Using ALEKS and Learning Analytics in Chem 141 to Revitalize Course Experience

In today’s ALE Brown Bag Session, Emory Chemistry Lecturer Tracy McGill presented on the innovative ways in which she is using ALEKS to ‘flip the classroom,’ and inform decisions about course design, and overcome emotional obstacles to learning.

Tracy McGillTracy recently flipped her General Chemistry classroom with the aid of an artificial intelligence teaching tool called ALEKS. Adaptive learning tools can do an excellent job of facilitating student mastery of basic concepts. This kind of mastery, however, refers only to the ability to remember and understand simple concepts and problems (the two most basic levels of intellectual behavior identifies by Bloom’s Taxonomy). Too often, class time ends up being used to introduce basic concepts, and homework consists in leaving students working through complex problems on their own. But the adaptive nature of a tool like ALEKS makes it demonstrably more effective at ensuring concept mastery than an individual instructor, particularly when that instructor is facing a room of hundreds of students. What Tracy has done, then, is assign ALEKS as homework in advance of class, and use class time to go over more complex problems, that require higher orders of intellectual behavior.

For students, ALEKS is an adaptive learning platform. For Tracy, it is an opportunity for adaptive teaching. The comprehensive analytics provided by the tool allows Tracy to identify areas that are well understood, in order to focus on areas that aren’t. She can also focus on modeling approaches to complex questions. In Tracy’s view, the definition of critical thinking is “the ability to work through multi-step problems without emotionally falling apart.” ALEKS builds the foundation by assuring that students have confidence in their level of basic mastery through a gamified form of learning experience. By working through complex problems in class, and discussing effective problem-solving strategies, Tracy is able to not only enhance the achievement of particular learning outcomes, but actively help students to overcome emotional obstacles as well.

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