Learning and Teaching Investment Fund 2008

Summary of Projects

Project Title

New ways of Learning - Teaching and assessment of large classes

Project Leaders

Mali Abdollahian

Funds Approved

$45,433

Summary of the project, outcomes, impacts and dissemination

The Main objective of this project was to develop an integrated learning system that would utilise existing IT infrastructure currently available at RMIT and would blend with what is available via resources such as WebLearn. The project was designed to:

Address student diversity in multi-discipline large classes by providing relevant disciplinary context-related exemplars in teaching service classes

Address tutor teaching practices by trialling innovative ways of providing and supporting tutors in large service classes

Exploring and implementing effective ways to provide feedback to students in large service classes

Lecture notes are prepared in three disciplines by changing the exemplars to applications in Food science, Environmental Science and Biomedicine. Students in multi-discipline class will be able to refer to their discipline oriented lecture notes with relevant examples. This part of the project will be implemented in the first semester of 2009.

A smart weblearn question bank has been generated to address the diversity in the academic background of students in the course. This will ultimately help students learn independently at their own pace about the topics taught during the lecture.

Within the statistical weblearn question bank a help link was inserted for each question that required use of the MINITAB statistical package. The link displayed step by step graphical applications of the MINITAB package for the related topic.

Another significantchange undertaken in the weblearn tests is the introduction of a statistical definitions ‘help link’. For each question in the weblearn question bank, if students were unfamiliar with a specific statistical term they would be directed to a webpage of definitions and related examples which further enhanced their understanding of the term and its application.

For the mathematical component of these courses new questions with built-in intelligence were created. There are two major innovations to the new questions bank. The first is the feedback mechanism which provides a detailed solution to any incorrect answers and the second is the editing tool for entering Maple codes. Most questions require students to enter a symbolic mathematical expression as their answer and this is done by using Maple code. Previous CES shows that students have great difficulty with entering Maple code. As a result of this, new questions now employ an external Java Applet: DragMath to assist students to edit mathematical expressions graphically.

Tutors from the Engineering department were trained to tutor one group of engineering students for the maths and statistics components of the course. The other group’s tutors were composed from the Maths department. The statistical analysis of the exam marks showed that there is no significant difference in the exam marks between the groups.

We have identified the following four main areas of weakness for students in the service courses:
(1) students miss vital steps in calculations;
(2) students confuse technical terms (e.g. thinking bimodal is the same as bivariate); (3) students misread the question or response text; and
(4) students misread data tables.

Following the work undertaken for the first assessment task in Semester 2 of 2008 and the subsequent feedback sessions, we determined that these factors had been reduced to just (3) and (4) on the remaining assessment tasks. This outcome strongly suggests that the bi-directional feedback between the students and the lecturers allows both parties to better identify areas of weakness and implement appropriate intervention strategies. However, further research involving a larger sample size and more teaching staff is required to validate this finding.

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