CRLT Blog

How can we use available data about students to fine-tune our instruction and facilitate their learning? Thanks to the Learning Analytics Task Force and SLAM lecture series, this question is getting lots of attention on campus this year. Some especially innovative answers are provided by 2012 TIP winners Tim McKay, David Gerdes, and August Evrard (pictured below, left to right), whose "Better-Than-Expected" (BTE) project used analysis of large data sets to support student learning in introductory physics courses. 

Dr. Evrard

Dr. GerdesDr. McKayThe three Arthur F. Thurnau professors analyzed data from 48,579 U-M intro physics students over 14 years to generate models for predicting student success in these gateway courses. Correlating data concerning students' preparation (e.g., standardized test scores, prior U-M GPA, previous coursework, etc.), background (gender, socioeconomic status, etc.), and progress through the courses (homework grades, exam scores, class participation, etc.), the BTE team discovered that prior academic performance was a significant indicator of success in the introductory courses. In effect, students' progress through the semester was largely determined by their starting point. The team realized that, in order to develop the learning potential of all students, they needed to move away from a "one-size-fits-all" instructional model.

Enter E2Coach.  With support from the Gates Foundation, the group built an Electronic Expert Coaching system which they launched across all intro physics courses in January 2012.

AnnArbor.com logoToday's AnnArbor.com features a story about U-M faculty who are providing feedback on student writing via video. Using a technique called screencasting, instructors create a personalized video for each student paper. Free software records whatever is on the instructor's computer screen, along with their verbal comments, so instructors can open a student's paper, talk though its strengths, make suggestions for improvement, even pull up further resources on their computer screen, and then send the video directly to the student.

Instructors say that making feedback videos takes about the same amount of time as traditional grading with written comments--and may even save time. Many students say that video feedback is more personal and easier to understand than written comments. 

The story features comments from several instructors using the technique and reactions from their students. You can also see an example of a screencast video and learn about free screencasting software. Read the full story here

Related CRLT Resources: Creating and providing feedback on writing assignments

Would you like to discuss screencasting in your course? Request a consultation

Another example of screencast use at U-M: Joanna Mirecki Millunchick, Winner of 2012 Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize

What concepts are students still struggling with after lecture?  How can I most effectively supplement lectures to enhance student learning?  Will my efforts to provide additional resources actually pay off in terms of student success?

Dr. MillunchickThese key questions -- familiar to many instructors in large lecture courses -- structured Joanna Mirecki Millunchick’s teaching innovation in MSE (Materials and Science Engineering) 220.  Because the course draws engineering majors with widely varying degrees of experience with course concepts, Professor Millunchick was especially interested in offering diverse students opportunities to review lecture topics and learn at a pace appropriate to their needs. 

Her central innovation? Screencasts.  Millunchick developed a range of screencasts (i.e., online videos of her computer screen, accompanied by audio) on topics students were struggling with.  The screencasts included lecture recordings, explanations of homework, and exam solutions.  In just one example of her creative use of technology, Millunchick used a tablet PC and stylus to record her process of drawing diagrams, producing videos that students could watch and review on their own schedule.  CTools allowed her to keep track of which students used the screencasts and how often.  And then she assessed the relation of these data to student success in the course.  

She found, quite simply, that students who used her screencasts earned higher grades in the course, but the greatest gains were for those students who started with less familiarity with the topic.  

How can a lecturer engage an auditorium full of undergraduates in analyzing the subtleties of a poem written more than 400 years ago?  That was one of the questions motivating Theresa Tinkle's teaching innovations in English 350, a course surveying literature written before 1660.  

Dr. TinkleAlong with her team of GSIs, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of English Language and Literature set the goal of improving students' skills at literary analysis, and then they focused their teaching efforts on replicating the advantages of a small course in a large lecture setting.  The group creatively deployed technologies like iClickers and CTools online quizzes to ensure students completed readings and engaged actively with lectures.  And they created assignment sequences that allowed students intensive writing practice and provided individualized feedback (without significantly increasing anyone's grading load).  This combination of strategies resulted in significantly improved student skill with the complex task of close reading.