Freshman Don’t Do Optional

NCAT: Learning MarketSpace April 2006

The latest newsletter from the National Center for Academic Transformation shares some key lessons learned from their ongoing program in course redesign. The Center has supported the redesign of 50 courses to increase learning while reducing organizational costs. (The Center is headed by distinguished William and Mary alumna Carol Twigg–another English major doing quite well in the field of Educational Technology.)

The lead article in the The Learning MarketSpace, April 2006 is entitled Freshmen Don’t Do Optional and confronts a common misunderstanding of courses redesigned by the center. While most of the redesigned courses have offer greater flexibility in times and learning methods than the courses they replaced, few are “self-paced”.

Each has discovered that students need structure (especially first-year students and especially in disciplines that may be required rather than chosen) and that most students simply will not make it in a totally self-paced environment.

Three key findings:

  • Lesson 1. If you know that engaging in a particular learning activity will result in increased learning, you must require students to participate in it.
  • Lesson 2. It’s not enough to require participation–you must give course points for doing so.
  • Lesson 3: It’s not enough to require participation and to give points for doing so—you must also monitor whether students are engaged and be prepared to intervene if they are not.

This is one area where high-tech definitely can complement high-touch in courses in which content mastery can be measured fairly precisely. In traditional classes, it’s hard to tell how much time each student is spending and to find ways to encourage students who aren’t investing the time to be successful. Technology enhanced assignments can provide faculty members with much more information about how much time students are investing in their work and how well they are learning the content.

The entire article is worth reading to get the detail to support the bullets.

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