Do Evidence-Based Teaching Practices Have an Impact on Underserved Student Populations?

MarisaBluestone
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Last year, Macmillan Learning and instructors from 13 colleges that primarily serve Black, Latin, and Indigenous students set out to learn more about the impact of evidence-based teaching practices. These are practices that are shown to be effective and help to meaningfully improve student outcomes; many also support student motivation and engagement as well as increase accountability and perseverance.

As part of that journey to learn more, Macmillan Learning partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and instructors from institutions with an all too often marginalized student population. While there’s no shortage of research that demonstrates evidence-based teaching practices support students’ deeper learning of concepts and better development of problem-solving skills, there's still a lot more to learn, particularly to learn how to best use educational technology and courseware to support the most impactful implementation of evidence-based teaching practices.. 

“The research that we’re undertaking will help us better understand which practices are the most effective, howevidence based practices quote.png instructors are actually using them with the support of digital courseware, and the impact of those actions on the outcomes of marginalized students,” said Marcy Baughman, Executive Director of Learning Science & Insights. “There’s always room for new ideas and opportunities to do more, and we plan to use what we learn to develop even better solutions.”

Baughman added, “We know that student success depends on what happens both in and out of the classroom, and we believe evidence-based teaching practices can make a difference. These practices can help students be better prepared for class, provide more opportunities to interact with course materials and to work on class assignments, and get better feedback from their instructors to prepare themselves for assessments. All of these activities contribute to student success. If courseware can help create opportunities to create an equal playing field for all students and improve student outcomes, we want to learn how.”

About the Research

Instructors from two- and four-year colleges were part of a study to learn whether (and how) a courseware platform such as Achieve can help to close equity gaps in course completion for historically and presently underserved students. The research, which was conducted by Macmillan Learning in partnership with instructors from 13 colleges, aimed to learn more about the impact of four evidence-based teaching practices through observation, a range of student surveys, weekly check-ins, implementation logs, use of specific tools within digital courseware, and an analysis of student course performance. The four practices include: 

  • Outcome-driven instruction: The study measured the impact of tools within Achieve -- such as goal-setting and reflection surveys, learning objectives, and insights and reports -- on student success.
  • Formative assessment with feedback: The study measured how use of formative assessments like mid-stakes testing, homework with adaptive quizzing (offering hints and targeted feedback) and interactive and low-stakes homework where students are given feedback, video hints, and opportunities to troubleshoot impacts student success.
  • Active learning: The study measured how using iClicker (for attendance, polling, and/or in-class participation), Instructor Activity Guides, and other tactics impact student success.
  • Metacognition: The study reviewed how activities that enhance metacognition and reinforce critical thinking skills -- like assignments that prompt explanations, opportunities to set and reflect on goals, and self assessment/confidence ratings with iClicker -- impact student success.

“These best practices teach students soft skills like goal-setting, time management, and metacognition. We plan to quantify the impact of each of the four practices and learn more about the role Achieve and other courseware like it can play,” Baughman said.

Introduction to Psychology and Sociology courses were selected for research because they are considered “gateway courses” -- foundational, credit-bearing, lower-division courses that act as gatekeepers to degree completion. Research for Introduction to Psychology will be done using Macmillan Learning’s digital learning platform Achieve featuring the best-selling Achieve for Psychology in Everyday Life, 6e, written by David G. Myers and Nathan C. DeWall. Research for the Introduction to Sociology courses will be done using Achieve for OpenStax Sociology, 3e.  Achieve was developed using learning science and in partnership with students and instructors. One of the key goals of the platform is to support students of all levels of readiness and to engage them in and out of class to improve their outcomes.

Forthcoming opportunities to participate 

Instructors teaching Psychology or Sociology at colleges that primarily serve Black, Latino and Indigenous students are encouraged to apply to participate in forthcoming studies. Research in the 2023 Spring semester will focus on students' sense of belonging and metacognition. The research seeks to understand the impact of using resources embedded within a digital courseware platform to improve students’ sense of belonging and metacognition skills alongside their relation to other outcomes of student success, like course retention, content knowledge and exam scores.

Participation in either of these studies provides educators and their students an opportunity to contribute to the emerging research literature on the use of digital courseware to improve equity for traditionally underserved populations. Each instructor will receive a summary of research findings from their classes as well as the opportunity to be acknowledged for their contribution to the research. 

Participating in the research also benefits students. In addition to receiving several gift cards, students that participate will have free access to their online courseware.

Analysis of the research, which took place during the Fall 2022 semester and had more than 1,000 students opt-in, is currently underway by the company’s Learning Science & Insights team. Once completed, Macmillan Learning will make its findings publicly available and create an implementation guide with examples of evidence-based practices that can be used by any organization developing digital learning systems or other educational technology. 

This spring, Macmillan is researching students’ sense of belonging and metacognition. This study, also done in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks to understand the impact of using resources embedded within a digital courseware platform to improve students’ sense of belonging and metacognition skills. The study will also examine whether improved sense of belonging and metacognition skills are related to other student outcomes such as course retention, content knowledge and exam scores. Instructors interested in participating in upcoming semesters for the evidence-based teaching practice or sense of belonging research can get additional details and learn how to apply here.