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Adaptive Learning: It's Not Only for STEM

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Adaptive Learning: It's Not Only for STEM

In Fall 2018, we had the privilege of redesigning our online Elementary Spanish Language & Civilization courses at the University of Central Florida (UCF), incorporating personalized adaptive learning as part of the Pegasus iLab Course Redesign Initiative (CRI).

The redesigned courses piloted in spring and fall 2019 and continue this semester, spring 2020. What is personalized adaptive learning, or PAL? In our case, personalized or adaptive learning uses a software platform to provide each student with an individualized learning experience by allowing them to progress along their unique learning path through the course content based on learners’ needs. Adaptive learning systems will customize the presentation of the content or present new concepts to the student based on their individual activities and responses.

Our translation: Students spend more time on concepts they do not know and less time—or none at all—on concepts they have already mastered. Students frequently have varying levels of knowledge, but course content and practice activities are frequently “one size fits all.” PAL addresses this challenge, as it creates an individualized learning path for each student. We used the PAL application Realizeit and open educational resources (OER), plus our own content to redesign our course, doing away with the textbook and publisher courseware.

We worked closely with Jessica Tojo, our instructional designer at UCF's Center for Distributed Learning (CDL), on the redesign. After creating a scope and sequence for the courses and procuring OER content, choosing our own previously authored content, and creating new content, we met each week with Jessica to work on the design. Is this a lot of work? YES! But it is so worth it, as we discovered during the Fall 2019 semester… keep reading for details!

Why a Personalized, Adaptive Redesign?

Not only do the redesigned courses allow students to progress through the material at a pace and level that are comfortable for them and that reflects their actual prior knowledge, but the use of OER resources also allows us to curate and incorporate appropriate, relevant, and engaging content, and create and deliver meaningful practice and assessment. In the past, our students have not been stimulated or motivated by “canned” publisher content. PAL and OER content have allowed us to design the courses to be more personal, more appealing, and more meaningful to our students.

Although the first course in the sequence, SPN1120C, assumes no knowledge of Spanish, many students have some prior knowledge of the language because they took Spanish in school at some point before entering UCF, or they live in an area where Spanish is spoken (Miami, for example), or they have family members who speak Spanish. Since PAL provides an individual learning path, students can focus on the concepts for which they need a stronger foundation.

Using Realizeit has also allowed us to monitor student progress more closely and supplement when necessary. We can more successfully guide students based on the results generated by Realizeit, and help them with strategies for success, whereas with publisher content this was possible, but limited, and challenging to determine students’ need for individualized attention.

Our students interacted with PAL content, frequently repeating modules and doing extra practice, and they reported how intuitive and helpful they found it; for example: "It was definitely better than staring at a textbook hoping it would make sense somehow. I was really worried about doing a language course online, but this program made me feel better about it."

Many students in language classes face challenges with the online delivery mode because it is new to them or because publisher content and courseware platforms are not user friendly or have frustrating technical problems and glitches. These obstacles negatively impact student DWF (drop, withdraw, fail) rates, student success and overall satisfaction. They also make it challenging for us to encourage our students to continue in Spanish—to pursue a major or minor.

Another factor that impacts students’ attitudes toward these required courses is the cost of textbooks and digital courseware access which, for SPN1120C and SPN1121C, is almost $300! And not every student has to take both classes, which means that they might spend this amount of money on just one class! So an added bonus of our project is that students do not need to buy anything—that’s right—¡NADA!

Using Data to Drive Engagement

Connecting with our students in online courses, even when we incorporate online teaching and learning best practices, can be a challenge. Realizeit helps with this, since it assists in identifying pockets of need early on, allowing us to attend to our students much more effectively due to the robust data it provides, not least of which is a fun method that uses sad/ happy face icons for students to indicate how they are feeling about their performance (for example if they are feeling like they understand the material, if they are feeling successful— or not).

Having access to the data generated allows us to closely monitor student progress and intervene when appropriate. For example, after examining the data analytics that Realizeit generates, we can contact students who may need intervention (for any reason) and give them guidance, contributing to their overall success in the course, and creating and maintaining personal connections with them.

The Impact of Adaptive Learning on Students

Preliminary data gathered from our redesigned courses from Spring 2019, when we started using PAL and OER content, illustrate increased student mastery, decreased DWF rates, and more positive Student Perception of Instruction surveys. Student success rates (A, B, C grades) increased 23%, and withdrawal rates went down 10%.

We continued with the redesign in Fall 2019, and we will gather data for that semester soon. Anecdotal student feedback on personalized adaptive learning is overwhelmingly positive and indicates that students feel more empowered with their learning. We asked students what they liked about PAL and Realizeit; here are some of their responses:

"I like that I always got immediate feedback on questions. It made reviewing and understanding better."

"[Realizeit] knew when I didn’t know something and it made sure I understood it before letting me pass."

"I like the [learning] pathway the most, it was easy to follow and understand and gave a sense of order and direction rather than a disorganized lesson plan."

"[PAL] shapes itself to my knowledge as best as it can. I’m able to learn [from] my mistakes a lot faster and more effectively than I would without it. It needs some tweaks but it’s still a really helpful program. It’s also really wonderful that I can access it whenever and wherever as long as I have a laptop. This made scheduling for me a lot easier."

There are other PAL applications besides Realizeit on the market, and courses that incorporate PAL do not have to include OER content. PAL can be used in any modality, too. Using personalized adaptive learning has produced positive results and been very “freeing” for us in the design and the teaching of our courses. We encourage you to explore the possibilities!

This article was originally published in the University of Central Florida's Faculty Focus newsletter.

Anne Prucha is Senior Instructor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures (MLL), where she teaches Spanish and TESOL. She is co-faculty director of the Journey Cuba study abroad program and has also directed study abroad programs for UCF in Spain and Nicaragua. She co-founded and currently co-directs the UCF-Hillcrest Foreign Language Club, is a frequent participant in the Faculty Center’s Summer Conference, and is currently involved in the CDL Pegasus iLab Course Redesign Initiative, working with colleagues in MLL and CDL to incorporate Adaptive Learning and OER content into the first-year Spanish course sequence.

Kacie Tartt is Associate Instructor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, where she teaches Spanish. She is co-faculty leader of the Journey Cuba study abroad program and faculty leader of Cuba: History, Culture, and Society during Summer A. At UCF she helped co-found and currently co-directs the UCF-Hillcrest Foreign Language Club in addition to organizing the weekly MLL Game Day. She also works hand-in-hand with CDL to further distance learning initiatives within the Spanish lower division at the university, most recently exploring Adaptive Learning methods and technology within her discipline.

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