Creating Synergy: leveraging adaptive assets to impact assignment outcomes, a case study from Science and English

Concurrent Session 7

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Much of the research on adaptive technologies has focused on its ability to provide a learner-centered experience in and of itself. This presentation will explore the ways adaptive technologies can be leveraged to complement more traditional assessments and support student success. Case-studies are presented from Science and English.


Carrie Wandler is an Associate Professor and University Program Director for General Education & Psychology at Colorado Technical University. Over the past fifteen years, she has taught composition as well as a wide variety of literature courses at traditional brick and mortar universities, Boston University and Harvard University, as well as through various online learning platforms. She earned her B.A. in English at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and completed her M.A. in Literature at Boston University. She recently completed her Ed.D. in Postsecondary Education from Argosy University. Her learning-centered approach to instruction and design emphasizes techniques aimed at getting students empowered by the power and possibility of their own thought.
Dr. Sylvia Nemmers received a BS and MS in Biochemistry from Kansas State University. She also holds a PhD in Environmental Science from New Mexico State University. Dr. Nemmers has taught science at all levels, from grade school to graduate school. Her instructional experience has included traditional on-ground instruction, as well as distance, online and blended courses. She has been working in online education for over six years, and is currently the Lead Science Faculty at Colorado Technical University. She is particularly interested in facilitating the success of under-represented and non-traditional students; via innovative instruction and delivery, and real-world applicability of content. Dr. Nemmers has lived in six different countries, giving her a broad perspective on global educational trends. She has three amazing children in University, allowing her great insights into the student perspective and challenges of college life. Dr. Nemmers and her husband enjoy traveling to off the beaten path destinations, to experience the cultures and hospitality of our global neighborhood.

Extended Abstract

As adaptive Learning (AL) becomes more commonplace in education, faculty and administrators are often faced with the question; which method is better for my subject matter and my students?  At Colorado Technical University (CTU), we have had a wide variety of experience with AL, and while some content works very well with exclusively AL or exclusively traditional learning (TL) assignments, many courses excel by using a well-integrated combination of both.  In this presentation, we will highlight the integration of AL with more traditional learning methods to increase student engagement and student success. Case studies will be presented from two very different contexts, namely Science and English.


Those familiar with adaptive technology will recognize the gains it makes over the more traditional elements of the online classroom, in its ability to provide learners with a customized experience that caters to their existing knowledge as well as their particular strengths and weaknesses. This ability of adaptive learning to meet students where they are in order to move them to where they need to be is just the feature that proved the impetus for CTU’s adoption of adaptive learning in its myriad courses. However, the story does not stop here. CTU has found that beyond its ability as an effective and engaging way to encourage knowledge acquisition and retention, adaptive learning can play an integral role in supporting student success in more traditional course assignments, the discussion board and the individual project.


In General Education, one of the biggest challenges faced in science courses is the very diverse science background of our students.  Some students work in a science-related field, or just generally enjoy science.  Others label themselves as “not science people.” At CTU, we utilize adaptive learning to meet diverse students at their individual level.  Not overwhelming the less experienced student; not boring the more advanced student.  As students become proficient with the science content via adaptive learning, we use more traditional discussion boards and project based assignments to make the content they have just acquired applicable and relevant to their daily lives.  Our mixed approach in science has led to impressive gains in student engagement, success, and persistence.


In case of first-year Writing, adaptive learning provides an invaluable tool to bridge the knowledge gap that exists for our student population, many of whom are non-traditional or returning learners. Students come away from their experiences with the adaptive components of these classrooms with a firmer grasp on the building blocks of successful communication. More than this, they come away from these experiences more confident in their ability to apply this knowledge to the course deliverables as well as to their own lives. We, as instructors, attempt to harness this excitement by designing meaningful assignments, both in the form of discussion assignments and individual projects, that allow students to showcase the knowledge they have gained and the facility they have developed via adaptive learning. Students are set up for success on a weekly basis by engaging in adaptive learning content that challenges them to expand their knowledge base by completing course assignments that provide opportunities to reinforce and expand learned lessons in a variety of real-world contexts.


Beyond this, our adaptive learning platform provides faculty with valuable insight into each students’ learning process, making it possible to meet student needs as they emerge in real time. Like many adaptive tools, our Intellipath platform allows instructors to track students’ progress on a daily basis in terms of the assigned learning objectives. However, the difference comes in how we use this data, not only as indicative of student success within the adaptive tool but also as predictive of student success within other course deliverables. For instance, the faculty have designated several learning objectives each week as linked to student success on that week’s course assignment. Faculty then utilize these “barometer” objectives to conduct early intervention for struggling students. This invention could take the form of increased practice within the adaptive learning environment, instructional intervention via live chats, referral to supplemental resources outside of classroom, outreach via email or, in many cases, a combination of all these.  Here we come to see the true innovation of adaptive learning is not only in its ability to provide students with a personalized experience via adaptive technologies, but also in its ability to allow  faculty to leverage adaptive technology to inform and direct their teaching strategies and instructional interventions.


The presentation will provide details on strategies for integrating adaptive and traditional components in a wide variety of contexts. Strategies for curating adaptive content, constructing complementary course assignments and using data metrics to inform instructional practice will be discussed. Audience members will be encouraged to consider opportunities for the integration of adaptive learning into existing courses by identifying opportunities for synergy, composing talking points to establish institutional support, and developing first steps to integration.