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Student Choice of Traditional or Blended Learning Activities Improves Satisfaction and Learning Outcome

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Active learning in BME, Session II

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Brian P. Helmke University of Virginia

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Brian Helmke is currently Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia. He received the B.S.E. in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, the B.S.Econ. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Ph.D. in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego. Brian’s research interests include cardiovascular physiology, cellular mechanobiology, and nanotechnology-based biomaterials. He is also interested in technology-enhanced teaching and in experiential learning for undergraduates in science and engineering.

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Of particular interest to designing effective BME courses is how to align content-dependent professional expectations with a learner-centered classroom environment. Often the focus is primarily on what the instructor is doing to deliver content rather than what the student is doing to interact with the content and take responsibility for his/her own learning. Course designs that provide students with choices of assignments motivate learning by allowing students to align their desired content interests, commitment level, and types of activity, and increased student autonomy fosters student motivation. Low-stakes formative assessments represent one method to improve the learning environment. If the assignments are ungraded or lightly graded, students can be encouraged to take risks in problem solving. However, students may demonstrate open resistance to the blended classroom format even though learning outcomes may be improved compared to the traditional course format. This study aimed to test the hypothesis that offering students the choice of whether to complete the formative assessments may increase learner satisfaction and motivation while simultaneously increasing learning in a blended classroom. This hypothesis was tested in BME 4641 Bioelectricity, an upper-level elective course with 21 students majoring in biomedical engineering or electrical and computer engineering. Two portfolios of learning activities were designed. Portfolio 1 (control, traditional) was traditional and consisted of summative assessments based on homework problems (50% of the grade) and quarterly tests (50% of the grade). In addition to summative assessments, Portfolio 2 (intervention, blended) included low-stakes formative assessments such as in-class interactive questions and surveys, team-based discussions, and practice problems. Summative assessments were the same as those in Portfolio 1 but were weighted less (35% homework, 35% tests) to accommodate the broader range of learning activities. All students completed Portfolio 2 for the first quarter of the course to expose them to the formative activities and allow them to make an educated choice for the rest of the semester based on their preferences. Unit grades for the last unit of the semester were computed for Portfolio 1 (control) vs. Portfolio 2 (blended) grading methods. Students received the higher of the two scores because some students did not complete formative activities (i.e., they chose the traditional Portfolio 1). The average unit grade for students in the blended portfolio (91.5 ± 6.6, mean ± SD, n = 12) was not significantly different (p = 0.32, t-test) from that of students who chose the traditional portfolio (89.6 ± 3.4, n = 9). Students were asked end-of-course survey questions to interrogate their perceptions of the learning environment, learning satisfaction, and the quality of student-faculty interactions. Results from Likert-type questions mapped to positive outcomes without evidence of student resistance. Responses to open-ended questions indicated that students appreciated the autonomy to adjust their workload and the reduced stress of low-stakes activities (if applicable). Overall, these results demonstrate that offering students a choice of classroom activities can increase learner satisfaction without significantly affecting summative assessment results, and students who prefer a blend of formative and summative assessments experience scored equally in overall grades.

Helmke, B. P. (2018, June), Student Choice of Traditional or Blended Learning Activities Improves Satisfaction and Learning Outcome Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31002

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