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The Carletonian

Professors venture into virtual classrooms

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Carleton professors are increasingly using a variety of online resources to enhance their courses, and professor Liz Raleigh is one of the first Carleton professors to choose an Open Learning Initiative (OLI) textbook for her course, Social Statistics.

OLI is a grant-funded project at Carnegie Mellon University through which professors are working to transform higher education learning by making courses and textbooks free to everyone.

“I wasn’t having a lot of luck finding a statistics textbook that was cast at the appropriate level and emphasized a sociological approach. Paula Lackie, academic technologist for the social sciences, told me about the Open Learning Initiative,” Raleigh said.

“I really appreciated that the content was interactive so that students could walk through examples and practice problems as they read through the materials. In addition, I can get immediate feedback as to how well the students understand the material.”

OLI courses are not massive open online courses (MOOCs) because they supplement classroom teaching instead of replacing it, according to Raleigh.

OLI is most similar to the flipped classroom model in which students learn the course material at home and use class time for practicing that information. “

Open Learning Initiative offers the best of both worlds,” she said. “Students can work at their own pace like any textbook, but there are also multimedia ways to interact with the material.”

OLI essentially allows professors to be more “nimble” in how they use textbooks, said Raleigh because it gives the option of a flipped classroom.

However, a professor does not have to use OLI for flipping the classroom, according to Raleigh. The OLI can act as a “smarter textbook” in an otherwise conventionally taught course, Raleigh said. According to Stu Lourey ’16, because OLI uses various forms of media and acts as a one-stop source for course material, students are more likely to click on links or watch the tutorial videos.

An important part of OLI is that teams of learning scientists have been central to the design of every course, explained Janet Russell, director of academic technology.

In other words, the pedagogy used in the language of the text as well as the multimedia features is intentionally designed using mass data recorded every time students interact with the textbook.

As such, “students learn more and retain it longer,” said Russell.

A major difference between OLI and traditional textbooks are spot checks, which are review questions after each reading section.

These interactive components aim to enhance students’ comprehension of the material. If a student answers the question incorrectly, the feedback doesn’t tell him the answer, it instructs him to do it all over again, said Russell.

The professor can also see students’ responses, honing in on areas the class needs to review.

In addition to the automatic feedback that is recorded after each student answers a question, Lourey highlighted his appreciation for the feature of OLI in which, after every chapter, students can indicate material they want the professor to review during the next class period.

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