Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Benjamin K. Roberts and Sarka Faltinova
Learning Abstracts

The Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training (I-BEST) model was developed by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) in 2004 to help adult basic skills students to complete certificates in career and technical education programs (Community College Research Center, 2015). According to SBCTC (2014), I-BEST is

Nationally recognized as an evidence-based instructional model that supports career pathways. In an I-BEST program, two instructors are paired in the classroom - one to teach professional/technical or academic content; the other to teach basic skills in reading, math, writing or English language - so students can move through school and into jobs faster. (p. 4)

I-BEST programs serve diverse populations, such as English as a second language (ESL) and adult basic education (ABE) students, who are often underserved within the K-12 education system, and, therefore, underprepared. The combined teaching method of an I-BEST program allows these students to work on college-level studies rather than taking pre-college courses (Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, n.d.). Students are also supported through onboarding, mapping, proactive navigation, advising, and intervention. Each student in an I-BEST classroom receives these benefits regardless of their eligibility for the program.

After 13 years, I-BEST remains the state’s most successful delivery model for moving underskilled adults to living wage jobs (SBCTC, 2020). Prince and Jenkins (2005) note that approximately 5 percent of ABE and ESL students complete at least two semesters of college credit courses and earn a certificate or other credential. These students reach a “tipping point” at which English language learners earn $7,000 more per year on average and ABE students earn $8,500 more per year on average (Prince & Jenkins, 2005). I-BEST also creates accelerated pathways that allow students to go further and faster in reaching the tipping point and beyond. SBCTC (2014) in-state research showed that in 2014, adult education providers served approximately 50,000 students. Of these students, about 4,000 (8 percent) were in enrolled in I-BEST. The I-BEST students earned 84 percent of the certificates and degrees obtained by ABE students, and 87 percent of ABE students who reached the tipping point were in I-BEST courses (SBCTC, 2014).

Figure 1. I-BEST Data

I-BEST at North Seattle College

During the last several years, North Seattle College has expanded its I-BEST offerings to include courses in Phlebotomy, Accounting, and Early Childhood Education pathways, in addition to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs such as Medical Terminology, Electronics, Information Technologies, and Mathematical Applications. This expansion has allowed a diverse group of content and skills instructors to work together to present material. As a result,

  • Mathematical Applications for Circuit Analysis (EET 109) course data from spring 2018 and 2019 showed an average 1.0 GPA improvement between students in I-BEST and those in non-I-BEST classes. Furthermore, students in I-BEST classes were, on average, 47 percent more likely to complete the course.
  • There was a mean 2.15 GPA improvement between students in I-BEST and non-I-BEST Direct Current Principles of Electronics (EET 161) classes. Moreover, the students were on average 66 percent more likely to complete this course if participating in the I-BEST classes.
  • Success in these courses leads to short-term certificates (e.g., Aviation Electronics I: Wire Assembly Certificate). Mastery can also lead to degree completion, such as an A.A.S. in BioMedical Equipment Technology. (See the full North Seattle College I-BEST Electronics Pathway in Figure 2.)
Figure 2. I-BEST Electronics Pathway

The components of I-BEST which allow for these results are contextualization, navigational support, and team teaching. Contextualization radically transforms the world of adult education by intentionally combining the theoretical with the practical. Students develop the skills they can apply immediately to a job. Navigational support promotes student retention and helps students stay on track to complete their certification. Integrated team teaching has been identified as an effective and promising practice in teaching though contextualization in STEM.

Co-Teaching in STEM Courses

Collaboration and Class Preparation

A successful STEM I-BEST co-teaching team starts with collaborative communication between the content instructor and the skills instructor. Teachers bring various ideas and experiences to the co-teaching model. Partners communicate regularly face-to-face or via email, phone, or video conferencing. This is time well spent, as these efforts ensure that students meet a cohesive team of instructors on the first day of class who instill confidence, model professional teamwork, allow individual student focus, support all learning styles, and, as appropriate, support students as they adapt to a synchronous remote or distance teaching environment. In STEM classrooms, students are also introduced to specific content-related vocabulary, tools, and skill sets.

