Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rio Salado College and The New York Times Knowledge Network Join Resources to Provide National Online Teacher Preparation

Tempe, Ariz. – May 25, 2011 – Rio Salado College (RSC), part of the Maricopa Community College District, and The New York Times Knowledge Network (NYTKN) have joined together to provide a national online post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program. This program is designed for those who have a bachelor’s degree and are seeking teacher certification in elementary, secondary or special education. Details about the program can be found at

“Rio Salado College and The New York Times Knowledge Network are both innovators in higher education,” said Dr. Chris Bustamante, president of Rio Salado College. “It is an exciting opportunity to work together to offer students the advantage of Rio Salado’s proven teacher preparation program and the Knowledge Network’s depth of content resources.”

Rio Salado College is part of the Maricopa Community College District, one of the largest community college districts in the nation. The courses will be taught by Rio Salado faculty and supported by the EpsilenTM eLearning platform. Students will be able to network with online classmates across the nation.

This is an innovative approach to teacher education, building a community of practitioners who are exceptionally prepared to respond to state and national needs for professionals with 21st Century teaching skills,” said Felice Nudelman, executive director, education, The New York Times Company. “Bringing together Rio Salado and the Maricopa System’s excellent track record of innovation with The New York Times Knowledge Network’s extensive content and resources will create a new learning model for those seeking to enter the teaching profession.”

The online course delivery system offers flexibility for working adults. It also provides opportunity for residents in rural communities with limited educational resources. Enrollment options include 48 start dates throughout the year, which is an added benefit for students who may be changing careers.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, demand for qualified teachers is expected to increase nearly 12 percent over the next five to six years with an even higher need for math, science and bilingual teachers.

“By weaving online course content together with ‘real world’ application, through school observations and hands-on interaction in preK-12 classrooms, teacher preparation students are very prepared to enter their own classrooms upon program completion,” said Janet Johnson, faculty chair of education for Rio Salado College.

Initial outreach efforts will be piloted in Arizona with plans to expand to the national market.

The Post-Baccalaureate Teacher Preparation Program is approved by the Arizona State Board of Education and certification is accepted in many states nationwide. Admittance to the program and state certification are based on state-by-state requirements. It is the responsibility of the student to verify those requirements. More information about the program can be found at


Rio Salado College was founded in 1978 and serves one of the largest online enrollments nationwide. The college was recently recognized as one of eight highly productive institutions of higher education in the nation by McKinsey & Company. Rio Salado offers general education courses as well as a variety of degree and certificate programs with more than 62,000 students enrolled annually. It is also Arizona’s largest provider of Adult Basic Education.

The Maricopa Community College District is one of the largest community college districts in the nation and serves more than 250,000 students annually. It includes 10 colleges - Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Estrella Mountain Community College, GateWay Community College, Glendale Community College, Mesa Community College, Paradise Valley Community College, Phoenix College, Rio Salado College, Scottsdale Community College and South Mountain Community College. The District also includes the Maricopa Skill Center, SouthWest Skill Center, several satellite campuses and business/industry, technical and customized training institutes.

The New York Times Knowledge Network, which uses the EpsilenTM platform, was launched in September 2007 to deliver lifelong learning programs on timely subjects. Through The New York Times Knowledge Network, extensive resources from The Times and other participating universities and institutions are readily available to students online, whether they are enrolled in an on-campus course or continuing their education through a distance learning program

The New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT), a leading media company with 2010 revenues of $2.4 billion, includes The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe, 15 other daily newspapers and more than 50 Web sites, including, and The Company’s core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.

Epsilen is an online learning environment with global networking, learning management tools and ePortfolios. Epsilen is majority-owned by The New York Times Company.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Predictive Research Aims To Improve Student Success

Web sites like Pandora, Netflix and Amazon use data collection and analysis to predict the types of music and movies a user might enjoy or to offer relevant product suggestions to online shoppers. Rio Salado College is applying similar predictive modeling technology to increase completion and success rates in the school’s online courses.

“The predictions are based on ‘habits’ in a course such as log-ins, site engagement and pace,” said Shannon Corona, Rio Salado physical science faculty chair and lead for the predictive analytics pilot program. “This is then compared to historical data against other students. We were able to predict with 70% accuracy those students who were at high-risk to not be successful in a course.”

The predictive analytics program supplements an instructor’s ability to recognize an at-risk student and helps them take steps to intervene.

“The Rio program provides instructors with an additional tool to aid students,” Corona said. “The predictive analytics program summarizes how often a student is logging into a course and using the course to be successful. “

She added, “Traditional techniques do not take this into consideration, but only look at a student's grade. An instructor now has both tools, the grade and the student engagement.”

In addition to supporting individual students, the pilot program is also being used in course design.

Rio Salado languages faculty chair Angela Felix explains, “We did not want to use anecdotal evidence. We wanted to make changes based on actual data.”

Surprisingly, grades on early assignments are not an important indicator.

“Grades are not a primary predictor of student success in an online course,” Felix said. “Log-in behavior, site engagement, and pace in the first eight days are the strongest predictors of student success.”

According to Felix, changes made to online courses in the pilot program are intended to promote the actions modeled by successful students. For example, brief introductory assignments require students to log in early and smaller more frequent assignments encourage habitual site engagement.

“We determined the factors that contribute to success in an online course and made changes to encourage these behaviors,” Felix said.

Monitoring of student engagement takes place in the background of the online learning environment.

Using methods similar to those employed by consumer Web sites like Netflix or Amazon, data is gathered and analyzed without a noticeable impact on the user experience.

