University Business September 2016 - 40
CLEARING the HURDLES
on the research we did, there was no difference. Students did no better or worse,"
says Jeff Braden, dean of the College of
Humanities and Sciences, who supervised
the test program, developed with support
from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Fulcrum Labs.
Yet Braden remains a proponent of adaptive learning. The method moves teaching
closer to the active, collaborative approach
recommended today, he says.
Online coursework suits large classes.
And students, who don't all fit the full-time,
young adult mold, can file assignments anywhere, anytime. If nothing else, the online
content is replacing traditional textbooks,
and access is often less expensive than print.
In an early pilot of adaptive learning at
Central Florida, students were asked if they
spent more time on adaptive or traditional
coursework. Their answer: adaptive. Asked
if they would take another adaptive course,
"the answers were overwhelmingly 'yes,' "
says Cavanagh. "The students felt they were
spending their time valuably."
The lecture model at Arizona State has
a 20 percent dropout/failure/withdrawal
rate-compared to 6 percent for adaptive
learning classes, says Dale Johnson, manager of the university's EdPlus adaptive
program. "If we can do that across other
disciplines, that is tremendous."
Finding resources for development
Adaptive learning is hardly an inexpensive endeavor. Some colleges have funded
their own work in this area, and some have
worked with partners such as the Bill and
Melinda Gates Foundation and its Adaptive Learning Market Acceleration Program,
or ALMAP. Anbar's Center for Education
through Exploration partners with the Gates
Foundation and Smart Sparrow, provider of
a platform that allows institutions to create
active and adaptive e-learning courseware.
Other schools look inward for funding.
"We have been bootstrapping it ourselves,
which is maybe why we have not scaled to
the level" of some of the other universities,
40 | September 2016
says Cavanagh at Central Florida. UCF offers three adaptive learning courses-general psychology, college algebra and pathophysiology-and many other classes have
some adaptive learning components.
Arizona State also had no initial grant
funding when its math program introduced adaptive learning. "We always told
ourselves that if we retain students at a
Faculty who will teach the
adaptive learning courses
must be in place and on
board with the program from
the start. They also need
training in how to use the
technology, such as the full
day offered to Arizona State
instructors twice a year.
higher rate, make them more successful,
they come back semester after semester,"
says Phil Regier, university dean for educational initiatives and CEO of EdPlus at
Arizona State. "That is a revenue stream we
wouldn't have if they quit." The university
now works with several vendors to offer
adaptive learning classes.
As for the investment required, Johnson says Arizona State's spend averaged
$100,000 for each of the last three systems
built from scratch in partnership with vendors. Breaking that down, about $50,000
was spent on faculty time. Teams of two to
four faculty members worked with a provider on content, report development and
system testing. Grants did cover a large portion of these costs over the past few years,
he adds. The remaining $50,000 covers operating costs for project managers, instructional designers, video producers, graphic
designers, systems integrators and administrative personnel.
For an extra fee, Johnson notes, providers can often manage installation of a course.
Winning over instructors and students
The future of learning will move teaching
from delivering information to managing learning, says NC State's Braden. "The
adaptive learning model delivers richer data
to track students. This changes my role to
the guide on the side-this change can be
threatening to those who have mastered the
'stand and deliver' method."
Arizona State's Johnson says campus
administrators must develop a culture that
encourages instructors to become leaders of
an active learning environment. Content is
delivered online, where adaptive technology helps a student learn concepts. Students then gather in smaller groups for active learning such as lab work, putting what
they learned online into practice.
Faculty who will teach the adaptive
learning courses must be in place and on
board with the program from the start, he
adds. Training is also key. Arizona State
also offers instructors a full day of training,
twice a year, on how to use the technology.
The institution involved an instructional designer, project managers, instructional technologist and business managers
from the start. "You don't want to dictate;
you want buy-in," Regier says.
Students need to adjust, too. Cavanagh of Central Florida recalls a group of
students who were dissatisfied with their
grades on an evaluation in the adaptive
learning patho-physiology class. The instructor told them to go back and repeat
the test until they raised their grades-they
were (happily) surprised they could. "Adaptive learning is about mastery," he says.
Selecting the right team or provider
UCF faculty spent a good amount of time
over one semester building its three adaptive
courses. "The level of effort and complexity
is a barrier to scale," Cavanagh says. "And
faculty are never done. They enhance, add
content and questions. The more you work
on it, the richer and deeper it gets."
The university was able to scale adaptive
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