Tagged: Thomas Little
Funds assessment tool, secure communications portal, blended computer courses
By Rich Barlow, BU Today
BU faculty members Eric Braude (from left), Thomas Little, and Jacey Greece will develop educational technologies with grants from the Digital Learning Initiative. Braude photo by Vernon Doucette. Little photo courtesy of the Center for Information & Systems Engineering. Greece photo courtesy of the School of Public Health
MOOCs (massive open online courses) use online technology to reach students who are far from the classroom. Could technology help instructors do some test grading as well? That question punched Eric Braude’s ticket for the latest round of EdTech Seed Grants from BU’s Digital Learning Initiative (DLI).
Braude, a Metropolitan College associate professor of computer science, is designing his Knowla (“knowledge assembly”) system and already has a prototype. Knowla would allow students to respond to test questions in forms that could be automatically graded, he says. Knowla first would dissect test material, be it a speech, poem, essay, or computer program, into fragments according to the instructor’s specifications. The student would view the randomly ordered fragments. “A drag-and-drop interface will allow students to rearrange the fragments and inspect the evolving result,” Braude says. Knowla would score the student based on how well she reconstructs the fragments to match the original document.
Two other proposals, from the School of Public Health and the College of Engineering, won EdTech grants from the DLI, the faculty-led group that develops BU’s MOOCs and awards the grants, which pay for faculty and staff innovations in educational technology. This was the second round of EdTech grants, following inaugural awards earlier this year.
The DLI is seeking proposals for its next round of grants and will hold informational meetings about that process on October 20, 21, and 22 at the Hariri Institue. Information about DLI’s call for proposals is also on its website.
In addition to Braude, two other faculty members received grants in this latest round:
Jacey Greece, a SPH clinical assistant professor, is designing an online portal, the Community Link, for courses that involve collaboration with community service agencies. The portal would allow secure communications between the various parties, regardless of their location or schedule, says Greece. “For example,” she says, “students may be developing a program to address low usage of sexual reproductive services in male high school students for a community-based health center in western Massachusetts. The platform will allow the BU students and the center to engage remotely throughout the semester,” sharing ideas, information, and student assignments.
While several existing SPH courses link students with community agencies, the Community Link would allow more such collaborations while ensuring that student projects “are well-informed, innovative, and evidence-based, and meet the scope of work” requested by the agency, Greece says, adding that the technology could be used by other University schools.
Thomas Little, an ENG professor of electrical & computer engineering and systems engineering who serves as the College’s associate dean for educational initiatives, hopes to reboot two core sophomore courses—Circuits and Introduction to Computing—as “blended” courses involving both online instruction and in-class time with professors. The idea would be to move “the lecture component to online video and allow more in-class time [to be] spent on the application of learned concepts,” he says.
“The potential for impact on our residential experience makes this a very interesting endeavor,” he says. “If we can be successful in transforming our large, core courses, we will affect more than 600 students per year.”
How ENG is Transforming the Classroom through Digital Learning Technology
By Mark Dwortzan
You’ve seen it before: a single faculty member on stage delivering a lecture to row after row of students dutifully taking notes, with little or no interaction between the lecturer and the note takers. It’s been the model for science and engineering education for more than a century, but a new paradigm is emerging that turns this model on its head, all while improving student outcomes: the flipped classroom.
In the flipped classroom, students view lectures online while at home, and spend classroom time applying what they learned both individually and in small group exercises. Collaborating with their peers at round tables in a revamped “learning studio” and guided by the faculty member and a team of teaching assistants moving from table to table, they solve problems that reflect the scope of the lecture material. And the difficulty: some problems are chosen based on trouble spots identified via mandatory quizzes that accompany the online lectures to assess student comprehension.
This is where engineering education is heading, and Boston University, which launched its Digital Learning Initiative (DLI) last year to spearhead innovative projects in online learning at all of its schools and colleges, is fully on board. The DLI recently awarded $80,000 to fund a College of Engineering proposal to enhance two core undergraduate engineering courses, EK127 (Introduction to Engineering Computation) and EK307 (Electric Circuits), with a suite of classroom-flipping, studio-based educational technologies and techniques. Lessons learned from this pilot program could be used to upgrade the learning experience in other engineering courses.
Professor Thomas Little (ECE, SE), the College of Engineering’s associate dean for Educational Initiatives, sees these pilot projects as part of a broader College-wide effort to use digital learning technologies—from tablets to Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs)—to bring engineering education into the 21st century.
“Inspired by the success of these technologies in other disciplines and energized by the support and training that the DLI is providing, we are developing new ways to improve what’s important to the student: learning; retention; and career preparation,” said Little.
In both EK127 and EK307, instructors and teaching assistants funded by the DLI grant will develop course content using edX, a non-profit online platform that offers interactive online classes and MOOCs—not as a vehicle to reach large numbers of students via the Internet, but as a tool to boost active learning in the classroom. For each class meeting, they will record a video on the material students need to learn for that class, make it accessible through the edX platform, use edX assessment tools to set up online quizzes, and design active learning exercises.
The instructor for EK127, 2014 Metcalf Cup and Prize winner and Assistant Professor Stormy Attaway (ME), has been gradually flipping the course over the last three years. With the new funding—and support by “course builders” such as Declan Bowman (BME’15), one of the first students in the College’s STEM Educator-Engineer Program (STEEP)—she aims to completely flip the course. Once all course content is placed online along with assessments, Attaway will devote all classroom time to active learning in Photonics Room 117, an instructional space that the College is converting into an active learning studio complete with round tables and modern electronic displays.
“At this point there is ample evidence that flipped classes with active learning environments work; the focus is now on how to get faculty to adopt these best practices,” she said, noting that transforming a traditional lecture into an online course module—breaking it into bite-sized chunks, recording the video and hosting it on the edX platform—can take up to 20 hours. “Although my primary goal is to improve the learning experience for my students, my secondary goal is to be a resource for my colleagues so that I can help them transform their courses.”
With his portion of the DLI funding, Professor Mark Horenstein (ECE) is developing a series of 30-minute course modules to aid fellow EK307 instructors who wish to flip their classrooms or enhance them with online instruction. Always available to students and consisting of animated, voice-over PowerPoint and/or videotaped lectures, the modules are intended to provide an interactive learning tool to supplement traditional textbooks, lectures, discussions and lab work.
“In my experience, students learn in a myriad of different ways,” said Horenstein. “Some students thrive in the traditional lecture/homework environment, while others learn best in a hands-on setting, for example, when a small group works with a professor during office hours on specific problems and concepts. Still other students learn best in the laboratory, where they can transfer lecture/discussion concepts into the hands-on design of electric circuits that solve a problem or meet a desired specification. The hope is that these modules will service all of these learning styles, and more.”
The two pilot projects leverage earlier digital technology-enabled active learning efforts by Lecturer Caleb Farny (ME) in EK301 (Engineering Mechanics) and Assistant Professor Martin Steffin (BME, MED) in BE 209 (Principles of Molecular Cell Biology and Biotechnology), and pioneering work by faculty in the Physics Department in peer-based learning and the use of studio space.
“As these early adopters show what’s possible, we look forward to bringing additional faculty on board,” said Little. “By working with people who are taking risks to do the right thing for students, we’re going to demonstrate the potential of digital learning technologies to make a difference for our engineering students.”