Through its Time for Class 2021 report, the education advisory and strategy firm Tyton Partners, in partnership with Every Learner Everywhere, dives deeper into how digital learning has evolved and suggests how faculty and administrators can utilize courseware to enhance student engagement and address equity gaps through the use of evidence-based teaching practices.
The ongoing Time for Class project includes an annual survey of college and university faculty and administrators to monitor how the market of digital learning technologies is responding to the needs of higher education and how those technologies are being implemented. Time for Class 2021: The State of Digital Learning and Courseware Adoption, surveyed more than 4,000 faculty and administrators at 1,600 higher education institutions.
For the first time, the survey explores the use of evidence-based teaching (EBT) practices with courseware.
What are evidence-based teaching practices?
Evidence-based teaching practices are activities and policies implemented by faculty that are associated with greater student learning and fall into six broad categories:
- Transparency, such as mapping content to outcomes
- Active learning, such as simulations and animations
- Formative practice, such as timely, targeted, and ungraded feedback.
- Data analytics, such as using data dashboards
- Meta-cognition, self-regulation, and agency, such as student self-assessment
- Sense of belonging and inclusive learning environment, such as culturally responsive pedagogy
According to Hadley Dorn, an Associate at Tyton Partners, the EBT practices “have to do with student engagement in the classroom, providing personalized learning experiences to students, using data to inform practice and adjust the types of materials you’re providing to students, and then also creating an inclusive learning environment for minoritized students.”
Time for Class 2021 surveyed faculty on their use of these EBT practices, particularly in digital learning environments, to see which areas institutions were excelling in and which areas had growth potential. Nandini Khedkar, a Principal at Tyton Partners, says the EBT practices provide an opportunity for institutions to understand how an instructor can implement courseware and adaptive learning technology in ways that most matter for students.
“What we’ve recognized over the years is that you can put a product like courseware in a classroom,” Khedkar says, “but unless there are supports and practices around it to use it to the best degree, it’s much harder to reach full effectiveness.”
Dorn emphasizes a distinction between product-specific professional development versus professional development for effective teaching. “It’s easier for faculty to access training on how to use the interface and the features of the product than to get training on how to look at data provided through courseware and use it in your classroom for informed teaching,” she says.
What the survey showed about EBT practices
Time for Class 2021 asked over 4,000 educators teaching introductory courses which of these EBT practices they felt they were prepared to use. The results show that faculty felt most ready to adopt practices related to transparency, formative practice, and active learning.
“Transparency is being used by 80 percent of faculty, and it’s also the practice they feel is easiest to implement and something they widely value,” Dorn says.
However, faculty felt the least readiness around data analytics and creating a sense of belonging and an inclusive learning environment, both of which are vital to closing equity gaps.
Asked about which of these practices they value, fewer than 50 percent perceived data analytics as valuable.
“If you’re not looking at student data and using that to inform and adjust your teaching, then you’re relying primarily on qualitative indicators from students,” Dorn says. “It’s about taking that data and understanding how to look at it by different demographics and adjust instruction.”
Dorn says these findings further support the need for more faculty professional development around how to use and interpret the data provided through courseware.
“The majority of faculty are receiving professional development from vendors more frequently than their institution,” she explains. “So there’s a gap between faculty getting product-specific training and methodological and pedagogical training from their institutions.”
Dorn feels it’s important for faculty to be supported by their institutions, or even the industry itself, to learn how to use data analytics, because they have limited time and don’t always see value in the data. She recommends institutions give instructors time to learn these practices and financial support to learn data analytics for their classroom.
Implementing EBT practices
Some of the surveyed faculty were at institutions partnering with the Every Learner Everywhere network to implement adaptive courseware to close equity gaps for minoritized, poverty-affected, and first-generation students. Much of that implementation support specifically focuses on improving two EBT practices in digital learning environments — active learning and formative practice.
Khedkar says Tyton Partners plans to continue to develop and identify resource guides and tools related to evidence-based teaching practices for faculty and administrators and that future research will examine how implementation support impacts student experiences and satisfaction.
“What we wanted to do with this work is provide baseline information to start conversations,” she explains. “Maybe our output next year is more action oriented — here are the levers you can pull to bring data analytics up from 32 percent adoption, and this is why you need to do that.”
Ultimately, says Dorn, the purpose of Time for Class 2021 surveying the use of EBT practices is to support faculty becoming more effective. “One of the key things we want people to take away,” she says, “is that there is evidence that digital tools can help faculty work smarter, and can help them enhance their use of these evidence-based teaching practices.”