The effect of interactive online pre-lab modules on improving student learning in an introductory atmospheric science course

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 5:00 PM
125AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Kyle S. Griffin, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI; and A. C. Winters, M. Mooney, and S. Ackerman

When teaching an atmospheric science course at the introductory level, it is imperative to tailor the instructional methods in such a manner that favorably embraces a diverse set of student learning styles. In the lab section of such a course, weekly hands-on lab exercises serve to engage students in the core topics of the course and to supplement the material introduced in lecture. However, in order to prepare for these exercises, a much less engaging “pre-lab” packet is distributed to students, which includes background information and questions on the forthcoming lab activity. In a modern age with ubiquitous internet access and students that are increasingly attached to their electronic devices, the delivery of pre-lab material via this medium is a potentially more beneficial alternative to the traditional written packet. Consequently, utilizing the Case Scenario/Critical Reader (CSCR) software developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a series of web-based modules were created for seven of the topics covered in the lab section of the course. These modules primarily contain the same information as the original packet, but allow the user to interact with the material in a substantially more engaging manner and more effectively embrace the diversity of student learning styles.

These seven modules were developed with varying degrees of interactivity, with a post-module survey designed to decipher any change in students' perception of the module's utility when compared against the original written packets. Two questions were asked in the post-module survey; first, whether the student perceived the module to be more or less useful than the original pre-lab assignment, and second, whether the module made the material easier to learn. Every module received an average score that suggested they were both more useful and made the material easier to learn when compared to the original pre-lab assignments. These results were further deconstructed by the level of interactivity, with the highly interactive modules scoring more favorably than less interactive modules in the survey ranking of usefulness and ease of learning. While these results suggest that a more interactive module increases students' perception of the usefulness and ease of learning provided by each module, these results may have also been influenced by the varying difficulty of the pre-lab assignments throughout the course.