How Instructional Designers Partnered with Faculty to Successfully Implement Adaptive Courseware

Written by: Christie Forgette

Selecting and implementing courseware is challenging for faculty, campus leaders, instructional designers, and IT professionals, and it requires attention from all parts of an institution. Looking at successful adaptive courseware implementations can be a useful way to address and anticipate some of those challenges.

A 2017 grant through the University of North Carolina System to innovate course redesign sparked a transition to more adaptive learning courseware at UNC Charlotte, and that transition continues to resonate today, says Kiran Budhrani, Director of Teaching and Learning Innovation at the Center for Teaching and Learning, UNC Charlotte School of Professional Studies. Center for Teaching and Learning

“We have seen a huge transformation on our campus,” Budhrani says, “and we intend to keep it going for math and statistics courses. We’re building an ecosystem around adaptive and active learning.”

Budhrani was an instructional designer at the start of the 2017 grant and was brought into a group then working to redesign a gateway statistics course for social science students. The group’s goal was to rethink how a statistics course is traditionally delivered. Some areas of focus in the codesign thinking sessions were student personas, blended learning environments, and class size. Like many other gateway classes, this statistics course had large enrollments, which prompted some of the redesign elements.

“The pathway for students is modeled after a blended and flipped classroom approach,” Budhrani explains. “We wanted to integrate adaptive courseware that students could use outside of class to build foundational skills and then incorporate active learning exercises inside the classroom where students could apply the skills.”

Here Budhrani shares five key learnings from implementing adapting learning in gateway courses.

1. Inclusion from the Start

Budhrani believes part of the success of Active+Adaptive came from including voices from across campus during the early stages of planning. Over 30 professionals gathered for three-day codesign thinking sessions, including faculty from math, statistics, and the social science disciplines, instructional designers from the Center for Teaching and Learning, campus leaders from the Office of Undergraduate Education, staff from the library, and representatives from the adaptive learning technology vendor. One goal was to rethink how a statistics course might better align to the needs of social science students in their career pathways.

“These early design thinking sessions allowed for a wide breadth of shared knowledge visioning,” Budhrani says. “We talked about what information social science students will need and how they can apply and practice that knowledge. We discussed a more social and global view of how statistics impacts the world.”

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2. More for Less

The design team remixed open educational resources (OER) with faculty-developed content, and authored courseware material in the adaptive learning platform. This reduced the course cost by 75 percent. “We use OER and adaptive technology not only to reduce costs but to add value by including what our students might be comfortable with or relate to,” Budhrani says. “The content has been through three-year cycles of iteration, review, and revision with our faculty team and is now in its best version.”

The adaptive learning platform that UNC Charlotte selected allowed the team to tailor pathways for students in different disciplines. “Sometimes personalized learning just means adding more questions,” Budhrani explains, “but we were able to truly personalize learning by establishing personalized disciplinary pathways.”

Related reading—12 Online Student Engagement Resources for Faculty Using Courseware

3. Project-based Learning Sooner Rather Than Later

Variations in mastery of prerequisite knowledge are a challenge in large-format classes, but by using a flipped model, faculty could design activities around students working on foundational concepts on the adaptive courseware at their own pace at home. That freed up class time for collaborative group activities that allowed students to apply what they were learning.

“Traditional math classes are often mastery- and exam-based, but we shifted to project based,” Budhrani says. “For example, students might engage in group collaboration to work on a global issue, applying a concept from statistics in that work. The blend of active and adaptive allows students to seamlessly move from preparation to practice.”

Like many other gateway classes, this statistics course had large enrollments, which prompted some of the redesign elements, including a collaborative and project-based learning approach anchored to the UN Global Goals to enable students to broaden their worldview and the flipped approach and aligning the learning content with students’ interests and intended disciplinary paths.

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4. Sustain the Collaboration 

Cross-campus collaboration can’t end at the visioning stage but is needed through implementation, data analysis, and course revision.

Budhrani characterizes the instructional design team at UNC Charlotte as ecosystem builders who go far beyond building course shells and adapting course materials: “The ecosystem we build takes into account a chain of functions required to implement a curricular transformation from design, delivery, implementation, technical support, prerequisites, student assistants, and faculty development. We want the whole chain to function seamlessly to support students.”

For example, the instructional design team meets with the Statistics Department faculty team regularly during the semester to ensure things are running smoothly and also after the term to support evaluation and assessment.

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5. Examine Student Success and Look toward the Future

The implementation of adaptive courseware in statistics courses has proven beneficial for students both quantitatively and qualitatively. Budhrani notes a reduction in equity gaps, improvement in DFW rates in these courses, and positive responses from students and faculty about the Active+Adaptive blend. “We have heard students say the course is aligned to their needs,” Budhrani says. “Students didn’t necessarily love math coming into the course, and some feared it. But they came out of the course enjoying the course content, as well as the emphasis on group work and collaboration with other students.”

The Active+Adaptive reform of the gateway statistics course has become a model for ongoing work to redesign other math and statistics courses at UNC Charlotte, which is detailed at length in an EDUCAUSE Review case study and in an internal plan known as NINERways: The Path to Math Success. Targeting gateway courses with high DFW rates will ultimately result in three different pathways for math education: for social science and health science majors; for STEM and business majors; and for students with no specific math needed after meeting general education requirements.

Budhrani and her colleagues are also looking at disaggregated data to see how the Active+Adaptive statistics courses impact specific groups of students with varying achievement gaps, as well as transfer students and Pell-eligible students. 

Budhrani also serves as a member of the CourseGateway Product Advisory Board, where she will use her experience in selecting and implementing adaptive learning courseware for this project to review and evaluate products for the CourseGateway platform. 

“It is hard to keep up with credible tools and technologies as a faculty member,” Budhrani says. “Having a space where faculty, university leaders, and other stakeholders can find high-quality courseware reliably is crucial. I hope my work as a member of the PAB allows for more faculty to use teaching tools that are good quality and meet learning outcomes for students.”

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