It’s been a hectic few months for ULearn Faculty Fellow Andrea Leonard.
The chemistry instructor had to make tight deadlines as she wrapped up her course — a newly designed Chemistry 107 course rich in adaptive and active learning elements.
Andrea, a Master Instructor in the Department of Chemistry, has been teaching online courses every semester for the past six years and felt her delivery methods were stagnant. She’d long wanted to explore new options, but couldn’t take the time or the risk to student success.
“I wanted to explore new options, but the drawbacks to exploring new options is that I’m always teaching classes,” she says. “It’s hard to take risks when there’s so much on the line and there’s not enough time to really prepare something.”
As a ULearn Faculty Fellow, she was able to perform the research she needed to develop her course.
“This fellowship opportunity came up to explore something new that I would not normally be able to afford or have time to explore and I jumped at it,” she says.
She was selected for the yearlong position in March 2017 and began in August. Among the goals of the program was to provide a “deep dive into a critical movement in digital learning.”
Her original proposal was a project focused on active and adaptive learning, however she ultimately chose to focus her efforts on adaptive learning and have the active component follow.
“They are incredibly linked,” she says. “You’re not going to see a lot of adaptive programs that don’t also have an active component.”
The goal, she said, is to narrow the gap between information delivery and practice. So in this course, students will immediately be given questions to make them think about the principles they’ve just learned.
Those questions help students and instructors gauge how well students understand the information. From the student perspective, you are able to track your progress and understanding, creating an intervention pathway when progress stalls or falters.
“I can trace my learning path all the way back to where I last understood something really well,” Andrea explains. “Then I can proceed forward again trying to make sure I understand all the pieces of the stepping stones so when I get to my overall goal, I’ve got a better understanding of the pathway to get there.”
Eventually, that pathway will expand beyond the individual course, allowing students to seamlessly work back through previous courses, if needed.
In addition, there’s no physical textbook component, which was new for Andrea.
Students will only see the portion of the textbook tied to the learning objectives they’re covering at that moment.
The textbook is also free.
“Open stacks has a ways to go before it’s going to be the perfect book, however it is a free textbook,” she says. “I see a lot of students struggling; they don’t buy the textbook because it’s too expensive. This will eliminate that.”
Students also have some freedom in the order they approach information, as well as its delivery.
In a standard course, Andrea would normally control the order of topics, however the new course will cluster topics to allow students to choose which they tackle first.
“Students have more of a say-so in their learning path; they have to cover all of the topics within a unit, but they can have some input into the order of those topics,” she says. “That’s a big difference.”
Students can also decide how to access lecture materials, with video, transcript and textbook available.
Andrea says she’s always produced video for her courses, but the transcript, which is presented as a note stack students click through, is new with this design. The feature also means the course clears accessibility requirements, should the need arise.
She says her goal in the course is to bolster otherwise underperforming students.
“The students that do well, do well no matter what I do,” she says. “It’s the students that do poorly who are the ones I’m trying to reach.”
The course opened to students for summer session.
As she waits to see how it’s received, Andrea reflected on her year as faculty fellow, which she said has allowed her to go beyond her subject matter to network and explore a breadth of instructional innovation beyond her normal scope.
“There are so many advancements happening, especially in online learning, and I constantly feel like I’m being left behind,” she says. “This project was extremely helpful in making me feel like I had knowledge of the current technology and the current opinion in the online learning community.
“I feel like more of a member of the larger educational community now.”