Going Active & Adaptive to Help Business Students Master Statistics

A lecture-driven, one-size-fits-all approach just wasn’t working anymore for Senior Instructor Rachel Webb’s core statistics course.
She found a new solution in personalized learning and data-driven, interactive teaching.

The Problem

Image: Rachel Webb designs her active adaptive statistics course
Rachel Webb worked with an instructional designer and a UX Designer to plan, design and launch her course. / Photo credit: Sophie Soprani

It’s safe to say most students in Rachel Webb’s Statistics class at Portland State University (PSU) aren’t there for a love of mathematical data. The course is a core requirement for business students, and for many, it’s a difficult one.

“The students are only there because it’s required,” Webb said, “so you need to teach differently.” The accelerated course packs a high volume of content into 10 weeks, adding to the challenge, and she knew spending her limited class time lecturing wasn’t allowing students the chance to apply what they learned.

Webb had tried flipping the classroom with static online homework in the past, but both the class and faculty found that system confusing to navigate – and it wasn’t affordable for students.

The Solution

Webb knew what she wanted to do: shift delivery of learning content outside of class (and do so in a more dynamic way), use face-to-face time for group work, and overall, increase student learning.

Meanwhile, PSU had embarked on a broader “active and adaptive” initiative aimed at optimizing both sides of the learning experience: how content is delivered and the in-class experience. The two roads converged and led her to Realizeit’s digital learning and analytics system.

For Webb, Realizeit stood out over other options for three main reasons: the interface was simple and intuitive for students, the system integrated fully into PSU’s LMS – including the gradebook – and she could customize the course to align with how she preferred to teach.

“[With other systems], most of those complaints were about, ‘It’s not the way we did it in class.’ Because this is so customized, we are able to deliver lessons exactly how we would in class,” she said.

The Results

In PSU’s first session using Realizeit for Stats 241 in early 2018, students’ final exam grades were 12% higher on average. For the first time, everyone who took the final passed, which was particularly notable as the course’s foundational content and exams hadn’t changed.

Webb pointed to a few factors that likely contributed to this success. First, she noted, the way Realizeit is set up, students must complete prerequisite work before moving on to the next topic, whereas in the past they may have just skipped ahead.

Additionally, the learning analytics let her see what students covered and how much they knew, helping her plan her class time – and interventions – accordingly. “The diagnostics are great. I can go in and see what they’re doing, and catch students that are really falling behind,” she said.

More Realizeit-powered classes have since launched at PSU, and Webb and her team are using the post-course analytics to continually evolve and optimize the teaching and learning experience for both students and faculty.