Fall 2017 Newsletter

Missouri S&T faculty who have embarked on a teaching and learning journey to transform their courses through educational research projects have taken efficiency to a whole new level.

With an average of about $2,800 in mini-grant funding per project in 2015-2016, the instructors highlighted below have have seen a huge return on investment. They not only transformed their courses, but several measured marked improvements in student learning, had gains in end-of-course evaluations scores, and turned their classroom research into publications and presentations beyond campus. The mini-grant funding was provided by the Office of Academic Support and the Office of Educational Technology,

Below are summaries of the educational research projects, including a video interview with each instructor.

 

Evaluating the Impact of Interactive Technology in
the Classroom on Students' Perception of Learning

Instructor: Beth Cudney, associate professor, engineering management and systems engineering

Class: Engineering Management 4710, an undergraduate course on quality, averaging 45 students each semester

Identified problems with learning: There was a gap between theory and practice. Students could answer the case studies in class or homework, but when they had to transfer knowledge to a hands-on semester project, they struggled, even though they were upper level students. 

Goals for intervention: Discover and utilize options to traditional lecture that would help with motivation and student engagement, increase students’ ability to transfer theory to practical application, and familiarize students with learning tools they could use in industry.

Solutions That Worked: The tools that turned out to be the most helpful and popular with students wereScoop.it – which provided a way of curating information about different topics from industry; TED-Ed lessons; videos Dr. Cudney made of problems and explanations that students could refer back to, especially in areas where they typically struggled; and Quizlet – which helped students with studying basic concepts of the course.

Results and Other Benefits: Dr. Cudney observed better use of class time that allowed for more in-depth discussions; increased motivation and engagement of students; higher test scores -- although exams were more difficult; improved selection of statistical tools for students’ projects reflecting a better understanding of the materials.

Dr. Cudney’s end-of-course evaluation scores increased, which she credited to student appreciation of the effort she put toward aiding their learning. She also was able to develop a partnership with the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineering to offer a Six Sigma Green Belt certification to students at the end of each semester. Dr. Cudney published two journal papers, one conference paper, and one international conference presentation so far from her project. She has additional papers currently under review. For a full report on the project, go to the Cudney mini-grant report.

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Visualizing Research & Writing: Improving Student Self-
Confidence Through Focus Groups and Library Interaction

Instructor: Jossalyn Larson, assistant teaching professor, English and Technical Communication

Class: English 1160 Research and Writing, 3 sections, 55 students

Problems with learning that were identified: Students had a lack of self-confidence in their writing abilities which made them reluctant to participate in class discussion and was reflected in their grades.

Goals for intervention: Prior to the pilot, feedback from students showed that the one week of the course which utilized discipline-specific student focus groups and one-on-one interactions with subject librarians were the most helpful parts of the course. Larson wanted to find out if she could implement this strategy for the entire course and by doing so, increase student self-efficacy and help them develop research and writing skills they could use as graduate students or professionals.

Solutions that worked: A blended and “flipped” classroom where lectures were watched online and class-time was relocated to the library for discipline-specific small groups to meet with each other as well as subject librarians.

Results and other benefits: In the pilot, the average final grade increased by almost 8 points; the standard deviation in grades went down dramatically so that the instructor felt students were experiencing similar gains in learning and fewer students were left behind. Surveys of students emphasized their overwhelming enthusiasm for the small group meetings and how collaborating with their classmates led to learning communities beyond that particular class.

Larson’s course evaluation scores jumped on average 1.1 points (from mid-2 to more than 3.5), an exceptionally large increase in light of the fact that most instructors see an initial decrease in scores when implementing new strategies in the classroom.

Larson’s project has led to two presentations with the Northeast Modern Language Association and one publication co-authored with Dan Reardon, S&T assistant professor of English and technical writing, in the Journal of Student Success in Writing. For a full report on the project, go to the Larson mini-grant report.

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Evaluation of Section Properties App for Mechanics of Materials

Instructor: Nick Libre, assistant teaching professor, civil engineering

Classes: 5 sections of Mechanics of Materials, 250 total students

Problems with learning that were identified: Students were struggling with recalling the concepts of section properties from a prerequisite course, Statics, and being able to use these concepts to solve problems in his course.

