With the goal to increase course completion and student success, the University of Toledo encourages faculty to leverage active learning technology to increase student engagement.

The students sitting in today’s college or university classroom may look different than the college students of two decades ago—but often, the classroom itself hasn’t changed.

“Students today are very different from when I was in school. When I look in a classroom today, I see that we need to connect and engage with incoming freshmen in completely different ways. The straight lecture doesn’t cut it any more”, said Angela Paprocki, Ph.D, Assistant Provost for Instructional Technologies at the University of Toledo.

When University of Toledo set an ambitious goal to reduce the number of D, F, withdrawal or incomplete grades (DFWI rates) in general education courses, University leadership knew the classroom experience needed to look different. Dr. Paprocki had a hunch—a research-based hunch, that is—that student participation and engagement will impact course success.

Dr. Paprocki knew that integrating technology had to be intuitive and unobtrusive for faculty, making sure they had full pedagogical control in their classroom. She turned to Echo360 active learning to support this work.

“We’re using technology to help increase engagement. Instructors can ask students questions, students can respond using their own mobile devices, and our instructors get immediate feedback on whether or not their students understand the information being presented. The bottom line is that we believe we can reduce DFWI rates by improving student engagement and participation. That’s why this is so important.”

The University of Toledo has used Echo360 for many years as the lecture capture backbone to offer more than 400 online courses to adult, non-traditional students as well as to active duty military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since the shift in focus on increased participation and student engagement in general education classes, the University has begun to migrate both traditional and online classes to the Echo360 active learning platform to power the classroom teaching and learning experience.  The Echo360 platform is built on native AWS cloud services to achieve a true multi-tenant solution that scales seamlessly and automatically.

Data-Driven Decision Making

The University is currently looking at the data from a recent implementation of the Echo360 active learning platform to understand the correlation between student engagement and grades. In this initial study, faculty report that grades in the middle range—B to D—have begun to improve dramatically. They report that the engagement tools allow them to actually know whether  students understand the material. For example, if the majority of students cannot answer a question correctly, instructors are able to rework their lectures and teaching strategies accordingly. This helps instructors reshape how they are teaching in the classroom and ultimately helps students become more successful.

“As more and more instructors use Echo360 in their classrooms, the more data we have that can point to the effectiveness of the technology and teaching strategy. That is very beneficial because it allows our institution to be more data-driven and thoughtful in our decision making,” says Paprocki.

Faculty Personalization and Adoption

Dr. Paprocki’s support of faculty adoption has led to around 200 faculty members using Echo360 at the University. The ability to tailor the platform and use the tools, according to each instructor’s individual teaching preferences and course, has been a driving factor for adoption.

“One of the great things for instructors is that there are many options for asking questions other than multiple choice,” says Paprocki. “During training, I tell faculty members that you don’t have to do everything at once. Incorporate a few question slides into your presentation and see how it goes. Ask short answer questions to get open-ended responses. That can help drive discussion sessions in a history class. For the sciences, you can use an image slide and ask students to point out certain features. You can do that for the arts as well. Students can also take notes within Echo360 next to the slide, thereby capturing the information the instructor was emphasizing. Students can also download their notes and create their own personal study guide. We find these features to be very powerful.”

Reaching students who are “there, but not there”

Critical to faculty adoption is professional development. The university launched the weeklong Course Design Institute (CDI) in 2015. The CDI is focused on using outcomes-driven, course design strategies paired with the implementation of technology, to work with faculty on ways to increase engagement in their daily instructional practice. Dr. Paprocki works directly with instructors to teach them not only how to use these new tools effectively, but also to understand the underlying value of integrating these tools in their classroom practice.

“The first question I ask faculty members is what issue do you want to tackle? What are the outcomes that you want to see? For most instructors, it is reaching those students who are ‘there, but not there.’ It’s not just about the technology. We also want instructors to understand the pedagogy behind it all. We want them to understand why it is important to have tools such as Echo360 and why they need to incorporate active questioning and other engagement strategies into their lectures. This is how we can effectively reach the students who are in our classrooms today.”

The CDI is a weeklong session that is hosted twice during the summer. Faculty members who want to learn how to make Echo360 a part of their teaching must apply and be accepted into the program. They also receive a stipend for attending the sessions. “We feel their time is very valuable,” says Paprocki, “and attending the CDI is a big commitment of time for them. But, we also expect them to incorporate Echo360 into their classroom and make it part of their everyday teaching practice.”

Not only are today’s college students learning in different ways, but the faculty are also shifting their instructional practices to meet these new approaches to learning. Dr. Paprocki shared the following story from a faculty member who attended their training.

“He said to me, ‘You know, I’ve been teaching for over 25 years. And I’ve noticed over the past few years that students haven’t been doing as well.’ He went on to say that he didn’t know if it was because of the students he was getting or if it was him. I told him that it was probably a little of both. But, you’re here now and we’re going to improve that. I think faculty do recognize that the population of students has changed and the older ways of doing things just aren’t going to work anymore.”

Hear more from University of Toledo faculty, in this op-ed in eCampus News.

Learn more about Echo360.

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