American InterContinental University shares how an in-depth training program built around empowering faculty is the key to optimizing adaptive learning technology for students’ benefit.

adaptive-learning-facultyThe promise of adaptive technology is a great one. But it’s only fulfilled if the role of faculty is redesigned.

With the widespread adoption of adaptive learning technology—a way of learning that allows students to focus on what they don’t already know so they can instead spend their effort on topics they have yet to master—many universities have re-evaluated curriculum models, classroom structure, and student support services. They’ve also starting experimenting with adaptive learning as a supplement to the traditional classroom approach.

But it’s faculty that hold the key to optimizing adaptive learning.

American InterContinental University (AIU), which offers a wide range of online undergraduate and graduate degrees in programs such as business, IT, criminal justice and education, uses a proprietary adaptive learning platform called intellipath®. Designed to provide faculty detailed information about their students’ progress and areas for development, intellipath® assesses student knowledge every few minutes.

This wealth of detailed information about students puts faculty in a unique position: teaching without having to wonder what students know and don’t know. Imagine lifting the veil in this way—moving from ignorance to knowledge—and you will begin to glimpse the true potential of adaptive learning as a new approach not only to what students learn, but how faculty can be empowered to be more effective teachers.

That’s why at AIU adaptive learning is approached through both a thorough audit of classroom instructional practices and a rethinking of the role faculty play both in teaching and learning.

(Next page: The new faculty role)

The new faculty role

At AIU, we believe faculty play the key role in unlocking the potential of adaptive learning technology in the classroom. With such detailed and timely information on their students’ performance available at their fingertips—from lesson averages to detailed question response metrics—professors can use real-time data to better support students.

This new paradigm underscores the role of faculty as facilitators in the classroom. It enables them to leverage their industry experience and knowledge of course content to meet students where they are at the very point when they arrive there, ready to learn what’s next.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the professor-centric model of university teaching and learning is not the best fit for adaptive learning. Indeed, adaptive learning involves a version of the long-rumored shift from “sage on the stage” to “the guide on the side”; this is not an easy transition for many professors.

Accordingly, we took the approach of respecting the experience and knowledge of professors, while highlighting the potential of adaptive learning to make our professors more effective teachers. In looking to redefine the role of faculty, we sought the common ground of a passion for effective teaching that leads students toward success.

Assessing and building a faculty development model

In building a faculty development model to advance this new approach, it was necessary not only to address the tactical aspects of adaptive learning technology, but also to manage the changes in established classroom facilitation practices.

This approach required a scaffolding process that began with faculty engagement and buy-in to build a community that would foster collaboration and encourage feedback on the successes and failures of classroom practices.

At AIU, this targeted faculty training and development program began with identifying top faculty performers and classroom and facilitation strategies to improve student outcomes. This group helped us build a faculty success profile that was then used as the basis for a competency model. This group also served as internal champions for adaptive learning, providing necessary peer-to-peer support so other faculty could embrace and master this new learning platform.

Tri-level training

The comprehensive adaptive learning faculty training and development program at AIU covers three key areas:

  1. Technical Training: Initially, the focus is on understanding the purpose of the system, key facilitative actions, and the technical system navigation of intellipath, AIU’s proprietary adaptive learning technology. intellipath assesses each student’s understanding of a topic and creates a customized learning map that lets the student experience course content based on how they learn best – reading, watching, listening or interacting. Using a combination of live training sessions and system access, this phase requires participants to complete a list of common system functions, from both the student and faculty view, in a safe environment. Faculty feedback revealed that access to the student view in the system would assist with understanding the cause and effect of certain actions in the system. With access to both, professors are able to view the direct effect of their facilitation practices from the student view. Using a combination of traceable actions in the system and a series of questions to validate understanding of key functions, we are able to assess faculty’s readiness for facilitation of the system in a live course.
  1. Instructional Strategies: These are centered around a cultivation of effective facilitation practices in intellipath and the classroom to best analyze data, identify adaptive student intervention strategies and create a cohesive learning environment. Leveraging system data analytics to identify student needs, this self-directed online course for faculty addresses application, analysis and evaluation of student support strategies. It also guides faculty on creating a harmonious learning environment through effective use of other classroom functionalities such as the discussion board, announcements and live chats. This portion of training provides faculty with the ability to adapt instruction based on real-time student information, supporting the view that an informed professor is an effective professor. For example, a professor teaching the Strategic Management course from AIU’s online MBA program may notice a student is struggling and elaborate on concepts in their lecture, initiate a dialogue with students on the discussion board or provide additional learning resources in the classroom to set the student up for success.
  1. Key Faculty Competencies: Faculty interviews allowed us to determine their core competencies in the new adaptive learning model. This drove the creation of profiles of high-performing faculty, which allow us to focus on a progression of faculty development. This is done through self-directed courses that develop faculty holistically, bringing together the goals of the faculty and the university as a whole. We need to understand what it takes for faculty to succeed in the new adaptive learning model and align our faculty selection, development, and management practices to set all members up for greatest success. A clearly-defined competency model, with corresponding learning opportunities aimed at developing faculty in key competencies such as innovation, adaptability and data analysis, ensures that we are approaching faculty development and management with a common understanding of success.

Making It Count

With intellipath generating more than 11 million data points every day about students’ abilities, challenges and learning paths, it’s vital for our faculty to have the foundational tools to make the most of this information and use it to best benefit their students. Understanding each student’s learning path in real-time allows faculty to improve the overall learning experience and customize material to meet each individual students’ needs.

Given the broad adoption of adaptive learning technology across education sectors, it’s important to make the most of the benefits of this technology by implementing specialized training to ensure instructors can navigate this opportunity effectively.

[AIU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Find employment rates, financial obligations and other disclosures at www.aiuniv.edu/disclosures.]

Dr. Robert Manzer is Provost and Chief Academic Officer at AIU; Dr. Wendy Johnson is Vice President of Academics at AIU; and Molly Sheahan is Manager of Faculty and Development and Support at AIU.


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