Originally published in the Brightspace Teaching & Learning Community, the following is a guest post from Dr. Curt Carver, Vice Chancellor and CIO for the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia (USG) and a member of the Brightspace Leading Educators Program.
The case for adaptation of course material to facilitate student learning remains a topic of much discussion in higher education. My personal experience suggests that students learn differently and adaptation can be effective. I started building adaptive models in 1994 and students responded positively to a suggested pathway through the course material based on learning styles. They also appreciated the concept of the professor treating them differently based on their needs as opposed to all students having to adapt to the professors desired mode of presentation. In multiple semester end surveys of approximately 100 students, each student was asked to select the one tool out of fourteen to remain above all others in the course and which tool was should be removed immediately. The answer was transformational to me: every tool was selected the absolute best and absolute worst by different students in the course. What is a treasured resource to some is garbage to others and vice versa. Students learn differently and providing adaptation and guided pathways can improve learning.
My experience in the classroom came closer to home in the education of my oldest son. A global learner of the first order, he struggled with logical decomposition. His early education was a race between A and F. If the class lasted long enough, he would understand how the components of the material fit together and he would master the material. Otherwise, he was a total failure demonstrating little or no sequential learning. He had to understand the material globally. Learning to ski was no different. In a class of ten students, he skied to the rhythm of, “he’s up, he’s skiing, he’s down”. At lesson six, the ski instructor approached me and noted that all other kids were on the main hill and only my son remained on the bunny hill. It was time for my son to admit he would never ski. Perhaps only out of parental pride, I did not pull him out of the class. At lesson eight he was skiing on the main hill, lesson nine he was ski-jumping, and at lesson ten, he was the best in the class. My son learned differently than the other students but could master the material.
In 1995, I adapted the DOOM gaming engine (Doom Engine) to give quizzes. An 80 question quiz solved by teams of four students transformed the assessment experience. If the team passed the quiz, they were rewarded with an exact replica of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science where the students could try to take on all of the professors. Assessment was no longer a forgettable course checkmark towards a grade but instead a repeatable trek towards mastery through an active, team-oriented game. Six weeks after the quiz, students were still taking the assessment to improve their times and beating my time on the final level.
Fast forward twenty years and adaptation is moving into modern learning management systems. Open courses, open educational resources, adaptive or configurable interfaces, adaptive text, adaptive testing, and gamification are becoming available and more widespread. Of course, all of this has to be delivered on a mobile platform. It is an exciting time in higher education as perhaps we are now ready to leave the 15th century and consider a new palette of adaptive tools to enhance student learning.