Supporting All Learning Styles

Two active instructors in class contribute to a multisensory delivery of content using various resources. In this way, co-instructors successfully engage and stimulate student learning in several modalities. For instance, while one instructor is delivering a lecture, the other one is running a demo on a computer or projector, color coding on a whiteboard, annotating slides, or modeling notetaking. Additionally, particularly in mathematics and electronics courses, each co-teacher can demonstrate different solutions or methods for getting a single answer. Instructors continue to reframe complex concepts in a respectful and supportive manner into smaller pieces, thus tailoring content to students’ needs while monitoring student comprehension.

Modeling Professional Teamwork and Communication

In the co-teaching environment, the instructors work collaboratively to create a positive space which allows for active learning. This is accomplished through the co-instructors’ interpersonal interactions. This positive space is first created through nonverbal communication such as eye contact, hand gestures, and other body language, then progresses to modeling active learning behaviors. For example, one instructor asks a clarification question which is answered by the co-instructor with encouragement and respect. By modeling probing questions and active listening, the instructors create a space in which students trust that they can make mistakes and that those mistakes will be used as positive teaching moments by the instruction team.

Allowing Individual Student Focus, Without Delaying Class Progression

Watching the instructors model how to ask clarifying questions empowers students to ask their own questions with more confidence. In addition, as the instructors work together, they attend to students’ needs in a more personalized way. For instance, while one instructor is helping a student or a small group of students, the other one is leading the remaining class forward. Thus, class progression and flow are not disrupted. In another example, implementation of a variety of interactive and engaging class configurations, such as small groups, pair work, and comparative learning groups, grants more manageable monitoring of students’ progress as co-instructors circulate around the classroom. This is a direct result of instructor engagement and shared focus.

Synchronous Remote and Distance Teaching

The I-BEST model also appears to be successful in both hybridized and virtual classrooms. In these environments, students can ask questions live or through chat; while one instructor is delivering content, the second instructor monitors the chat and asks chat questions to the group. Also, with two instructors, students can work in smaller groups while the instructors move from group to group monitoring their progress. This allows for more personalized attention for each group in the same allotted time. Instructors’ attention is particularly essential in an online and/or virtual environment where small groups are more isolated than in-person groups, especially when students have the option to turn off cameras and mute microphones. Finally, in an online content delivery model, co-instructors must also manage video software (e.g., Zoom, Skype), seminar content (e.g. PowerPoint, whiteboard, browsers), in-class handouts (e.g., Word, Excel, PDF), and required class tools and technology (e.g., hand-held scientific calculators, online graphing tools, electronic simulators). Instructors switch between multiple software applications and windows at various times throughout class, making the team-teaching model more effective and engaging for the students.

Next Steps

To expand Washington’s successful I-BEST program into more STEM classrooms, continuous training will be needed. In addition, for current I-BEST co-instructors to continue to function effectively as equal partners, ongoing investigation into and analysis of various types of team-teaching methods will be key. One way to promote the I-BEST co-instructor model and training can be demonstrations by STEM faculty at local and national conferences. In addition, collaborative teaching in STEM courses can be promoted and modeled through the creation of instructional videos.

Through integrated team teaching, I-BEST taps into the combined expertise of faculty by pairing a content instructor with an academic skills instructor. These co-instructors support students’ completion of courses with a higher sense of confidence by modeling teamwork strategies, supporting students, regardless of learning style, and helping students adapt to online learning environments. In addition, instructors expand their own teaching practice through various types of team teaching within STEM. By implementing the various team-teaching models that I-BEST provides, both traditional and nontraditional students receive support and subject clarification tailored to their learning needs (SBCTC, 2018). This helps to reduce anxieties, build confidence, and instill a positive attitude toward learning. These factors, then, result in higher rates of course completion (SBCTC, 2018).


Community College Research Center. (2015). What we know about guided pathways.

Prince, D., & Jenkins, D. (2005). Building pathways to success for low-skill adult students: Lessons for community college policy and practice from a longitudinal student tracking study. Columbia University, Teachers College, Community College Research Center.

Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. (2014). State of Washington's I-BEST Model.

Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. (2018). I-BEST team teaching models.

Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges. (2020). Team-teaching builds skills, lives.

Benjamin K. Roberts, M.S., is an Electronics professor and Sarka Faltinova is professor, Basic and Transitional Studies professor at North Seattle College in Seattle, Washington.

Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.