Instructors Find Success in Adaptive Learning Teaching

Instructors are exploring innovative ways to teach their students in this new world of online and hybrid learning. Previous teaching methods, traditional textbooks and publisher courseware are being replaced by Open Educational Resource (OER) and self-authored materials to redesign courses to make the online learning experience more effective.

At the University of Central Florida (UCF), Kacie Tartt, Associate Instructor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, and Anne Prucha, Senior Instructor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, abandoned the previous pedagogy and applied adaptive learning techniques to their courses. Since the transition they have seen a tremendous improvement in student engagement and performance, according to a discussion at REMOTE: The Connected Faculty Summit.

“One of the reasons that we are fans of adaptive learning is that it has allowed us a lot of freedom in our courses that we've redesigned to incorporate it,” said Prucha. “With that freedom comes the ability to deliver course content that we feel has a real world application it is information and skills that our students can actually use in the real world,” she said, adding they were able to get away from the traditional textbooks, which had a “one size fits all” approach and instead make the classes mor customized and adapt to the needs of the students.

At first, UCF rolled out an adaptive approach in STEM classes such as nursing engineering, physics and similar courses, according to Tartt. However, she and Prucha saw an opportunity for this to be successful in their language-based classes as well.

“We are both obviously instructors of Spanish. And as we all know, when you're learning a language, it is piece by piece and you're building. And so, I just saw kind of an intrinsic value in that and thought we could start with our students here and build their own pathway to learning Spanish,” Tartt said. “Being in Florida, we have a lot of students who have a lot of exposure to Spanish either because they're native speakers, heritage seekers or they grew up in a neighborhood and they were surrounded by Spanish. At our university in particular, over 25% of our student body identifies as Hispanic. So, another thing we were trying to do was address some of the different levels that students come into these elementary courses at.”

As a result, they redesigned their courses and eliminated the traditional textbook and courseware that were being used for many years. They replaced it with OER along with their own content and used adaptive learning application Realize It.

“So, one of the reasons we decided to pursue course redesign was because we had so many students with prior knowledge of the subject matter. I wanted that student to be able to show the knowledge that they had through determined knowledge questions and move on in the pathway of that unit to other subjects. Also, it was challenges with the online delivery mode,” Tartt said. “It helped us connect better with our students. Being able to look at the path that they were on and immediately be able to see the data and the analytics, letting us know what specific students were struggling with, what all the students were struggling with as a whole. And we could go back and readdress those certain topics.” 

One of the issues was textbook and courseware fatigue, especially in Central Florida and in Spanish. The feedback they were getting from students previously was that this “canned Spanish” approach was not working and was not representing where they were from and where they were growing up.

“Our university actually has decided to mount a campaign to support students and using adaptive learning to increase student success rates,” Prucha said. “This comes from our board of trustees. This redesign project, employing adaptive learning is being administered by our Center for Distributed Learning, which is our department at UCF that is in charge of all online teaching and learning. so essentially what we want to do with adaptive learning is increase student success.”

And the results speak for themselves. Grades are up and course abandonment rates are down considerably.

“I always tell people. I'm never going back. I am going to continue on this path with adaptive learning because of the freedom, but also the creativity, the things that we're allowed to do in the classroom, being informed by our students. We are able to really have an open conversation with them and know what they're looking for, what they want to get out of their Spanish courses. If there's something in the system that I see as not working for my students, I can immediately go in and change that and reset the system,” Tartt said.

Added Prucha, “We really feel that the adaptive learning approach and foreign languages is pretty innovative and cutting edge. We have over 40 years’ experience teaching Spanish at the college level and this is the first time that we have employed pedagogical tools that have really changed the game.”

She said she started teaching Spanish at the college level at Rutgers University in 1987, and the same issues that she had then are still here in the present day. “The number one being that students come to the class with a previous set of knowledge, but yet the textbook and courseware that we use doesn't address all of those different levels of knowledge,” Prucha said. “Students bring a lot with them to the table. Some bring absolutely nothing to the table, and they've never had any exposure to the language. So, this is really pretty cutting edge because it has actually eliminated a lot of the problems that I have seen for many, many years,” she said.