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Lessons Learned

The Ohio State University

Pedagogical Improvement Techiques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Increased student choice based on learning style. Informed by an assessment of their learning styles and preferences, all students were able to select from a variety of learning modes, thus meeting the course's common learning objectives by using different pathways. To support this individualized learning model, OSU established a taxonomy of 90 learning objectives linked to all course components. Every problem in the text, every quiz and exam question, every lab and problem in the lab manual was linked to a learning objective. Students knew succinctly what they were expected to know. Students perceived that they had more control over their learning experiences since their choices of activities personally suited them. This perception established a positive learning environment in the course and increased both student satisfaction and learning.

Help room to provide on-demand assistance. The team established a help room, staffed with TAs, adjuncts and full-time faculty who held their office hours there, to provide assistance to students throughout the day. The room included a combination of six computers and a number of round tables that enabled students to work collaboratively on homework problems or concepts that present difficulty with the supervision and input of statistics staff. Because of this change in where staff members held office hours, students from all statistics courses could take advantage of the help room, making it a cost effective change as well.

Taxonomy of learning objectives. The taxonomy of learning objectives linking all course components provided a way to anchor the class. Since the course involved multiple sections and multiple instructors, these objectives formed a framework that provided consistency for student learning. The objectives were posted on the course web site. When course instructors prepared study guides prior to tests, the learning objectives provided the framework for students to review. As part of each weekly lab report, instructors selected one or two learning objectives and asked students how each was covered in lecture, in lab, and in the specific assignment. This approach reinforced the importance of this framework for students and highlighted the objectives that faculty considered most important.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

The help room. As above, the help room was a major contributor to improved student learning. It was also effective in reducing costs. Because faculty and TAs held all office hours in the help room, one additional TA position was not needed. Staffing could be adjusted depending on demand, affected by time of day, day of the week and time in the term, allowing great flexibility.

Reduction in face-to-face time. It turned out that students chose out-of-class problem solving accompanied by online mastery quizzing far more often than in-class problem solving. This allowed for a reduction in the number of in-class problem-solving sessions scheduled from five to three per week. The senior TAs originally assigned to conduct those sessions were then reassigned to the active learner sections, reducing the total amount of faculty presentation time by two hours with faculty giving presentation to only the reflective learner sections.

Implementation Issues

What implementation Issues were the most important?

Equitable difficulty among assignments. Because students were able to select from among different modes of learning, it was extremely important that these modes were perceived as requiring the same level of effort and that the testing was the same for all. Since many students will select the method of learning they believe is easiest, faculty wanted to be sure that choices were perceived to be equally difficult. They accomplished this goal by making formats for assignment submission as similar as possible. Students also took common midterm and final exams linked to the course learning objectives.

Integration of learning objectives and learning activities. The initial coding of every course component by learning objective for the course database was a huge amount of work. It took one TA four months to code every problem, quiz question, activity, and lab experience. The system is now stable, and new questions can be coded and added to the existing objectives.

Student orientation. Student orientation to the buffet model proved to be crucial to its success. Students must understand the organization of the course clearly by the second week in the quarter or they will waste a lot of time. Initially the team obtained lists of email addresses from the registration office and contacted students with orientation information. Some completed the orientation ahead of time as requested, but too many did not. The team held a face-to-face orientation as well, but some student who had completed the online version felt they had wasted their time. The outcome of the initial approach was a large number of students who failed to make choices in learning modes. The team recognized the problem early in the pilot and made changes immediately. They streamlined the orientation and developed better technology so that they could present options and allow students to make choices on the web. The second quarter was much smoother.

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