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Meshing Learning and Assessment in Online and Blended Instruction

Meshing Learning and Assessment in Online and Blended Instruction

The online learning systems being developed through the Open Learning Initiative (OLI) at Carnegie Mellon University illustrate the advantages of the kind of integration of learning and assessment activities that is possible with technology-based instruction. The R&D team at Carnegie Mellon set out to both design and study learning systems based on learning science principles. One of those key principles is to provide learners with goal-directed practice and feedback on their performance. In the OLI courses, feedback is woven into a wide variety of activities. In a biology course, for example, there are:

  • Interactive simulations of biological processes that students can manipulate; the student's interaction with the simulation is interspersed with probes to get at their understanding of how it works
  • "Did I Get This?" quizzes following presentation of new material so that students can check for themselves whether or not they understood, without any risk of hurting their course grade
  • Short essay questions embedded throughout the course material that call on students to make connections across concepts
  • "Muddiest Point" requests that ask students what they thought was confusing

Tutored problem solving gives students a chance to work through complex problems with the opportunity to get scaffolds and hints to help them. The students receive feedback on their solution success after doing each problem, and the system keeps track of how much assistance students needed for each problem as well as whether or not they successfully solved it.

When OLI courses are implemented in a blended instruction mode that combines online and classroom learning, the instructor can use the data that the learning system collects as students work online to identify the topics students most need help on so that they can focus upcoming classroom activities on those misconceptions and errors (Brown, Lovett, Bajzek, & Burnette, 2006). OLI is now doing R&D on a digital dashboard to give instructors an easy-to-read summary of the online learning data from students taking their course.

The OLI has developed learning systems for engineering statics, statistics, causal reasoning, economics, French, logic and proofs, biology, chemistry, physics, and calculus. A study contrasting the performance of students randomly assigned to the OLI statistics course with those in conventional classroom instruction found that the former led to better student learning outcomes in half the time (Lovett, Meyer, & Thille, 2008).

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