Designing courses with interactive textbooks and analyzing the results

I am currently exploring the designer (S5) and analyst (S7) roles in the International Society for Technology standards for educators (ISTE).  As a designer, I want to explore tools for educators that recognize and accommodate learner variability.  As an analyst, I want to learn how my institution uses data to drive new curriculum and support student learning goals.  Ideally, these two topics should complement each other, since designing better courses for learning should improve enrollment and student satisfaction.

I came across several readings that were useful for educators as designers.  The first article noted the growing diversity in today’s classroom. In particular, students are looking for a more personalized and individualized learning experience.

Developers and designers must create tools that are more precisely and intentionally tuned to the specific aspects of learning for individual learners across all content areas and developmental stages. (Digital Promise Global, 2016)

I am not surprised by this development.  In several of my computer science courses, students have approached me about additional learning resources, beyond our lectures and textbook, that would allow them to explore a specific topic we covered in class in more detail.  The students made it very clear that they want more than the standard lectures and textbooks used in the traditional classroom.

Almost everyone who thinks seriously about education agrees that this paradigm – sometimes derided as “sage on a stage” – is flawed. They just can’t agree on what should replace it. Flipped classrooms? Massive open online courses? Hands-on, project-based learning? (Oremus, 2015)

In this same article, I learned about the digital tool ALEKS that creates an optimized and individualized learning path for students with positive, real-time assessments and feedback using artificial intelligence.

Video: How ALEKS works

We have been witnessing for several years the movement to massive, open online courses (MOOCs) in education.  However, this article suggests that the answer is more subtle. Online resources are useful, but they do not replace the need for the classroom.

It’s too early to declare MOOCs dead. Surely they’ll evolve. But thoughtful educators have largely backed away from the notion that online classes are ready to replace those taught in person, the old-fashioned way. At this point, online lectures may be better viewed as an alternative to the textbook than as a replacement for the entire classroom. (Oremus, 2015)

Large textbook publishers like McGraw-Hill and Cengage have joined forces in recognition of this development and are even more focused on approaches like ALEKS to complement the classic classroom experience.

[Textbook sellers are] selling schools and colleges on a new generation of digital courseware—ALEKS is just one example—that takes on much of the work that teachers used to do. The software isn’t meant to replace teachers, they insist. Rather, it’s meant to free them to focus on the sort of high-level, conceptual instruction that only a human can provide. (Oremus, 2015)

After reading the Oremus article, I became determined to find textbook alternatives for my courses.  I have received feedback from students that while certain textbooks are helpful, they wanted additional resources to explore certain topics.  I discussed this topic with one of the full-time faculty at my school, and discovered ZyBooks.  ZyBooks has existing material for both programming in Java as well as mobile app development – two courses that I teach.

ZyBooks course on programming in JavaZybooks course on mobile app development






We use Android Studio in my mobile app development course.  It assumes that the student already has a good understanding of Java programming.  Java programming is a prerequisite course, but many students need to brush up on Java before diving into the Android material.  The Java ZyBook gives my students a fantastic resource to review and personalize their brush-up of Java. I can also use the mobile app development course from ZyBooks to let students learn about topics that complement what we cover in my course.  I have already signed up for ZyBooks (free for educators) and plan on using both of these resources when I next teach my Android development course next Fall.

In the analyst role, I want to explore the data kept by my institution to see how it is used to improve the learning experience.  Am I on the right track? How should I focus my lesson plans? My institution uses a Tableau server to analyze data about enrollment and student/teach surveys.  Any administrator or faculty member can use the Tableau software to review data about their department.  This is a great resource, as Tableau makes it very easy to refine and filter searches to particular departments as well as particular courses.

Video: What is Tableau?

I first used the Tableau site to get enrollment data for my department.  I wanted to see how student enrollment for my department had changed over the past two years and see if there are any trends.

Enrollment data for the computing and software development department
Computing and Software Development Enrollment

While not a huge change, I found the enrollment trend to be increasing for my department.  This is a good sign – as it means that my department is attracting new students to the program.  I also wanted to explore student surveys to understand what goals students had in enrolling at my institution.

Data showing results of student survey on student goals
Results of student survey on goals

My institution offers several different certificates and degrees.  The certificate programs are typically the shortest. In my department, a student can get a certificate in topics such as Web development, C/C++ programming, etc..  The 2-year associate degree is for students looking to gain entry into the state university computer science program. Finally, my institution now offers a 4-year bachelor degree in which students are more interested in obtaining a job at the end of their studies.  

The bachelor degree just started in 2018 in my department, so we have not yet had a graduating class.  However, the impact of the new bachelor degree is having an impact on student surveys. In particular, the answers to question 26d about obtaining job-related skills  is growing in the number of positive responses, while the answers to question 26b about obtaining an associate degree is declining for my department.

This has a direct impact on curriculum.  An associate degree curriculum is more focused on giving students the computer science fundamentals and breadth needed to be accepted into the computer science department at the state university.  A bachelor degree curriculum is more focused on giving students deeper skills in relevant job skills such as data science and machine learning. This has direct impact on the topics I cover in my SQL programming and Database design courses.  This analysis has prepared me for a more meaningful discussion with administrators in my department on the proper focus for new curriculum development.


2 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Wow, Aleks gives me so much to think about regarding the idea of how background knowledge informs future learning and mastery of new knowledge! I would love to experience it with my own background knowledge and where to go with a topic I want to learn more about. This also reminds me of what our class talked about 1st quarter in regards to how technology can support not replace what humans are capable of doing – so important! Thanks, Nat – really interesting tools and ideas to be aware of.

  2. I enjoyed reading about your goals as a designer and analyst this week. I agree with you that better courses will increase student enrollment and engagement. The data that you included for your institute is very informative piece that can directly aid you in the way you prepare your courses for the future. That is something that is missing in the elementary setting, so I often poll my students to give me feedback on lessons, teaching style, and learning for mastery. The program ALEKS, is impressive. Do you think that this is the way that education is headed?

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