John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

The University of Rhode Island, CELS News: Reinventing College Teaching

March 12, 2015adminInstitute News0

Biological Science and Kinesiology Assistant Professor, Kimberly Fournier has a passion for anatomy and biomechanics. To instill that same passion in her students, she’s revamping traditional teaching strategies to boost student learning.

Through her human anatomy course, she’s implementing new testing and teaching methods as part of a university-wide initiative to improve student performance in gateway courses.

“It’s a high enrollment class, required for most allied health programs,” Fournier says. “But students weren’t being successful from semester to semester.”

According to Fournier, this is a nationwide trend at universities with large, prerequisite classes. In fact, she said the drop, failure, and withdrawal rates in many of these courses, especially those in the sciences, can be quite high. Fournier and other professors around the country are trying to change all that by joining the Gateway to Completion (G2C) initiative. This initiative, supported by the Gardner Institute, is designed to help professors improve learning and retention in high-risk and high-enrollment classes.

“It’s about changing how these courses are taught so they better resonate with students,” explains Fournier. “Most of my students want to go into an allied health field and they hate anatomy because they are terrified of this class. We have to fix that; we have to do something.”

Now in its second year, the G2C initiative is implementing changes in five courses at each of 13 participating universities. Human Anatomy, overseen by Fournier, is one of the participating courses at the University of Rhode Island. Both sections of the course, each with 250 students, are being modified by Fournier and Lecturer Jason Ramsay.

Last summer, Fournier identified strategies for course improvement through the G2C review process. One of the highest priority goals was to reduce student test anxiety. That’s why Fournier, in conjunction with Joshua Caulkins, the Liaison for the G2C process at URI, is implementing two new education methods: a flipped classroom method, which encourages students to learn the basic material outside of class and practice material applications during class, and two-stage testing, which turns portions of tests into group activities.

In the case of the flipped classroom method, Fournier says students become responsible for initiating the learning process. They do reading or other basic activities before class. Then, homework-like lessons during class help to solidify critical thinking and material interpretation.

“It turns the classroom into a place of active learning instead of passive learning,” Fournier says.

Fournier plans to apply the flipped classroom concept to the hardest sections of her anatomy class later in the semester.

In Fournier’s implementation of two-stage testing, each of her students completes an individual exam worth 85 percent of her total exam grade. Then students move into pre-defined groups of approximately four students and fill out a group test. The group test is a subset of the individual exam questions. The grade on the group exam is worth the remaining 15 percent of each student’s grade. This method has been proven and pioneered by the University of British Columbia, Canada, and has shown to measurably decrease test anxiety. Additionally, it provides students with immediate test feedback and results in higher student achievement.

“It’s turned test taking into a learning exercise,” Fournier says.

In April, Fournier will share data from her teaching modifications at a G2C conference. She hopes these efforts will help to positively shape the future of our nation’s college-level teaching.

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