Training activities, screencasts and automated feedback in Absalon

By introducing training activities, screencasts and automated feedback in Absalon, Susanne has significantly improved the learning outcome of the students in her biostatistics classes.

Susanne Rosthøj teaches classes on biostatistics, in which medical and public health students learn how to perform statistical analyses using the statistical programs R and SAS. These programs are command-based, which some students find difficult. With the aim of improving the students’ technical ability to use the statistical programs, Susanne Rosthøj changed her teaching in autumn 2013, introducing a new educational structure based on mandatory training activities, screencast videos and automated feedback in Absalon.

“At the beginning of the course, my students have to figure out how the statistical program works, which for some students can be quite frustrating. Becoming familiar with a statistical software program requires training. Therefore the idea was to have the students practise using the software on their own so the classes could primarily be used to work with and discuss the statistical analyses and methods rather than dealing with technical difficulties.

“To introduce the students to the statistical software program, I created some screencast videos, namely screen recordings with a voiceover in which I demonstrate how the program works. These videos focus on applications of the statistical methods discussed in class. The students are further required to practise using the program by performing specific analyses before each class. Later in the course they are also given small video lectures and videos in which I explain how to read and interpret the output from the statistical program.”

How did you get started?

Videos:
“I record my screencast videos with Camtasia Studio (http://camtasia-studio.da.softonic.com), and the small lectures and videos explaining output are recorded on an iPad with the app Explain Everything. With this app I can use a cursor, add audio and draw on the screen at the same time.
My videos are not professional at all. I have no manuscript and accept that the videos are not perfect. But it easy to quickly produce additional videos if the students request it, for example if we missed some topics in class or some topics require additional explanation. I also use professionally produced videos by other teachers of applied statistics (e.g. short 5-10-minute lectures produced by Balka: https://www.youtube.com/user/jbstatistics).”

Feedback:
“As feedback is one of the main sources of learning, it is important to me that the students get feedback during their learning process. Through the test application system in Absalon, the students get immediate and frequent feedback on activities as they carry them out. This kind of feedback where the students do not have to wait to find out whether they are on the right track is recognised as a tool for improving learning.

“There is rarely time to give students personal feedback, especially in courses with many students. Therefore I use Absalon, where it is possible to create online tests with automated feedback. After the students have completed each training activity using the statistical software program, they can enter the result into the test system in Absalon. These tests are either fill in the blank or multiple choice. Absalon can thus give the students immediate feedback after they have answered the question. With the fill-in-the blank tests, the students are told the correct answer, meaning that they can go back to their program and try to find the correct result if they get it wrong. For the multiple choice questions, a detailed explanation can be given (either just the commands or a link to a webpage with commands, explanations and interpretations).”

How did it go?

“With the new teaching structure I find that the students achieve a higher technical level in the statistical computer program and that this leads to a higher level of academic statistical skills. The students generally respond positive to the new teaching structure and find that it supports their learning process.
“The purpose of introducing the training activities was to allow us to focus more on statistical methods than on technical difficulties with the programs in class. The students are not introduced to more topics, but they work more with the subjects. The fact that the students master the technicalities more quickly, and that it is their responsibility to do so, means that, since the new teaching method was introduced, we spend more time talking about statistical methods and analyses and how they should be understood and less time on the technical details of the software program.”

What was the outcome for you - and the students?

“Although the students are only given pass/fail grades, most students now submit assignments that are at a much higher level than before. Compared to the previous versions of the courses, students hand in better assignments and even the less strong students submit assignments above the adequate level.”

How much time did you spend on it?

“I spent a lot of time implementing the new structure! The setup and development of materials, as well as the administrative part took quite some time. It has been time-consuming to prepare the materials, but since I can recycle them again and again, it’s worth it. And it has been enormously satisfying to see how the students have developed throughout the course and have become much more confident with the statistical methods and how to use the statistical program.”

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