Goals for intervention: Get students up to speed on foundational concepts without using class time, and then measure the efficacy of the intervention on student learning.

Solutions that worked: DrLibre developed a simple app called SecPro that students could use to refresh their learning and practice problems on section properties. Without giving extra credit for its use, he encouraged students to use the app to help them on their homework assignments and to prepare for tests.

Results and other benefits: Dr. Libre monitored the performance of students who voluntarily used the app against those who did not over a two-semester time period in all five sections. In both semesters, students who used the app performed better on the problems on the tests related to section properties. In addition, there was a direct correlation between the number of sections students did on the app and their performances on these test problems during both semesters. In fact, the slope of the line was almost identical over both semesters.

Dr. Libre presented the results of this research in a poster presentation at the ASEE national conference in June 2017. For a full report of the project, go to the Libre mini-grant report.

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Do Flipped Lectures Increase Student Engagement With Course Material?

Instructor: Katie Shannon, associate teaching professor, biological sciences

Class: Biological Sciences 2213, an undergraduate class with 60 students

Problems with learning that were identified: Students were not using higher level thinking skills, and Dr. Shannon suspected that their “learning” was largely memorization. They had difficulty answering questions that were phrased in a different way than they had seen them previously or making a prediction based on what they had already been taught.

Goals for intervention: Help students learn how to apply previous knowledge to new problems, interpret data and make predictions based on what they already knew. She also wanted to discover how students engaged with the course material and if she could correlate types of engagement with course grades.

Solutions that worked: “Flipped Fridays”: Each Friday of the semester, students came to class already having seen a lecture online ahead of time so that there would be time for them to work in groups and interact with the instructor on challenging application or interpretation problems.

Results and other benefits: Dr. Shannon reported that the atmosphere in the Friday classes was definitely different with better instructor/student interaction and everyone participating. Students learned how to solve more difficult problems, which allowed them to begin to learn critical thinking skills.

Regarding analysis of the data about students study habits, Dr. Shannon discovered that students preferred videos to reading, although they were resistant to the idea of flipping more of class time because they felt as though the video viewing took a lot of time. Both video viewing and reading the textbook correlated positively with exam scores. Time spent on studying did not correlate at all, possibly because of student “cramming.”

Dr. Shannon has given four talks, including two at national meetings, on these projects, as well as given three poster presentations at national meetings. For a full report on the project, go to the Shannon mini-grant report.

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Introducing and Evaluating Innovative Teaching Techniques in Economics Principles Class

Instructors: Ana Maria Ichim, assistant professor; Radu Puslenghea, assistant teaching professor; and Sarah Steelman, assistant teaching professor, all of the economics department

Classes: Principles of Microeconomics and Principles of Macroeconomics, multiple sections, approximately 500 students per semester

Problems with learning that were identified: Students had difficulty applying key theoretical concepts and lacked motivation in these required courses, taught in a large setting.

Goals for intervention: To help students be more actively engaged in the material and take away key economic concepts from the class by incorporating them in the game through life-like scenarios.

Solutions that worked: Students worked in teams to design an economics themed game as a twist from a classical game of their choosing (board game, card game, computer game, etc.). At the end of the semester, students were able to showcase and play test their games at an Economics Game Fair, with prizes for the best games as judged by their peers.

Results and Other Benefits: Students in the treatment group with the game design intervention performed half a letter grade higher on exam scores than the control group. The effect was slightly larger for the lowest quartile, that is, the lowest performing students benefited more on average from this type of active learning.

In a qualitative survey given to students, roughly 72 percent showed a strong preference for the game project and agreed with the statement, “Designing an economic themed game is an engaging way to think about the economics concepts covered in class.” More than 70 percent of students also felt that the project helped them better connect and relate to each other in a large introductory class setting.

Dr. Ichim presented the project’s results at the 86th Annual Meeting of the Southern Economic Association in Washington, D.C., in fall 2016, and at the 7th AEA CTREE (American Economic Association Conference on Teaching & Research in Economic Education) in summer 2017. For a full report on the project, go to the Ichim-Steelman mini-grant report.

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