The Extraordinary Teaching Project: Individualized Learning in a Large Class

Featured Instructor:

Mark Andersland, Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Overview:

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

Benefits:

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

Description:

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.



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Whenever I can I try and engage the students

in, uh, solving the problems themselves.



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And I first discovered how effective that

could be when I was teaching large classes



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and I would offer review sessions.

And during the review sessions,



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the students were directing the discussion

to things that they really wanted to know about.



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And then as, uh, we were going through

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



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and we'd discuss those and pretty soon

it became quite the dialogue.



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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.