How this Western University professor used Mastering and Learning Catalytics to improve student engagement in a large first-year class

The challenge of engaging 600+ first-year students with different levels of background knowledge

Assistant professor and course coordinator, Dr. Ayman El Ansary teaches an introductory Engineering Statics course at Western University.

One of the biggest challenges he faced was balancing the varying levels of prerequisite knowledge. For some, the fall term may be a review for some, while for others it will be all new material.

Additionally, Ayman found that first-year students tended to be shy about making mistakes and interacting with instructors, making it difficult to engage a class of over 600 students.

Grading mid-terms and final exams for this large cohort also required hours of commitment from Ayman and his TAs who said this was “incredibly time-consuming and painful.”

Using Mastering to imitate the tutorial experience with immediate feedback—which ensured students were prepared for upper-level courses

When Ayman chose to use Mastering Engineering for tutorials and homework assignment, Pearson Canada’s Digital Learning Managers worked closely with him to understand what he needed and how Mastering can support him in these areas:

Example-Based Learning

To help students master core concepts outlined in his learning outcomes, Ayman assigned Mastering tutorials interleaved with worked examples which were followed by problem-solving exercises.

Students are given hints to work through different steps of the problem with examples before returning to the assignment they were stuck on.

These example-based learning activities allowed students to observe an expert’s step-by-step process before practicing how to apply those procedures themselves.

It allowed students to observe an expert’s step-by-step process before practicing how to apply those procedures themselves.
Immediate Feedback

To help his first-year students overcome their fear of failure, Ayman took advantage of Mastering’s flexible customization. He allowed hints and multiple attempts at assignments so students could master concepts more efficiently without anxiety.

Tutorial homework problems in Mastering Engineering guide students through engineering concepts in multi-step problems that provide feedback specific to their errors and optional hints that break down the problems into smaller steps.

“On Mastering Engineering, they have a question. They try it, make mistakes, no one is monitoring them and they keep going until they get the concepts,” said Ayman.

He would identify where students were struggling through Mastering’s detailed analytics and provide additional support in lecture.

“On Mastering Engineering they have a question, they try it, make mistakes, no one is monitoring them and they keep going until they get the concepts.”

Improving in-class student engagement with Learning Catalytics

“When we introduced Learning Catalytics we found that attendance improved in the lectures because in the beginning or end we throw out a question through Learning Catalytics, they like that, they love it, because it gives them feedback right away.”

By combining the power of these Mastering and Learning Catalytics, Ayman was able to take student engagement and comprehension to a whole new level.

“[Learning Catalytics] gives us feedback on how many students got the idea and understand the concept. If there is a point missed, we start the next lecture following up on this point and make sure to give them another Learning Catalytics questions to make sure they are okay. They really like it and they find it benefits them to come to class.”

“When we introduced Learning Catalytics we found that attendance improved in the lectures. They really like it, and they find it benefits them to come to class.”

Reducing time and money with auto-graded assignments and assessments in Mastering

Ayman initially used Mastering only for smaller assignments and quizzes. When COVID-19 forced classes online, however, Ayman had to adapt and conducted the final exam through Mastering.

In addition to reducing cheating and marks negotiation, Ayman was thankful for how much Mastering’s auto-grading feature eased his team’s administrative load and budget.

“When we did the online exam last April, within 30 minutes of the exam closing, I had all the marks. Now from a budget point of view, I am going to save TAs time for marking and that is amazing. From a time point of view…I can save my time and an entire week at the end of each term for marking,” said Ayman.

“I can save my time and an entire week at the end of each term for marking.”

For a detailed look into how Dr. Ayman El Ansary used Mastering Engineering and Learning Catalytics, read the full report here.

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