When Lorain County Community College Professor of Mathematics Kathryn Dobeck first learned about the adaptive courseware included with the Wiley textbook Statistics: Unlocking the Power of Data, she was intrigued. The book’s representative gave a presentation at the college demonstrating the functionality of the courseware, and for Dobeck, the idea just clicked.
“I was never really into ‘capital A’ assessments,” Dobeck says. “As a data person, at least the way it’s happening currently, it seems like garbage in, garbage out. This [courseware] was targeting learning outcomes and measuring it, and I thought, ‘This is what assessments should be.’”
She decided to try using it in her own Statistics course in 2018, and learned through trial and error what worked best for her. The more Dobeck used the Wiley software, called Adaptive Practice, the more excited she became about the potential. She presented to other Lorain County Community College (LCCC) faculty a few times, and when the college was chosen for a grant through Every Learner Everywhere, administrators knew she was a natural choice to help pilot the program.
With grant support (and in her role as Statistics Coordinator of MTHM 168 at LCCC), Dobeck helped implement adaptive courseware in the Statistics course in the 2019-2020 school year, starting with a small volunteer group and eventually expanding the program to all Statistics instructors in Fall 2020.
The volunteer cohort
The initial group that implemented the adaptive courseware in Statistics was made up of instructors who volunteered to be part of the program: five full-time faculty, including Dobeck.
Training for the initial group of volunteers was relatively light. Dobeck set up a template course as a resource, then walked her colleagues through how to adjust the template. For example, they could revise the grade weight and proficiency score settings from the default to the levels she had found to be the most effective in her own classes.
She also worked with faculty to establish a shared language around how to communicate with students. For example, in earlier iterations she’d found that students were less likely to participate if they viewed the assessments as additional homework. When she changed her description of the software to call them “quizzes” instead, students were more receptive.
She created a reference document with the email messages and other communications she sent to students, which allowed other faculty to edit it into their own voice and then copy and paste responses as needed. Finally, Dobeck made herself available to answer questions faculty had about the software throughout the semester.
Rolling the courseware out to the entire department
After a successful pilot program with the volunteer cohort of five instructors, LCCC decided to require the adaptive courseware for all 12 instructors teaching Statistics.
With a larger group of instructors needing support, Dobeck extended her training, which had been mostly one on one as needed before. For the Fall 2020 semester, she held a kickoff meeting with all Statistics instructors before the term started in order to get everyone familiar with the software.
Dobeck also created a video tutorial to illustrate how the courseware worked. First she recorded a screencast of her own hour-long process of working through a chapter as the student would experience it and then edited that to highlight and explain the most technical parts. The 13-minute-long result is now part of the template course so that both instructors and students can see the full process.
Facilitating student success
Even with the video training, Dobeck knew from experience that students would likely experience a steep learning curve with the software.
To address that, she embedded a delayed announcement in the template course that would automatically be sent out following the first quiz. The announcement explains that many students hadn’t met the quiz requirements and that the professor is going to open the unit back up for three more days.
At that point, Dobeck asked instructors to go through the results of the first assessment and categorize students based on their interaction with the courseware — for example, students who earned an A (but took 3-4 times as long as other students), students who spent a significant amount of time but didn’t achieve proficiency, or students who did not have a grade in the gradebook after the deadline passed.
Then, instructors can use the responses she already wrote for each category to send personalized messages following up with students.
Dobeck attributes some of her initial success with students to her own positivity. “I was able to convince them that this is a good thing,” she says. “If, as a professor, you don’t know if this is going to really help, students pick up on that.”
As a new team of instructors familiarize themselves with the courseware during the Fall 2020 semester, she’s trying to help them project that positivity to their own students. Having the initial group of volunteers go through the course and come out with their own success stories is a big help, because now hers isn’t the only voice saying that adaptive learning is worth trying.
As the semester progresses, Dobeck is excited about the possibilities. “If you really believe something is promising, give it a shot,” she says.
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