Mastery learning occurs when students have acquired sufficient practice, with instructor feedback and guidance, to master a skill or concept before being tested on it. A wide literature supports the effectiveness of mastery learning for student success, yet the challenge of implementing it is that developing practice problems requires significant instructor effort: homeworks and labs take time to create and grade, and exams must be administered to all students simultaneously to thwart cheating. As a result, many students who could have benefited from additional practice don’t get the chance.
This project promotes a major institutional pivot towards mastery learning by developing and deploying paradigm-based question generators (PQGs). A PQG is a piece of computer code that captures the “essence” or paradigm underlying a specific problem type in a specific course, and can generate randomized question instances from it. These questions can be presented, and student answers collected, through a Web browser; since the PQG “knows” the correct answer to each generated problem, it can give the student immediate feedback. PQGs can be used both to provide more homework practice problems and to generate different exam variants for each student or for giving students “second chance” make-up exams.
This project will build and deploy PQGs for high-demand STEM courses in computer science and data science at the collaborating institutions, evaluate their effectiveness in promoting mastery learning compared to earlier offerings of those courses without PQGs, and make available as Open Educational Resources all software and PQGs developed for these courses. The project will include the participation of 19 faculty and will impact 3300 students during the project period.
Research at the University of Illinois has demonstrated that in addition to mastery learning, the PQG approach confers significant and concrete benefits for institutional resilience, for narrowing equity gaps stemming from differences in secondary-education STEM preparation, and for better serving students with disabilities.