Public facing elements of the program will be tested in the second summer semester of the 2011 school year. Students in pilot courses will then have the opportunity to self-monitor.

Rio Salado is one of only six institutions participating in the Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework project. PAR is a collaborative research project initiated by Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education’s Cooperative for Education Technologies and funded through a $1,000,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation. The program will pool anonymous data collected from participating colleges to create a more accurate model of successful behavior.

Participation in cooperative programs like PAR represents a college-wide effort to improve persistence, completion and student success.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Education, Degree Lead Student to a New Life

Two weeks ago, Catherine Hendrickson celebrated at Rio Salado College’s graduation, along with hundreds of other students. She worked hard the last few years as a full-time student, even making the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. She earned an associate degree in chemical dependency, and yet, that was only half the battle.

“I was sentenced to prison, and used it as an opportunity to change my life,” said Hendrickson, detailing the adversity she has had to overcome to reach her educational goals.

Hendrickson lost her parents at an early age, and had a turbulent upbringing – at one point she was forced to live on the streets - which eventually led to her incarceration.

“I was driven to make terrible choices in my past, which in turn led to the consequences of criminal activity,” Hendrickson said.

However, incarceration may have led Hendrickson on the road to a better life.

“I did not want prison to be an end, but a new beginning,” Hendrickson said. “I began my journey by enrolling in computer technology classes held at the prison, through Tempe-based Rio Salado College. To my amazement, I completed my first class with an A. That was all it took.”

Hendrickson set about taking all the classes toward a computer technology degree. And yet she found something was missing.

“I came to realize that the motivation behind this field of study was financial security,” said Hendrickson. “I knew that if prison was truly a new beginning, I needed to make the right choice and follow the passion of my heart.”

Hendrickson changed her major to chemical dependency, and has never looked back.

“I was release from prison a year ago, and clung to my graduation goal with fervor,” Hendrickson said.

She credits Rio Salado’s online instructors, her family, friends, pastor, and her own determination for her success.

“It has been through hard work, diligent effort and staying focused on making the right choices that I have accomplished so much,” Hendrickson said. “I have finally become the person I was created to be.”

That person is someone who is dedicated to helping others.

“My life now is about giving back to others by helping them make better choices,” Hendrickson said. “If I can even help one person, then I will have touched the lives of countless others throughout the community.”

In the future, Hendrickson hopes to work with incarcerated women, to help them overcome the obstacles associated with drug addiction.

“We need to become a proactive society in dealing with issues of chemical dependency,” Hendrickson said. “It is far more beneficial to address the problem in its beginning stages than to clean up the collateral damage.”

Earning her degree has also intensified Hendrickson’s appetite for education. She has been accepted into a bachelor’s degree program in counseling, and hopes to ultimately earn a doctorate in behavioral health.

“I know without a doubt that if Rio Salado had not provided the opportunity to start classes while in prison, I would not be here today,” Hendrickson said.

For more information about earning an associate degree, contact Rio Salado College.

Monday, May 2, 2011

General Education Degrees (GEDs) Empower Students

When nearly 200 graduates walk across the stage at Rio Salado's GED graduation, they will walk away with more than a diploma. They will take with them a sense of accomplishment, confidence, and the successful completion of a life goal.

"Receiving a GED has a tremendous impact on the lives of our graduates, said Lilybeth Brazones, adult basic education program director for Rio Salado College. "They will have choices in terms of education, to get a job or to add to their skills in their current job."

The graduates come from a variety of circumstances. Many GED graduates work full-time and take care of families. They range in age from young to old. Each graduate has overcome challenges unique to them and each graduate has their own story of triumph to share.

"I had to do something with myself for my life and for my kids, because I am concerned for their future," said GED graduate Jessica Hutton. "Getting my GED brings a lot of accomplishment. I am doing something good for my children. I don't want them growing up without an education."

Hutton, 23, has four young children, works as a fast-food restaurant manager and cares for her husband who has been battling leukemia.

"Our graduates don't give up even after dealing with life's adversities and challenges that they meet as they strive to achieve their GED diploma," said Brazones. "They have had to overcome personal challenges to finish their classes and have a lot of determination and willpower to achieve that goal."

Depending upon the background of the student, it can take as little as a month, or up to several years to complete the program and take the GED exam.

"Helping our GED students is challenging and very rewarding at the same time. Students need to improve their skills in reading, writing, science, social studies, and math in a relatively short amount of time," said Brazones. "The challenge for the instructor is to accurately determine the students' skills through our assessments, and make sure that the study plan for each student is appropriate for what they need to pass the GED exam. We also need to provide students with the additional resources and support that Rio Salado College offers so that they can transition to post-secondary education."

"It took me a year to complete my GED," said Hutton. "It was hard finding time for work, family and school."This year's graduation theme "New Horizons, New Beginnings" has special meaning for GED student graduation speaker Jean-Pierre Jordan.

"Getting my GED has made me feel like I can start all over again. I have gotten a second chance," said Jordan. "It has helped me focus and learn what it takes to have a career and made me realize that I love education and will continue on to college."

Jordan, 30, has plans to be a pharmacy technician and eventually a pharmacist.

Rio Salado's 2011 GED Graduation, a ticketed event, will take place at the Orpheum Theater May, 3. GED graduates for the 2010-2011 academic year total 457 with 205 participating in the ceremony. More than 10,000 students have received their GED preparation at Rio Salado since 1978 according to Brazones.

Rio Salado College offers GED preparation classes online and at seven Basic Adult Education locations throughout the Valley.

For more information about earning a GED, contact Rio Salado College.