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IES Grant

Title: Teaching and Learning 21st Century Skills in Community Colleges: A Study of the New World of Work Program
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Dalporto, Hannah Awardee: MDRC
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (7/1/2017-6/30/2021) Award Amount: $1,288,806
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A170304

Co-Principal Investigator: Rajinder Gill (New World of Work 21st Century Skills)

Purpose: Twenty-first century skills (e.g., the ability to communicate, collaborate, and adapt) are increasingly viewed as critical for success in both postsecondary settings and the workforce, but there are few opportunities in academic institutions for students to develop these skills. In this project, researchers will adapt and refine an existing intervention called the New World of Work (NWoW), a course that aims to improve community college students' 21st century skills in a systematic way. The team will pilot test the refined intervention in community college career and technical education courses.

Project Activities: Using an iterative design process, the researchers will work with community college faculty and staff, employers, and students to refine and expand the current intervention. After completing the refinement, the researchers will pilot the final version to determine its promise for improving student outcomes.

Products: Researchers will produce a fully developed version of NWoW for postsecondary institutions and disseminate peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in community colleges in California, covering a range of urban and rural settings throughout the state.

Sample: The student sample for the pilot study will include approximately 720 students enrolled in Cooperative Work Experience and Education (CWEE) classes in community college career technical education programs.

Intervention: During the 2015-2016 academic year, community college faculty began piloting a program called New World of Work (NWoW), which focuses on 10 identified 21st century skills, work-based experiences, and a credentialing component to signal proficiency in these skills. The community college system in California aims to integrate NWoW courses into Cooperative Work Experience and Education (CWEE) classes throughout the state. CWEE is a state-approved program for postsecondary career and technical education (CTE) in which students learn technical and academic skills through direct instruction and a work requirement (either a job, a volunteer position, or an internship position). The specific skills the NWoW course covers include adaptability, analysis/solution mindsets, entrepreneurial mindsets, collaboration, communication, digital fluency, empathy, resilience, self-awareness, and social/diversity awareness. The initial course materials include lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations, and videos. NWoW also includes guidelines for the work-based experience and a credentialing system (i.e., a self- and employer-assessment of students' 21st century skills and digital badging platform).

Research Design and Methods: Using a two-cycle, four-step per cycle iterative design process, the development team will work with CWEE instructors, community college staff, employers, and students to refine and improve on the existing core components. This development work will focus on strengthening several model elements including: more uniform delivery of the curriculum and possible streamlining of content; enrichment of the program and adaptation specifically for the CWEE course; standardization of professional preparation for teachers; guidelines and tools to support scaled, quality work-based learning experiences and their alignment with 21st century skills course modules; and the refinement of skill assessment and digital badge system.

During the development phase, researchers will collect data on the usability and feasibility of each component and will use these data to further refine the intervention. After completing the full intervention, they will conduct a pilot study using a randomized controlled trial at six colleges. The colleges will be paired, grouping similar colleges together, e.g., similar in size and community-type (rural, urban). The researchers will randomly assign CTE departments to either the program or control group program within each college pair.

Control Condition: Students assigned to the control group will receive the curriculum typically used by CWEE instructors, which tends to be home-grown and may include some informal "soft skills" instruction.

Key Measures: To measure usability and feasibility in the development phase (and fidelity in the pilot phase), the team will use training evaluations, interview data, bi-weekly instructor logs and classroom observations. They will also use administrative records, a student survey, 21st century skill assessment, and other data to track postsecondary participation (e.g., course completion, enrollment, degree or certificate attainment) and 21st century skill development.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will perform intent-to-treat analyses using multi-level models, controlling for student- and college-level characteristics.


Inside IES Research Blog Post

Teaching 21st Century Skills to Community College Students: An Innovative Approach Under Development in California (2018)