Can faculty get back pedagogical power in adaptive learning?

By Andrew Barbour
April 25th, 2016


A free learning-design tool tries to make it possible for faculty to incorporate their own course materials in an adaptive learning environment; but are faculty really on-board?

Today, data analytics and adaptive learning are helping institutions understand where students are struggling and provide additional pathways for them to succeed. As wonderful as all this sounds, these advances have come at a price: Pedagogical control has slowly shifted from faculty members to major publishers that have the deep pockets to develop these complex environments.

Now, a new learning-design tool aims to redress this imbalance by giving faculty members the ability to create a personalized learning environment using their own materials. Developed with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the free Learning Design Starter Kit is the work of Smart Sparrow, a company specializing in adaptive learning technology, and St. Petersburg College, a two-year Florida state college. The goal is to provide faculty with a step-by-step way to unpack their existing courses and reorganize them in a way that makes sense in an adaptive, online environment.

“This is what’s so neat about this program,” said Dawn Joyce, professor of communications at St. Petersburg. “We can still use our own materials, but it makes them adaptive so students don’t all have to spend time in one area of study if they don’t need to.”

A typical online course today consists of resources and tools drawn from a wide array of sources, including some adaptive components from major publishers. Joyce, for example, uses the grammar diagnostic in Pearson’s MyWriting Lab in her Composition 1 class. But she, like most other faculty, also brings her own materials to the table.

According to Amanda Newlin, learning design studio director at Smart Sparrow, PowerPoint presentations and videos are among the most common ways for faculty to present their own materials. “A typical online course nowadays looks like a hybrid, with everything compiled on the LMS,” she said. “But when faculty give students a PowerPoint presentation or have them watch a video, they don’t know how well students understand the materials unless they give them a quiz.”

(Next page: Moving beyond just adaptive learning materials)

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