MySpanishLab educator study shares technology implementation and results at University of Texas–El Paso

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Language technology implementation results at University of Texas at El Paso: a model to follow

Key Findings

  • Students who scored an average of 80 percent or higher on MySpanishLab homework had higher composition, exam, final exam, and final course scores than students who scored lower than 80 percent on MySpanishLab homework.
  • The correlation between student performance on MySpanishLab homework assignments and final course scores was strong.
  • Although success rates are comparable between face-to-face and hybrid/intensive and online courses, coordinator Enríquez’s priority is to standardize the hybrid and online curriculum, as has already been accomplished in the face-to-face sections.

School name
University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX

Course names
Elementary Spanish, Intermediate Spanish, and Spanish for Heritage Speakers

Course formats
Face to face, hybrid/intensive, and online

Timeframe
2012–2015

Course materials
Elementary Spanish (face to face): ¡Anda! Curso elemental by Heining-Boynton & Cowell
Elementary Spanish (hybrid): ¡Arriba! Comunicación y cultura by Zayas-Bazán, Bacon, & Nibert
Intermediate Spanish (face to face): ¡Anda! Curso intermedio by Heining-Boynton, LeLoup, & Cowell
Intermediate Spanish (hybrid): Conexiones: Comunicación y cultura by Zayas-Bazan, Bacon, & García
Spanish for Spanish Speakers: Español escrito: Curso para hispanohablantes bilingües by Valdés, Teschner, & Enríquez

Educator
Héctor Enríquez, Spanish Language Coordinator

Results reported by
Sara Owen, Pearson Customer Outcomes Analytics Manager

Setting

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is a public research university enrolling nearly 24,000 undergraduate students in Fall 2015. Full-time students comprise 61 percent of the student population, 80 percent of students identify as Hispanic, and 84.5 percent hail from El Paso county. El Paso stands on the Rio Grande River, across the border from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Along with Las Cruces, New Mexico, these three cities form a combined international metropolitan area of over 2.7 million people, constituting the largest bilingual, binational workforce in the western hemisphere.

About the Course

Spanish language studies at UTEP reflect the growing importance of the Spanish-speaking world—locally, nationally, and worldwide. The basic language program allows students to fulfill their language requirement for the College of Liberal Arts and for some majors in other UTEP colleges. Students take a placement test which guides them (with the assistance from departmental administrators) into a language course according to current ability. Most liberal arts majors are required to take six credit hours of sophomore-level language courses.

Basic language courses are organized in two distinct tracks: one for Heritage speakers and the other for non-Spanish speakers. The semester runs for 16 weeks, but an 8-week hybrid/intensive course format and a 14-week online course format are also offered to help students complete their language requirement in less time.

  • Elementary Spanish I and II (Spanish 1301–1302): An introductory course for non-native speakers with emphasis on pronunciation and the basic elements of grammar; practice in understanding, speaking, reading, and writing (three credit hours each semester).
  • Intermediate Spanish I and II (Spanish 2301–2302): A course emphasizing development of conversational and reading skills for non-native speakers with some grammar review and more extensive readings from the contemporary period (three credit hours each semester).
  • Spanish for Spanish Speakers I and II (Spanish 2303–2304): A first course for bilingual students who have acquired listening and speaking skills in Spanish because it is spoken in their home or social environment. Course emphasizes development of reading and writing skills, with attention to spelling and use of the written accent. The second semester offers additional opportunities for reading and composition, a review of the written accent, and an introduction to the systematic study of Spanish grammar (three credit hours).

Challenges and Goals

Instructor Hector Enríquez has been teaching at UTEP for the past 28 years. As coordinator of the lower division Spanish courses, Enríquez is challenged to:

  • Meet the learning needs of both non-native and heritage speakers at UTEP;
  • Deliver a high-quality, uniform learning experience across all sections that can also be personalized for each student;
  • Offer students sophisticated learning tools at a reasonable cost;
  • Improve students’ overall performance, raising both pass rates and course completion rates; and
  • Offer online and hybrid/intensive course formats in addition to traditional face-to-face courses.

With these goals in mind, Enríquez adopted MySpanishLab for the introductory and intermediate Spanish sequences for both non-native and heritage speakers. MySpanishLab was adopted in its inception and has been in use now for over a decade.

Implementation

Instructors in both the introductory and intermediate course sequences teach from a common syllabus, and MySpanishLab is required and fully integrated into instruction and assessment. MySpanishLab is used primarily by students working on a personal computer, although a small number of students may access MySpanishLab through an on-campus computer lab. Students use MySpanishLab for reviewing content before it is covered during class time and for practicing content after class time.

Enríquez’s goals for assigning work in MySpanishLab are to teach students new concepts, provide homework and practice opportunities, and help students assess their own understanding of the course material and track their progress. On the most basic level, a goal of assigning work in MySpanishLab is to give students credit for completing homework. Enríquez anticipates that students will spend 2–3 hours per week working in MySpanishLab.

