The machines are taking over… Well, at least the basics



Many college students are familiar with online courses, sometimes referred to as distance learning. Classes generally meet in a chat room environment, and assignments are submitted via e-mail or a web portal. Now, however, a new trend is beginning in higher education – hybrid courses that include an online and a classroom component.

It all started with a grant to find new, more efficient ways of teaching and learning. The grant money was used to create a type of tutoring software, which assesses students’ mastery of basic concepts of course materials. This feedback is provided to classroom instructors, who then have a better idea of which students have a firm grasp of the core concepts of the course, and which will need more individual attention.

So far, the results have been promising. In one study, only 41 percent of students taking a traditional course in formal logic passed. Students taking the course in the new hybrid format, on the other hand, had a 99 percent passing rate.

In another study, an accelerated statistics course was given to two groups of students, one in a traditional 15-week format and one in an 8-week format using the online assessment software. The results showed that the students in the 8-week hybrid course learned just as much and scored just as well on tests as the students who took the 15-week traditional course.

Due to these positive results, many schools are planning on implementing the software in their first and second year courses. The hope is that teachers will be able to give more individual attention to struggling students, and also have more time to explore higher learning concepts, due to not having to review the basics more than is necessary.

If the software is able to effectively identify student mastery of core concepts in a variety of subjects, it may just become a new educational standard, freeing up more class time for professors to truly explore the depth of a subject with students in ways that they were unable to before. This could help lead America to its goal of having more college graduates in the workforce, increasing our competitive edge in the global marketplace.