Growing an Adaptive Initiative: A Path Rooted in Faculty Culture and Design Thinking

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Having trouble planting the seeds of adaptive at your university?  Try out an adaptive module, then learn about how we are engaging with faculty to weed out challenges in their courses. We’ll discuss our design approach and share ideas about how to grow an organic adaptive initiative at your university!



Kevin Berg is the project portfolio manager at the Office of Academic Innovation at PSU supporting a portfolio of 20+ online and flexible degree projects, and the Active + Adaptive Learning initiative. In addition, he oversees the collection and presentation of research for the APLU adaptive grant, which includes student learning analytics, survey results, and demographic data. He is certified as a Project Management Professional and has degrees in Business, Law and Theatre.

Extended Abstract

How do we engage faculty beyond our early adopters of new digital technology? When considering an adaptive option, do we even have a common understanding about how the technology works? In the course design process, can we help faculty create course materials that not only enhance learning, but also reduce the cost to students?

We begin the session defining the basics of adaptivity by working together through an adaptive module. We then shift focus to our decentralized institutional context and discuss an adaptive prototype model which opens experimentation to a wider community of faculty. We close by describing different instructional design strategies to anchor the adaptive solution to specific course challenges using open content.

Our undergraduate degree requirement classes are high enrollment courses that have engagement and retention challenges. At the same time its student body continues to diversify; requiring strategies that address individual learners’ needs. The Active and Adaptive (A+A) initiative experiments with adaptive technology in those courses with challenges in an effort to improve student achievement. With grant support from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Gates Foundation, we are testing various combinations of adaptive courseware with social, collaborative activities in the classrooms of Mathematics, Statistics, Chemistry, Biology, and Physics. In cases where adaptive courseware was integrated with active learning in class, we are noticing a reduction in course withdrawals, improved grades, students reporting better preparedness before class, higher confidence, and deeper engagement with problem-based activities.

While we have deepened the work in each of these disciplines, we have struggled to engage other faculty. How do we build new pathways to innovate in a decentralized culture where faculty are extremely busy and cautious about changing their courses? Through our continued outreach and discussions, we are gaining important feedback:

  • Faculty do not have time to completely redesign their courses

  • Most do not want to add to student cost when testing a new adaptive solution

  • The textbook decision making process can impede faculty’s ability to redesign an entire course or shift entirely to an OER textbook

  • Many question the efficacy of the adaptive solution in a different discipline to solve an existing course pain point in their course

  • The use case for adaptive is different for non-STEM courses

  • Faculty do not have bandwidth to vett multiple adaptive options/vendors

  • Some are concerned about overreach of the adaptive solution within their course

Based on this feedback, we collaborated with faculty, vendors, instructional designers and support staff to design and build an adaptive prototype model. One of the key objectives is to create a supported model for faculty with minimal investment and without the restrictions of an adaptive add-on for a publisher's textbook. Through adaptive prototypes, we now have use cases for Freshman Inquiry, Art History, Spanish and Psychology.

Level of Participation:

Even though this is an education session, we have structured it to make it highly interactive for attendees. For the first 15 minutes, attendees will interact with one of two adaptive modules which we will author and design specifically for this session. These short modules will cover the basics of adaptive technology while the attendees navigate its adaptivity. The debrief will tie the concepts in with the attendees’ experiences. For the remainder of the session we will “adapt” our presentation based on attendees’ responses to polling questions. Our goal is to cover the elements of our approach, yet tailor the depth and detail to the interest of the participants. All material will be available in the slides.

Session Goals:

Individuals attending this session will be able to identify barriers to faculty involvement in experimenting with new digital technologies and offer suggestions to overcome them. They will be able to define the basic functionality of adaptive courseware. And lastly, they will be able to describe basic design strategies to customize an adaptive solution for a given course.