Deep, surface, and strategic learning with online lectures

The terms deep, surface and strategic learning refer not to students themselves but to the different approaches they adopt. At times the same students can and do adopt different approaches to learning in different courses and even for demands within a single course (Felder & Brent, 2005). An argument in the literature states that students have distinctive “approaches to learning and studying” which are highly influenced by the expectations of their academic programs, assessment procedures and instructors (Marchetti, 1997). This suggests that encouraging students to practice application of the content and introducing active learning strategies such as those found in the inquiry approach to learning will support them in adopting a deep approach to learning.

Much of the research conducted on approaches to learning has been on traditional face-to-face educational environments. Our research focuses on extending an understanding of the approaches to learning to educational technology, and on how online learning information literacy modules support students’ learning and the approaches they take to learning.

Authors: Jason Brodeur, John Maclachlan, Catherine Swanson

Fostering and sustaining communities in online course design and delivery

MacPherson Institute is engaged in a number of course re-designs that involve transforming traditional in-class courses to blended and online delivery offerings. This project seeks to explore the role discussion forums play in creating interactivity and community within online/blended courses. Work is already underway with a number of courses across different Faculties being re-designed. Student scholars will work with the Associate Director, Educational Technologies and the course design teams to integrate innovative approaches to building a sense of community in online education and participate in developing a literature review that will inform research design. The study will explore how these communities take shape and unfold and the types of interactions that result. Specific duties could include conducting literature review, reviewing and providing feedback on design elements, and collecting data.

Authors: Zafar Syed, Greg Van Gastel

Impact and perception of the new SCIENCE 1A03 course

The new SCIENCE 1A03 course piloted in Fall 2014 with over 140 students.  We will gather and analyze data surrounding the impact it may have on students’ intended undergraduate and career paths, and how everyone involved in the course – students, mentors, TAs, instructional coordinators, instructors – perceive the course.  The outcomes of this study will be extremely important as the course may become mandatory for all incoming Faculty of Science students.

Authors: Robert Cockcroft, Devra Charney

Examining the impact of a new Social Sciences Foundations course

Social Sciences 1T03, a new first year course designed to help incoming students transition to university and develop significant academic skills, ran for the first time in Fall 2014. In tandem with this first offering of the course, we initiated a longitudinal research project that explores the impact of the course on students’ skill development and achievement at university. Using student surveys and focus groups, and an assessment of academic data such as course and term GPAs, we’re attempting to explore the university transition and skills development of students who do and do not take this new course, and to further understand the course’s potential efficacy as a result.

Authors: Beth Marquis, Sandra Preston, Mark Busser, Nick Marquis, Rachel Brain, Kaila Radan, Beth Levinson, Meaghan Ross

Faith on campus: Understanding the impact of religious identity on student learning and inclusion

Over the past two decades, increased attention has been accorded in the popular press to the role of religion in the lives of post-secondary students (Finder, 2007). While SoTL researchers and course instructors have rightly examined disparities in student satisfaction, engagement, and inclusion in relation to race/ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, religious affiliation constitutes another important – yet often overlooked – form of identity that may be associated with student outcomes. Those students from marginalized religious groups have been referred to as “the forgotten minority” within SoTL research (Bowman & Smedley, 2013). In order to address this gap in the literature, the goal of this research project is to explore the diverse spectrum of student religious identities found at a public, non-denominational post-secondary institution, and to determine the impact religious identity may have on the student experience both within the university classroom and in the broader campus environment. Utilizing a mixed method approach for data collection and analysis, including surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one interviews, this study will examine the perspectives of students identifying as religious or spiritual on their learning experiences and sense of inclusion within a nominally secular post-secondary institution.

Authors: Michael Agnew

The testing effect in the classroom

Studies have shown that testing, relative to simply studying, improves learning (e.g., Larsen, Butler, & Roediger, 2008); this is known as the testing effect. This effect has been demonstrated across a variety of materials, but findings are mainly limited to laboratory studies which have used quite simple and artificial learning tasks (e.g., Karpicke & Roediger, 2008). There is a need for high-quality study of this effect in the classroom, where it is most relevant.This project will investigate the effect of testing in a university statistics course. In addition to generalizing the testing effect beyond the laboratory, this study will implement online testing and learning approaches, thus providing an evaluation of learning strategies that are particularly relevant to instructors and students in a modern classroom environment.

Authors: Heather Poole

“Dear September Me”…Your Thoughts on High School-to-University Transitions

High-school teachers aim to prepare high-school students for university, and university instructors make assumptions concerning the high-school education of incoming undergraduate students. However, there is often a mismatch between these preparations and assumptions – primarily because there is a lack of a clear communication between teachers and instructors. How does this affect student learning, especially during the first year of undergraduate studies, and what steps can be taken to improve this situation? This project explores these questions as they relate to the sciences.  As part of this study, we are developing instruments such as surveys and focus groups that will probe the current situation regarding the above mismatches, contacting local high-school students and teachers, and university students and teachers to collect data using these instruments, collecting, cataloging and analysing these data, identifying common reactions, challenges, and knowledge gaps, performing literature searches for studies focussing on transitions between high school and university, creating a system to open lines of communication between local high schools and McMaster’s Faculty of Science (FoS), and creating a “what to expect” guide for new FoS students that highlights key strategies to help deal with the transition.

Authors: Robert Cockcroft, Carly Van Egdom, Jonathan Legere, Marina Sadik

Physics through different lenses

The vast majority of students entering the Faculty of Science enter, and remain in, the Life Sciences Gateway program.  What can other science departments, especially Physics and Astronomy, do to attract more students to their programs?  Do interdisciplinary programs, such as the Integrated Science Program (iSci), have a similar proportion of students who graduate with a Life Science-related degree?  As part of this study, we are 1) administering online surveys; collecting and analyzing results, 2) forming focus groups and conducting interviews, and 3) performing literature searches for similar research that may have been conducted at other institutions.

Authors: Robert Cockcroft, Sabrina Kirby

Past Research

Quality and educational development: A Canadian perpective

Ahmad, A. & Goff, L. (2015). Democratizing higher education in Canada: Quality and educational development. In P. Blessinger & J.P. Anchan, Democratizing Higher Education: International Comparative Perspectives. Routledge.

Authors: Arshad Ahmad, Lori Goff