number about 2000). They volunteered to help create an On Course National Conference to share the many creative ways they have employed the strategies they learned in the workshops, and now about 500 educators gather each year to celebrate and share proven best practices for helping today’s students succeed.

If you’re frustrated by seeing capable students struggle, you’ll relish exploring the gold mine of learner-centered strategies and resources at this site. New strategies are added regularly, so bookmark this site (Control-D) and come back often. And if you have a best practice to share, send an email to info@oncourseworkshop.com and request the Guidelines for publishing an article in the On Course e-Newsletter.

I hope you’ll join us in acquiring new learner-centered practices that empower students to become more effective lifelong learners. Enjoy!

– Skip Downing

If you teach a student success course, call Wadsworth/Cengage Faculty Services toll-free (800-423-0563) to request an examination copy of my text, On Course: Strategies for Success in College and in Life (used at more than 500 colleges and universities).