Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Can Instructors Efficiently Re-Activate Students’ Prior Knowledge?

Online modules with targeted practice and feedback can.

Cell Biology

The Cell Biology course builds upon information that students have learned in pre-requisite classes. When introducing new material, Bouaouina found that students often experienced difficulty in recalling prior concepts. Therefore, Bouaouina spent valuable class time revisiting old concepts to re-activate students’ prior knowledge. To conserve class time and to allow students to work at their own pace, Bouaouina sought alternative solutions.

Directing students to review prior concepts in textbooks and old class notes can be problematic as they may struggle to locate the relevant information and become overwhelmed by the multitude of explanations and examples. As a result,  Bouaouina created online modules to ensure that students received targeted information along with the opportunities for practice and feedback. Two modules – Nuclear Transport 1 and 2 – were built using the Online Learning Initiative (OLI) platform.

Students completed the modules as homework prior to the relevant class session. Each module activated students’ foundational understanding of prior concepts and consisted of a pre-assessment, a review of prior concepts, an interactive task, and a post-assessment.

Reactivating knowledge from prior courses through targeted content with practice and feedback resulted in significant increases from the pre-assessment to the post-assessment. Moving forward, Bouaouina will continue to use these modules to ensure that students have the important background knowledge prior to attending class. Thus, reducing the amount of review needed during class time. Creating targeted content with practice and feedback for students to independently review prior to class is a strategy that is transferrable to other courses with limited in-class time available for re-activating prior knowledge.

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Figure 1. Module 1: Reactivating prior knowledge though online modules with practice and feedback resulted in significantly higher post-assessment scores (M = 81.07, SD = 13.42) compared to the pre-assessment scores (M = 44.14, SD = 20.92). Error bars are 95% confidence intervals for the means.

Module 2: Reactivating prior knowledge though online modules with practice and feedback resulted in significantly higher post-assessment scores (M = 75.83, SD = 15.45) compared to the pre-assessment scores (M = 52.21, SD = 20.92). Error bars are 95% confidence intervals for the means.


Tags:
Dependent Variable: learning
Pedagogical Strategy: active learning
Study Design: category 5