University of Wisconsin–Madison
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Online homework. The chemistry team has developed 417 homework question sets containing 3,556 questions. A question set consists of between 5 and 20 closely related questions that test the same concept. To generate an online homework assignment, the delivery system chooses one question from each set. Each homework question includes diagnostic feedback. Many of the questions are multiple-choice format, which permits specific feedback pointing out why each incorrect response is not appropriate. When properly delivered, online homework works extremely well. Students find that it structures their studying, and they find the feedback particularly useful. An evaluation of the homework system showed that the online homework was equal to the traditional procedure. The evaluation study of online homework indicates that students with better logical-thinking skills found the online homework less useful, but experience using the materials in General and Analytical Chemistry, a more-selective course with students whose average logical-thinking skill level is higher than that of General Chemistry students, reveals that these students still found the online homework very useful.
Online tutorials. To date, the team has developed 37 instructional modules for Web-based delivery. Each tutorial module leads a student through a topic in 6 to 10 interactive pages. When the student has completed the tutorial, a debriefing section presents a series of questions that test whether the student has mastered the content of that module. The team also arranged to use a pre-publication version of Fundamentals of Chemistry, an excellent Web-based chemistry tutorial created by Stanley Smith at the University of Illinois. Both sets of tutorials help structure the discussion sections by having students come to class prepared to ask questions. Students have found these online tutorials very helpful, reporting that they are able to learn effectively from these materials. They particularly like the ability to link directly from a problem they have difficulty with to a tutorial that will help them learn the concepts needed to solve the problem. Many students reported that they found the online material much more accessible than the textbook.
Pre-lab tutorials and quizzes. The pre-lab tutorials and quizzes prepare students for laboratory techniques, ensuring that students come to the labs prepared. Better preparation results in better lab reports and notebook writing.
Cost Savings Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Online homework. Homework assignments are generated automatically. Neither faculty nor TAs need to generate or grade homework assignments, and record-keeping has been automated as well. Because each homework question includes diagnostic feedback, TA time previously spent repeatedly correcting students’ errors is saved. Because the homework structures students’ preparation for discussion sections, less preparation is required of TAs.
Online quizzes. During summer 2000 and the 2000–2001 academic year, the chemistry team developed 156 quiz question sets containing 780 questions. These were used in a 250-student lecture section in the pilot program during the fall and spring semesters of 2000–2001. During the summer and fall of 2001, the project developed an additional 123 sets of questions containing a total of 594 questions. The grand total of quiz questions developed is thus 1,374, with the questions grouped within 279 sets. The quizzes are administered by WebCT and require no preparation time or grading time from TAs. To adjust the quizzes appropriately, a short, weekly interaction between faculty and the staff person who prepares the quizzes is required, but this is considerably less time than what faculty normally spend preparing quizzes.
Online tutorials. Because students come to class prepared to ask questions after completing the tutorials and because they help structure the discussion sections, less preparation time is required from the TAs. Tutorials also provide an effective substitute for faculty time spent preparing and delivering lectures. When the team did less lecturing and counted on the tutorials to provide a major fraction of the instruction, students were not at a disadvantage.
Pre-lab tutorials and quizzes. Because students come to labs prepared, TA time spent teaching laboratory techniques is reduced. Better preparation results in better lab reports and notebook writing, saving TAs grading time. Pre-lab quizzes have also replaced quizzes that TAs formerly had to grade.
What implementation issues were most important?
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