At Ivy Tech Community College, the largest public postsecondary institution in Indiana, it was no secret that the online Business Statistics course was not a favorite among students. They considered the topics difficult and abstract, but also knew they had to pass the class to earn their business degree.
Delbert Spear, a member of the business department, was one of the instructors for the course. He knew that students were anxious about statistics, and that their grades reflected that fear. The Business Statistics class at Ivy Tech had the second-highest failure rate behind calculus, and typically had a 20 percent drop rate.
Spear first heard about MyStatLab from students who had used MyMathLab in previous courses. MyStatLab and MyMathLab are part of Pearson’s MyLab & Mastering collection of online homework, tutorial, and assessment digital learning technologies. Creating online learning experiences that are personalized and continuously adaptive, the technologies provide data-driven guidance that helps students better absorb course material and understand difficult concepts. Spear’s course was already online, but he was intrigued enough by the students’ positive reviews of MyMathLab to give MyStatLab a try.
“I’ve been teaching and taking online classes for the last 12 years,” says Spear. “I’ve watched it change from a ‘wide net’ approach – where you throw a lot of information out there and see what students come back with – to an approach that focuses much more on individuals. Pearson’s MyStatLab is both personalized and adaptive. That’s the direction that online learning is heading today.”
A fellow statistics instructor was using MyStatLab on another Ivy Tech campus, so in fall 2014 Spear copied that course to share with his own students. That semester, he was dismayed to see grades drop and frustration rise.
He realized the students’ negative reactions were probably a result of the out-of-the-box course he had handed over. For the spring semester, he decided to customize the course to fit his own style, content and teaching methods.
One of the first things Spear did was change the course terms “test” and “quiz” into terms such as “chapter practice” and “chapter review.”
“If you look at the assignments, they’re tests. All I’m doing is changing the name of it,” says Spear. “My goal is to have students master statistics concepts, not cause them anxiety.”
He personalized the course further to provide students with multiple opportunities to earn points by participating in a class discussion board, turning in and correcting homework, and taking and re-taking tests if necessary. He also allowed students to save their work for later, whether they were taking a test or completing homework, because his students often have busy lives that make it difficult to complete lengthy tasks in one sitting.
Spears particularly liked the algorithmic Adaptive Study Plan, which provided students with personalized homework, study and test questions. If the software determined a student mastered a concept during homework, that concept would not appear in study questions or on the test. Instead, MyStatLab would serve up questions for which students still needed to demonstrate competence.
As can be expected of a statistics instructor, Spear closely monitored the student performance data provided by the software. He was pleased to find success in several areas.
- By analyzing the time it took to complete each assignment, Spear could see that many students were getting faster as they worked through the material, meaning that they were understanding more.
- Giving students two attempts to complete chapter practices and chapter reviews increased their scores by an average of 22 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
- Students in the spring class achieved overall grades that were a 47 percent, or 28 percentage point, increase from the fall semester.
- The number of As and Bs increased by 245 percent, and Fs decreased by 100 percent.
Spear was particularly proud that no one failed his course, but acknowledged the fact that the course was structured so that it was more difficult for students to fail.
“Of course, it’s impossible to fail the course unless you just don’t do the work,” he says. “But look at the increases in the number of As and Bs! That, for me, is something to get excited about.”
Giving students the chance to take tests more than once is also a part of his plan to help students succeed.
“So many classes just have a midterm and a final,” he says. “As an instructor I think about how short-sighted that can be. There are a lot of missed opportunities. Students can have a bad week. Chapter 10 can be tough, but look at 11. A little bit of flexibility helps them be more confident.”
Student feedback from the class reflected Spear’s hopes.
One hundred percent of Spear’s students says they would recommend the course to other students. In addition, they appreciated the multiple learning modalities like videos, articles, and practice work that made the material easier to understand.
Students also appreciated the content on the discussion boards as well as the fact that there were no “tests.” They says they learned more because that source of stress was absent.
“Learning should be less about ‘did you pass a test?'” he says. “Instead, the question should be ‘Did you come out of the class with useable skills?'”
Because using MyStatLab was so successful, Spear wants to help other instructors implement it to reach even more students. He will continue to track and analyze student data moving forward.
He recalled one inspirational comment from a student, who told him that he had heard horror stories about Business Statistics and was dreading the class, but that Spears had made it more understandable than he could have hoped for.
For Spear, this reaction is the ultimate marker of success.
“That was my goal, right there,” says Spear. “Without MyStatLab, it wouldn’t have been possible.”