Resource optimization project

The need for students to be well prepared for the TBL environment has informed one of the course goals for P131: to help students develop the skills needed to learn technical material independently through reading. The student population of P131 is predominately life-science students whose career paths will involve keeping-up with the scientific literature. Since P131 is a 100-level class and students may not have had much experience in learning technical subjects by reading, we provide scaffolding to support their reading in the form of a set of detailed instructions which include a clear list of objectives and video-based reading guides. The intended outcome is that students can transfer these self-directed learning skills to other courses within their major fields of study.

Clearly, high quality resources are critical both for TBL to reach its full potential and for helping students develop technical reading skills. However, with an eye towards increasing texbook costs, we strive to use free resources wherever possible. Over the last two semesters of this transition from lecture to TBL, two major challenges have surfaced:

  1. The reluctance of students to actively engage with the reading and instead jump straight to the formative homework.
  2. The other common comment from students in evaluations has been that the various resources are difficult to navigate.

We believe that these two challenges are not independent. Our goal for this project is to both better organize the materials we have as well as researching new technologies to encourage students to engage with the readings in a more productive way.

Student interface with materials

Over the past two semesters, we have collected and created a significant number of free resources for students to use in their preparation for class. Student evaluations, however, often mention that the plethora of resources can be difficult to navigate. The preparation instructions are in a document posted to our LMS, Moodle, which contains links to the OpenStax College Physics textbook, the course YouTube page, other internet articles, as well as the MasteringPhysics online homework system. Our plan is to incorporate these preparation instructions within MasteringPhysics as a custom problem framed as a checklist with URL links directly to other resources. Hopefully such a format improves ease of navigation.

Finer chunk-ing of material

By embedding the reading instructions inside of MasteringPhysics, which is accessible by any internet-connected device, we can convert the reading and problems from one document and one assignment into smaller topical chunks: one set of reading instructions followed by a set of problems which is followed by another set of reading instructions. By using this more modular approach I hope to address two other concerns that students have expressed in a previous midterm course evaluation: students have said that the connections between the reading and the homework can be difficult to see and that the current format makes chunking the preparation challenging. Under the new system, the connection between reading and problems will be more explicit and students who are having difficulty with a given problem will know exactly where to look to improve their understanding. Moreover, the modular approach should make it much easier for students to divide up the assignment.

Improving ease of use for future instructors

In addition to improving the student experience, our goal is to make make the resources easier for future instructors of the course to navigate as well. Over the past several years, Heath Hatch has made a lot of videos of his lectures and of him solving example problems. Some of these videos make excellent supplements to the reading we expect students to do in preparation for class. Currently these videos are stored on a physics department server and lack the metadata needed to make them easily searchable by faculty who are teaching the course for the first time. A physics major would easily be able to add important keywords to each video to make them easier to search and upload them to the course YouTube channel.

Implementing Perusall

Perusall, a new technology developed by Prof. Mazur, makes the act of reading a more active and social experience. We plan to pilot this tool in Fall 2016. Our hope is that, due to the ability to add assessment to reading through required in-text comments, this tool will help address students’ tendency to jump straight to the formative homework and encourage them to spend time engaging with the reading.