Content, homework, and assessments are pre-assigned with due dates through the MySpanishLab master course shell, so the course is “ready to go” for instructors at the beginning of the semester. MySpanishLab allows Enríquez and his colleagues to remotely monitor student work completed outside of class, identify where the class is in terms of understanding content, and detect at-risk students.

During class time, the instructor’s role is to provide additional support/instruction to students. Classes adopt a communicative approach; grammar is not the focus and is instead covered through online work. In class, the role of the instructor is to facilitate group conversation, answer open-ended questions, and deploy writing exercises as compositions. Grammar is only covered if students do not understand a specific point.

In Elementary and Intermediate Spanish, six textbook chapters are covered each semester; in Spanish for Spanish Speakers, 10 textbook chapters are covered each semester. The three chapter exams each cover two to three chapters and the final exam is cumulative. Pearson exams are used, and questions on MySpanishLab homework are similar to the questions that will appear on exams.

Per textbook chapter, all machine-graded exercises are assigned in MySpanishLab over the course of (approximately) two weeks. This includes some tutorials and one chapter practice exam. Students have unlimited attempts on homework, as they are encouraged to practice, make mistakes, and try again without penalty. Students will be penalized if homework is not completed, but generally homework will be accepted as long as it is submitted within three days of its due date.

Monday through Friday, MySpanishLab assignments are due nightly. Indeed, Enríquez identifies this as a best practice—to assign a little homework every day, instead of assigning a large number of exercises once a week. He advises educators to “be consistent and check the system consistently.” This message of consistency also translates to student effort and success. Enríquez believes that “if a student consistently uses MySpanishLab, they will obtain good grades, unless they become absent one too many times.”

Table 1 specifies which activities/resources are required in MyLanguageLabs to support grammatical structure acquisition; vocabulary acquisition; writing ability; listening comprehension and/or speaking proficiency; and cultural awareness.

myspanishlab_utep_table1

Table 1.

Benefits Observed

Enríquez notes the many benefits MySpanishLab has had on teaching. It saves grading time, it allows instructors to better use in-class time, and it gives instructors the opportunity to see where students’ strengths and weaknesses lie in terms of understanding the content. Enríquez describes how the department’s technology implementation has changed over time as “tremendous.” He recalls, “I remember when most of instructors rejected the idea to implement technology, thinking that this was going to replace instructors. Now we depend on it, and students love it since they belong to a technological generation.”

Assessments

Elementary and Intermediate Spanish
    ● 15% MySpanishLab
    ● 5% Compositions
    ● 60% Chapter exams (3)
    ● 20% Final exam

Spanish for Spanish Speakers
    ● 20% MySpanishLab
    ● 20% Compositions
    ● 45% Chapter exams (3)
    ● 15% Final exam

Results and Data

Examination of student results data across all five courses shows a strong correlation between MySpanishLab scores and final course scores in the face-to-face* course format (table 2). MySpanishLab homework counts as 15 percent of the final course grade, influencing this relationship. Correlations do not imply causation but instead measure the strength of a relationship between two variables, where r is the correlation coefficient. The closer the r-value is to 1.0 or -1.0, the stronger the correlation:

r = .50–.59 “moderately strong”
r = .60–.79 “strong”
r = .80–1.0 “very strong”

The corresponding p-value measures the statistical significance/strength of this evidence (the correlation). When a p-value is less than .05, the correlation is deemed significant. All correlations in table 2 had p-values less than .01. Correlations were less strong between MySpanishLab and final exam scores/exam scores. Most likely this is due to the fact that students have unlimited attempts on MySpanishLab homework, as it is designed to be a low-stakes activity that gives students the opportunity to make mistakes, try again, and practice.

*Hybrid and online courses were not included due to inconsistencies in syllabi and assessment weights. Spanish 2304 was not included due to lack of data.

R-values showing correlation between MySpanishLab and course score in face-to-face courses

MySpanishLab to Course Score

Elementary Spanish I

Elementary Spanish II Intermediate Spanish I Intermediate Spanish II

Spanish for Spanish Speakers I

r-value

0.74

0.61 0.55 0.58

0.66

p-value

<.001

<.001 <.01 <.01

<.001

Table 2. R-values by Course Level Showing Correlation between MySpanishLab and Course Score, Face-to-face Courses Only; Elementary Spanish I, Spring 2013–Spring 2015 (n=120); Elementary Spanish II, Fall 2012–Spring 2015 (n=138); Intermediate Spanish I, Spring 2012–Spring 2015 (n=237); Intermediate Spanish II, Fall 2012–Summer 2015 (n=174); Spanish for Spanish Speakers I, Fall 2012–Fall 2014 (n=100)

A t-test measures whether the means of two groups are statistically different. T-tests were used to compare average composition scores, exam scores, final exam scores, and final course scores of students who scored an average of 80 percent or higher on MySpanishLab homework and students who scored an average of 79 percent or lower on MySpanishLab homework. Average scores for the two cohorts are shown in figure 1 as well as the difference in scores between the two groups.

