How educational technology can give early insights for student remediation
“I have found that those who do well in my course are those who have the necessary foundational knowledge,” Professor Sheela Vemu from Waubonsee Community College confided in a recent MyReadinessTest educator case study in which she participated. This can be said for any course really. And one of the things most professors try to determine as early as possible in the semester is the level of knowledge each student possesses. Vemu, like other professors, realizes that learning this at the end of the first course test can be too late to easily begin remediation for students who need it. In this interview, Professor Vemu explores her journey to find a way to more easily identify student preparedness coming into the course, and to select educational technology resources to help remediate those who need it early in the term.
Q: In the case study you participated in, I was struck by your deep desire to communicate with your students to help them be successful. Why did you choose online learning tools to help you communicate with them?
Vemu: Online tools are helpful in providing students with resources to work outside the classroom on activities, concepts, assessment, and study strategies that involve metacognition and understanding of the material. Communication with students can occur at various levels – in the classroom and outside of the classroom. This communication can also relate to course content, study strategies, time management, learning to learn, and other cognitive and affective issues that are involved in learning.
Q: Research from many sources including Harvard and the OECD identify one of the main causes for students to drop out is lack of prior knowledge needed to be successful in a course. Knowing this already, you wanted to find a way to assess student knowledge as soon as possible. How did you do this?
Vemu: I was able to identify some of the gaps that students had when they entered tough courses such as anatomy and physiology, and microbiology. These gaps were knowledge and content based and were basic fundamental concepts of science. This previous knowledge was necessary for them to build new knowledge as they progressed in the course. It also helped students to get more engaged in the topic as they were able to contribute to group work while working on case studies that test critical thinking.
Q: Knowing early in the semester where some students need to remediate, how has this changed the way you teach? What has it allowed you to accomplish?
Vemu: Knowing the knowledge gaps is one part of the problem, but fixing the gaps using personalized study plans and making sure that students stay consistent to the study plan guidelines has helped in building the foundations for the course. As an instructor, using remediation strategies has allowed me to expand on some of the main overlapping concepts of each module since I knew that students were engaged in the content. I also had some time allocated to work on concept maps in groups for each module. From the student perspective, many students felt they were adequately prepared for the course after fixing the gaps using the study plan.
Q: Why do we need to transform our classroom pedagogy to suit the new generation of student learners?
Vemu: I believe that transforming tough science courses promotes a learning environment for students who are not only involved in the course content of the discipline, but are also able to be cognitively engaged by developing critical thinking skills necessary for deep intrinsic learning. Students are also able to be socially engaged by developing relationships with faculty and class peers to improve affective issues of learning such as motivation and growth mindset.
Q: Having used MyReadinessTest for multiple years now, what insights would you share with other instructors?
Vemu: Be willing to try out new approaches to bridge the gaps in learning that you find with students as they enter the course. Having a personalized study plan allows each student to delve into the foundational material at their own pace. It also creates a sense of urgency for the students to catch up with the basic science concepts during the first week so they can visualize themselves doing well in the course.
Q: What are some teaching tips that you can offer faculty?
Vemu: I realized that as a new teaching faculty, I am a designer of the classroom experience for the student. Designing an appropriate pedagogy geared towards active student engagement, without compromising on content mastery, has always been a challenge. The modern classroom and digital resources available to instructors has given rise to a new approach for teaching and learning, which I was able to embrace early on in my teaching career.
Q: What do you think about the general overall outcome (your personal experience using new classroom strategies)?
Vemu: I believe that students are most successful when they understand and believe that personal effort inside the classroom matters. Once they believe this pattern, they can visualize how it can influence or control the outcomes of their education and future life.
About Sheela Vemu
Sheela Vemu, PhD, is a faculty member at Waubonsee Community College and has many years of experience teaching in a four year institution also. Her teaching platforms involve face to face, hybrid, online and flipped classroom using digital tools. She is part of the initial cohort of college instructors involved in improving the scholarship of teaching at a community college setting called the B2. She uses case studies as a pedagogical tool in her classroom. Her recent case study on Lactose Intolerance is published by the National Center for Case Study Teaching Science (NCCSTS). She is actively involved in Louis Stokes Midwest Center of Excellence (LSMCE) in broadening the participation of underrepresented minorities (URM) students in STEM fields.