The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Individualized Learning in a Large Class

Featured Instructor:

Mark Andersland, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering


Use immediate feedback and individualized instruction to improve student learning and motivation. 


  • Improve student problem solving
  • Increase student engagement
  • Improve student academic efficacy


Mark Andersland redesigned his large lecture engineering course to include active learning, student-centered instruction, frequent formative assessments, and immediate feedback, which yields increased student engagement and learning. 

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When you're having a dialogue with the students

is when they actually start to process

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because they're put on the spot,

they need to respond in real-time.

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And if I can make that exciting, And they're

thinking on their own, they're gonna learn.

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The name of this course is Electrical Circuits

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taught in all engineering programs to

sophomore level students.

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Traditionally it's been taught in large lecture format,

so we could have 200 students sitting in a lecture.


Whenever I can I try and engage the students

in, uh, solving the problems themselves.


And I first discovered how effective that

could be when I was teaching large classes


and I would offer review sessions.

And during the review sessions,


the students were directing the discussion

to things that they really wanted to know about.


And then as, uh, we were going through

the problems, I'd ask them to provide the key steps


and we'd discuss those and pretty soon

it became quite the dialogue.


The idea is if I could create that in a classroom

where I could get everybody engaged,

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it's a lot more effective way to learn.

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So this is how the class works:

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Prior to class students get the background

that they need to complete the class work.

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That could include lectures, practice problems,

tutorials, short problem-solving videos.

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Then they come to class with that

background. And then I can give them

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a ten-minute mini-lecture review of

what they need to know to cover the topic

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And then for the remainder of the class

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the students work four to five problems that are

delivered by an online homework platform.

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They are allowed to answer

three times before they lose credit.

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The questions give feedback immediately so

that they know when they're in trouble, and

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the idea there is that they'll immediately learn if they're

doing something wrong so that they'll ask questions.

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Every student sees slightly different numbers.

The answers aren't the same,

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but the questions that they're

addressing are the same.

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When the student gets stuck, they can't just ask

for the answer from their neighbor,

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they have to ask their neighbor,

"How did you get your answer?"

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or the neighbor has to show them, and in any case

they're focusing on the solution process.

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Early in the class if students misunderstand,

they don't realize that that's part of the learning process,

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all they see is the fact that

they're not succeeding the first time,

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not recognizing that in not succeeding,

they're asking questions in the moment

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and getting answers that will help them

never to make the same mistake again.

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So early results from the studies

we've done in this classroom

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compared to conventional lecture classes have

suggested that students are more engaged,

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they feel more satisfied with the class,

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they tend to feel much more comfortable taking exams

because they've worked hundreds more problems,

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and they score higher on average.

For the same subject, they're more satisfied.

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And most interesting, they report spending less

time out of class preparing for better performance.

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The scholarship of teaching and learning is helping me

to try things – be willing to try things.

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So how this might apply to other

disciplines – the big takeaways:

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The space is important. When

you walk into an active learning space

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such as our TILE classrooms,

the tables are round.

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That tells the students something's gonna be different

in this classroom from the time that they walk in.

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What's essential? Foster discussion about process,

as opposed to simply answers.

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And you do that by giving people a common question.

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So the next key is that when you present

whatever it is that you're presenting to the groups,

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each student should have a different piece.

Everybody gets a slightly different problem

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but there's enough commonality that they can

share their insights and build a collective vision

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towards “We can all get a good grade if

we all work together” and this is gonna be be fun.

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So I think you can set that up in any class.

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So in that moment they're ready to learn, and

that's what's very interesting about this approach.

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They get immediate feedback,

they can turn to their neighbor

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and get instantaneous help from

someone working on the same problem:

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So it's fixed, and it sticks

because they have an “aha” moment.