Results show (figure 1) that in all course levels, students who scored 80 percent or higher on MySpanishLab homework had higher average scores on compositions, exams, final exams, and final course scores than students who scored less than 80 percent on MySpanishLab, and t-test results indicate that these differences are statistically significant.  For individual t-test results, please contact Sara.Owen@pearson.com.  

Difference in assessment scores in face-to-face courses between students with MySpanishLab homework scores greater than or equal to 80 percent and students with MySpanishLab scores less than 80 percent

Figure 1. Difference in Average Assessment Scores between Students with MySpanishLab Homework Scores Greater than or Equal to 80 percent and Students with MySpanishLab Scores Less than 80 Percent, Face-to-face Courses Only; Spanish 1301 MySpanishLab Score ≥80% (n=84), MySpanishLab <80% (n=36), Total (N=120); Spanish 1302 MySpanishLab Score ≥80% (n=97), MySpanishLab <80% (n=41), Total (N =138); Spanish 2301 MySpanishLab Score ≥80% (n=178), MySpanishLab <80% (n=59), Total (N=237); Spanish 2302 MySpanishLab Score ≥80% (n=120), MySpanishLab <80% (n=54), Total (N=174); Spanish 2303 MySpanishLab Score ≥80% (n=77), MySpanishLab <80% (n=23), Total (N=100)

While the traditional face-to-face Spanish courses have been offered and standardized for many years, hybrid/accelerated and online courses are a relatively new offering. To determine if students taking online or hybrid Spanish courses were as successful as students in the face-to-face course, Enríquez was interested in looking at the course success rates (percent of students receiving an A, B, or C letter grade in the course). Figure 2 shows a breakdown of success rates for students in all course formats. While success rates are comparable between face-to-face and hybrid or online course formats, it should be noted that the n-count for the hybrid and online courses is smaller than the face-to-face courses. The analysis also brought to light some inconsistencies in assessments from section to section in the hybrid courses. While the face-to-face courses have had consistent assessments and methods of grading each semester, there has been more flexibility allowed for instructors to design and structure the hybrid/intensive courses. This is something that Enríquez and his colleague are currently working on—standardizing the hybrid curriculum as they have done for the face-to-face curriculum. Nevertheless, Enríquez sees the overall success rates as a confirmation that their program is thriving.

Course success rates

Figure 2. Overall Course Success Rates, 2012–2015; Elementary Spanish I, Face to face (n=120), Hybrid (n=5); Elementary Spanish II, Face to face (n=138), Hybrid (n=43); Intermediate Spanish I, Face to face (n=237), Hybrid (n=80); Intermediate Spanish II, Face to face (n=174), Hybrid (n=55); Spanish for Spanish Speakers I, Face to face (n=100), Hybrid (n=28), Online (n=18)

The Student Experience

At the end of the day, Enríquez’s goal is to help students become proficient in the language. He maintains, “MySpanishLab has worked well for our students. When our students use MySpanishLab, they become responsible for their own learning, and they succeed.” Enríquez emphasizes that, “MySpanishLab meets the needs of heritage speakers with a range of exercises that target vocabulary and writing skills. With such a deep resource of activities and multimedia resources in MySpanishLab, I can easily customize our course to address the unique strengths and weaknesses that heritage speakers bring to the course.”

Conclusion

Enríquez shares, “We taught these courses before MySpanishLab was available and previously had great difficulty creating a homogeneous learning environment for students. As a result, our student success results were below our expectations. MySpanishLab enables us to deliver a consistent learning experience for all students that is also personalized for each student. MySpanishLab is essential to our program’s strong student learning results.” Enríquez will continue to focus on developing and standardizing the hybrid/intensive and online courses as has already been done for the face-to-face courses, as increasing numbers of students desire an accelerated or online option. His next goal is to develop online language courses for military troops working abroad.

For a fourth consecutive year, Washington Monthly magazine ranked UTEP #1 in the category of social mobility (enrolling low-income students and helping them earn degrees). “This is central to our mission,” states Enríquez, “We are determined to offer value to our students—the most effective learning experience at a reasonable cost. MySpanishLab helps us deliver on that promise.”

Related posts:

Read Gabriel Avila’s blog post, How we increased student engagement and achievement in intensive Spanish for non-native speakers, published January 2017 on Pearson’s Teaching & Learning Blog.

Read Viridiana Vidaña’s blog post, Strategies for helping students overcome their fear in Spanish courses, published December 2016 on Pearson’s Teaching & Learning Blog.

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