University of Iowa
Looking back on the course pilot itself, what worked best?
First, the discussion-section classroom, redesigned for cooperative learning and for technology-enhanced activities, shows great promise. Based on survey data from fall 2001, the new classroom had an approval rating of ca. 80%. The wireless classroom enables the students to work in pairs on challenging problems such as those found in Mastering Chemistry and then get help from their colleagues and the teaching assistant. In addition, the new discussion section format shows a higher rate of attendance than the old.
Second, the success of using the Mastering Chemistry software has been demonstrated by the correlation between higher course grades and level of participation (i.e., time on task).
What worked least well?
Because of the need for a specific plug-in for the browsers and special fonts to support subscripts and superscripts, use of the skill-building software depended heavily on the availability of correctly configured computers in campus information technology centers. Information about the installation of the plug-in and fonts on personal computers was conveyed via the course Web site and emails to the instructors. Although ca. 70% of the entering class has their own personal computers, many know little about the installation and operation of software including browsers.
The problems in Mastering Chemistry were challenging. Some students who could not figure out how to do the problems on their own had never before experienced this situation. They didn't know what to do next when they encountered difficulty answering some questions. We observed that students faced with that situation chose one of two paths: giving up or seeking help. Part of the cohort who scored less than 50% of the possible course points for the homework quit doing any work on the homework at a certain stage in the course.
What are the biggest challenges you face in moving from the course pilot to the project's next phase?
The biggest challenge will involve getting all aspects of the redesign completed and integrated. Another challenge relates to students' expectations. One of their first misconceptions about teaching and learning comes from a passive stance in large lecture classes. "If the instructors teach and I don't learn, it is their fault if I don't succeed." All of the active learning components and opportunities for cooperative learning depend on the interest and motivation of students enrolled in a difficult course that is a prerequisite or requirement and not the focus of their majors.
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