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December 01, 2006

A Magnificent Resource of Educational Technology Case Studies

The National Center of Academic Transformation (NCAT) website contains a treasure-trove of case studies that will interest anyone involved in educational technology.  From 1999-2004, NCAT worked with 30 higher-ed institutions to redesign selected courses to meet goals like reducing costs, handling increasing enrollment, and improving quality and student outcomes.  NCAT focused on using technology to support several models of course design, from supplementing a face-to-face class with technology aids to moving an 800-student course to an entirely online format.

The entire projects are described, including planning, budgeting, outcomes, and lessons learned.  Some of the lessons learned are important and counter-intuitive, others are firm confirmations of what you might expect. But it's worth taking some time to read through some of the studies, as there's something to be learned from each. Here are a few interesting extracts from the studies:
    • Having a "buffet" of course information, related resources and activities available to students sounds like a better idea than it really turns out to be.    A carefully designed "buffet" of varied course materials (videos, lectures, labs, online tests) at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) went entirely unused by the 387 students in the course.  (The FCGU course, which moved a large lecture-format face-to-face course in Visual Arts to an all-online environment, was nonetheless an unqualified success based on other attributes of its design.)  This supports the results found by Lonnie Harvel at Georgia Tech, in which students' own course notes (in electronic format) were enhanced by turning subject-related keywords into links to related resources.  In the trial, students never clicked on any of the links to related material, choosing instead to stick to the linear path of required material.

    • Supporting multiple learning styles means more than making varied materials available.  Ohio State University found some measurable benefit to providing learning-style options, but only students who attended orientation sessions on how to choose saw benefit.  OSU methodically associated every item of course material to a 90-term taxonomy of learning objectives, giving students a clear understanding of what was expected, no matter the learning style they chose.

    • Required for-credit practice quizzes directly affect student performance.  At the University of New Mexico, "students in one section received course points for completion of weekly online mastery quizzes; students in the other section were encouraged to take the mastery quizzes, but received no course points for doing so. On in-class exams, students who were required to complete quizzes for credit always outperformed students for whom taking quizzes was voluntary."  FGCU had similar results.

    • At FGCU, students worked in teams via online threaded-discussion boards to analyze and critique essays.  "At FGCU, students completed Web Board discussions where they analyzed sample short essays in preparation for writing their own short essays. One of the essays was a strong essay and the other a weak essay. Working in peer learning teams of six students each, students had to determine which was strong and which was weak and explain why. The Web Board discussions increased interaction among students, created an atmosphere of active learning, and developed students’ critical thinking skills." Student performance on subsequent exam essay questions exceeded that of previous semesters under the face-to-face teaching model.  
In all the cases, details including gains (or not) in student performance are provided.  Many schools were able to compare control groups to redesigned-course groups, which makes this a uniquely informative resource.  

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