opinion

Want Adaptive Learning To Work? Encourage Adaptive Teaching. Here’s How

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At Colorado Technical University (CTU) we have been using adaptive learning since 2012, and we believe that a single constituency—painted by some as a barrier to the adoption of new technology in the classroom—is largely responsible for our success: our faculty.

The sizzle of a courseware product, no matter how slick, loses its heat when faculty culture is not tuned to embrace it. But when a scaled implementation leverages faculty expertise and feedback during all stages, the culture shifts, and faculty move from being skeptical of adaptive learning to being advocates for it. We have trained 1,056 faculty members in adaptive learning technology over the past six years, and 856 active faculty currently use it when teaching the 112 courses we offer that feature it.

Our faculty model is different than that of many institutions: we have a large cadre of adjuncts, many of whom are working professionals, which we submit creates additional challenges when introducing technology. So, how have we managed to cultivate a culture of innovation on campus? We can sum up CTU’s approach in four words: paying attention to faculty.

Here are three major lessons that we have learned along the way:

Lesson 1: Communicate the Positives for Faculty, Not Just For Students

We often hear about the myriad benefits that adaptive learning offers students. We know that students find empowerment in having greater control of their learning. Adult learners especially appreciate being able to focus their time on key skills, while bypassing areas where they can demonstrate competency. Students also report that receiving real-time feedback helps them gain confidence.

Equally important, however, is communicating the benefits of adaptive learning specific to faculty. Unlike the often static view of activity in a Learning Management System, our adaptive learning system, intellipath, gives faculty members ongoing, real-time insight into not only the progress their students have made interacting with content, but also the level at which students have mastered (or not yet mastered) the concepts. Imagine this from the perspective of a faculty member: the adaptive system allows for a continual snapshot of student progress, in turn enabling easy prioritization of outreach to students. From the faculty standpoint, this type of data is incredibly empowering.

The feedback and grading that the adaptive system generates is automated. We have found it important to highlight that this feature is beneficial not because it allows automation to replace the faculty presence, but rather because it allows for increased faculty-student interaction of the kind that builds teaching and learning relationships. Whether that means freeing up a faculty member teaching an introductory course to help a student find co-curricular resources or giving an upper-division faculty member more time to discuss a key concept, the end result is that adaptive technology builds meaningful student-teacher connections.

Lesson 2: Faculty Training Needs to be Relevant, Nimble and Ongoing

Well-planned training is critical to a positive faculty culture regarding adaptive learning. We have learned that training offerings have to be meaningful and work for both new and mature users. The cornerstone to this approach is having a variety of offerings to meet the needs of various users.

For example, at CTU, faculty scheduled to teach classes employing our adaptive learning system are required to complete specialized training. Since neophyte users tend to be overwhelmed when given too much information about system features, this training focuses on the basics. As faculty gain experience teaching with adaptive learning, they desire to broaden their skill set with the system. It is important to offer continuing development opportunities for seasoned users.

Additionally, at CTU we have found immense value in gathering ongoing faculty feedback from adjunct and full-time faculty alike to ensure that all their training needs are met. In the course of gathering this feedback, we often are surprised by the areas about which faculty want to know more. We then work with our faculty training and professional development team to make sure that we are incorporating the faculty feedback in the training offerings. It is also important to have a periodic review of training resources to ensure that they are relevant, updated and meaningful. The goal is not to amass an infinite collection of tip sheets, resource guides, and trainings, but to cultivate a meaningful collation that reflects faculty needs.

Lesson 3: Honor the Faculty Narrative, Empower the Faculty Voice

It is important to recognize that faculty approach any type of technology implementation with a unique perspective. Ultimately, the academic leadership needs to be willing to listen to the faculty narrative, whether positive or negative, to manage change. Frankly, at times this feedback is a tough pill to swallow. However, we have learned that by providing ongoing opportunities for faculty to share their concerns, excitement, frustrations and successes with adaptive learning, CTU has created room for the faculty narrative. The result of that has been success with buy-in and implementation. In addition, we have been very intentional about empowering the faculty voice during planning, applying and assessing efficacy of the adaptive learning technology in our classes

You Don’t Have To Listen To Us. Here Are Samples Of What Our Faculty Say.

Classroom technology is not plug and play. For it to work, you have to pay attention to the needs and opinions of the people who use it. We think our faculty’s own comments affirm the success of this approach:

“I strongly support the inclusion of adaptive learning and find it to be a critical component of my own success and fulfillment as a faculty member. An adaptive learning course allows me to maintain a manageable workload while engaging one on one with students in areas of individualized need. Adaptive learning allows me to tailor my teaching in key classroom areas based on student performance trends.” —Dr. Amy Sloan, Lead Faculty of English at CTU

“The adaptive learning environment has changed the culture of my faculty team in that they are now more connected to and engaged with their students individually. For instance, faculty have direct and real-time access to the learning road map of each student, giving them the opportunity to know a student's academic strengths, weaknesses and progress. This information allows those instructors to intervene immediately, make informed decisions, and submit the necessary practices and revisions accordingly.” —Dr. Abed Almala, Lead Faculty of Mathematics at CTU

Connie Johnson (@DrConnieJohnson) is chief academic officer and Emma Zone (@DrEmmaZone) is vice provost at Colorado Technical University.

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