Despite broad evidence that active and adaptive learning approaches result in improved learning outcomes and are particularly beneficial to underrepresented students, traditional lecturing still dominates STEM post-secondary instruction. Reasons for this include the limited amount of carefully crafted teaching materials that promote student engagement and learning, lack of instructor training on the use of these materials, limited classroom time and perhaps most significantly, insufficient data on and understanding of how to best implement these materials. In addition, students are used to traditional, more passive instructional approaches and often do not understand or appreciate the benefits of active learning. General Chemistry is typically the largest enrollment ‘gateway’ STEM class on many campuses, and it has among the lowest success rates and some of the largest performance gaps between different student demographic groups, particularly in the first semester course. For instance, at Mt. SAC, the success rate of all students taking the first semester general chemistry course was 74% from 2014 to 2019 with the success rate of Hispanic students being 67% and those who were first generation college students being 73%. A similar trend in data is observed when looking at the corresponding success rates from Shasta College, with the overall success rate being 63% and the rates being 56% for Hispanic students and 59% for first generation college students. Of all STEM fields, chemistry has changed the least from traditional pedagogical methods.
The project aims to improve learning outcomes, decrease achievement gaps, and optimize the balance between the online and face-to-face components in the General Chemistry course sequence. To accomplish this, the project team, composed of diverse, experienced, intersegmental California higher education faculty, has partnered with the Open Learning Initiative (OLI), a world leader in learning science, educational analytics and adaptive learning technology, to expand understanding of how to most effectively incorporate new technologies with active learning pedagogy (ALP). The team will complement and strengthen chemistry instruction by studying barriers to adoption and sustaining of learning innovations.
The project plan and research strategy involve implementing the OLI courseware in multiple California higher education segments (5 Community Colleges (CCs), 1 University of California campus (UC), and 1 California State University (CSU) campus), collecting highly detailed usage and outcome data on out-of-class and in-class interactions, analyzing this data to determine the most effective instructional methods and balance, and providing instructors with ongoing, real-time feedback on student engagement and performance within the OLI courseware and classroom instruction to maximize effectiveness. The project includes approximately 15 faculty participants and will impact up to 10,000 students during the grant period.
Faculty will participate in increasing levels of implementation, moving from no implementation (continuing the status quo) to collecting baseline data to partial implementation (implementing only the online component), and ultimately to full implementation of the online and in-class components. Detailed data on behaviors and outcomes, both of faculty and students, will be collected in multiple dimensions of the interventions to determine:
- – How the faculty are using the materials.
- – If the interventions are improving student affect and outcomes, particularly for underrepresented populations.
- – If there are particular combinations of interventions that produce better outcomes.
Collected data, along with instructor and student feedback, will be used to assess and iteratively improve the materials throughout the life of the project. Success in this endeavor can serve as a model for other ‘gateway’ STEM courses, and contribute to the overall success and equity of STEM education for students across California.