Making classroom minutes count

Awardees: Suzanne J. Cooper (HKS), John D. Donahue (HKS), Richard Light (HGSE)

Summary: Awardees plan to use active learning strategies, peer instruction, and “flipped classrooms” to transform the core curriculum of their school’s flagship degree program.

The goal of this project was to take relatively routine material out of the classroom and into online delivery, reserving more classroom time for active learning.

Using Articulate Storyline software, the team developed three online modules for students to complete in one section of API 102b: Economic Analysis of Public Policy.—the first an overview of basic definitional background material; the second was tutorial-based, where students could navigate at their own pace and take frequent comprehension quizzes to learn where they needed to review an explanation; and the third was set up as an online problem set where students received new bits of information as the problem progressed, leading to a more in-depth learning experience.

This method enabled instructors to maximize in-class time with debate activities. They developed an exercise where students prepared to discuss two arguments to reduce the U.S. federal budget deficit—an increase in taxes and a reduction in government spending—but they were not assigned to a particular perspective until they walked into class. At the close of the exercise, students participated in a short debrief and Q&A.

The team found that none of the online material needed to be repeated during class, which they attribute to the self-paced nature of the modules where students were able to review materials, test themselves, and repeat as needed outside of class time.

The online modules software had many benefits: instructors were able to track the number of log-ins by each student, time spent on each module, and question responses. The detailed reporting feature illustrated for instructors where students were quickly learning the material and where there was still confusion. It also allowed instructors to hold students accountable for the time and effort they put into online work. More information and resources related to this project can be found at Making Classroom Minutes Count.