TCC awarded Gates Foundation grant

Two community and technical colleges in Tacoma and Pierce County have been selected to receive part of a $3.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to assist adult English learners, according to a statement released Friday.

The Integrated Digital English Acceleration (I-DEA) project grant aims to increase the digital, career and college-readiness skills of adult English learners. I-DEA builds on the Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) initiative, an internationally recognized teaching model that allows students to gain job skills along with basic education skills. The program targets adult learners in the lowest three levels of English as a second language.

Tacoma Community College and Pierce College Puyallup are two of only 10 Washington state community and technical colleges to receive funding for the program.

Among other goals, college and partner community-based organizations will create open source curriculum and identify best practices of technology-enhanced instruction that allow more students to be served with less in-class instruction. Courses and techniques developed with the grant will be open sourced, allowing colleges and CBOs in Washington and around the world to replicate I-DEA. Instructors and technology coaches will be trained to use a suite of online tools to create and refine online learning modules based on I-BEST’s core components.

Students will use eLearning resources — including open source online instructional tools — for 50 percent or more of their learning experience at no extra cost, with loaned laptop computers and online access provided to ensure availability of reliable technology. Targeted student support includes online advising and e-tutoring. The project lays a foundation to prepare students to enter I-BEST and other postsecondary programs to gain job-specific skills.

The other college grantees include Big Bend Community College, Institute for Extended Learning (Spokane Falls Community College), Lake Washington Institute of Technology, North Seattle Community College, Renton Technical College, Seattle Central Community College, Shoreline Community College, and Walla Walla Community College.

I-BEST is a teaching model that challenges the traditional notion that students must complete all basic education before beginning a job training program; an approach that often discourages students, because it is time-consuming and the basic skills classes alone do not qualify for college credit. I-BEST pairs two instructors in the classroom — one to teach technical skills content and the other to teach basic skills in reading, math, writing or English language — so students can move through school and into jobs faster. I-BEST students start earning college credits immediately.

Tacoma Community College. (PHOTO COURTESY TCC)