Information, Technology & Consulting

Instructional Design at Dartmouth, Part 1: A Fruitful Collaboration

Instructional design is the systematic development of educational materials, workshops, tutorials, training, and curriculum to ensure quality instruction and increase student success. In this three-part series, Interface explores the role of Instructional Designers at Dartmouth.

Elizabeth Kelsey

In the fall of 2012, Dartmouth Professor Thomas Jack taught Biology 11 to a class of 147 students in the same format he had used for the past six years: primarily in-class lecture, in-class polling, and high-stakes bi-weekly quizzes and exams. When Jack received his course evaluations that year, he acknowledged several students were disappointed by the course’s lack of interactivity. Additionally, performance on the final exam was lower than it should have been. “I felt I needed to make some changes in the way I was doing things,” he says.

In the fall of 2013, he heard about Lecture Tools, a new feature-rich polling platform, and scheduled an appointment with Adrienne Gauthier, one of Dartmouth’s instructional designers. The simple tutorial about the technology turned into a dialogue about how Jack wanted his students to benefit from the new tool, which led to a bigger discussion about his course.

“When an instructional designer helps a faculty member design their teaching, it can facilitate a different and more effective learning experience for students,” Gauthier says. “When a professor can articulate what students should be able to do, be able to effectively assess that they can do it, and create activities to bring students along that road, then the learning experience can be richer and have more relevance.”

Professor Jack wanted to change the way he taught Bio 11, and more importantly, how his students were learning. Together, he and Gauthier redesigned the course to incorporate active learning and student-centered approaches. This new framework included pre-class activities such as short videos, multiple-choice self-assessment, and open-ended questions where students could voice what they were struggling with. The in-class sessions took the course’s concepts to a higher level where students continued to follow lectures but were also doing group problem-solving and more polling with peer instruction.

The average score for Bio 11’s 2014 final exam rose to 91 percent, compared to 74 percent before Professor Jack changed the course’s pedagogical strategy. In feedback, students praised the new pre-lecture videos, Lecture Tools, screencasts, smaller class size, group work, and “engaging” class sessions. Jack’s expectations were exceeded.

“I had a gut feeling that the students would like this approach more, but I underestimated the degree to which they found it valuable and were enthusiastic about it,” he says. “As far as the learning goes, I was skeptical if they would actually learn the material better by using a different technique in the classroom, but the evidence is that they did learn it better. The literature states that would be the case, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it myself.”

For full background on Gauthier's and Jack's collaboration, read their paper "The Professor and the Instructional Designer: A Course Design Journey" on The Academic Commons.

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