• Harvey Thorleifson, Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • Carrie Jennings, Vice Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • David Bush, Technical Program Chair
    University of West Georgia
  • Jim Miller, Field Trip Chair
    University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Curtis M. Hudak, Sponsorship Chair
    Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC


Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:20 AM


BARNEY, Jeffrey A., Mallinson Institutute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 3225 Wood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, BENTZ, Amy E., Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 3225 Wood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008 and MCCOWEN, Robert H., The Mallinson Institute for Science Education, Western Michigan University, 3225 Wood Hall, Kalamazoo, MI 49008,

Keeping students engaged in the classroom is a challenge, especially in undergraduate general education science courses. These courses typically have high student enrollment and are commonly taught in large lecture halls where crowded seating, poor acoustics and traditional “lecture with a PowerPoint” delivery promote student disengagement. The challenges are multiplied if an instructor tries to bring education reform ideas such as Formative Assessment (FA) into such learning environments. While FA offers multiple benefits, it does add to the instructor’s workload with the time needed to assess student understanding and provide feedback on student work.

We used an online course management system (Blackboard) coupled with LectureTools, a web-based suite of applications, to generate student assessment data in an undergraduate geoscience course. The data were collected through assignments based on the FA principles of Assessment for Learning, as described by the Assessment Reform Group. Prior to implementation, we hypothesized that the combined use of these applications would ease reform by reducing the instructional burden associated with FA by automating the delivery, collection and grading of assignments.

Our study was conducted at Western Michigan University in a high-enrollemnt ocean systems course that includes a large population of preservice elementary and secondary teachers. Student performance and attitude data were collected over a three semester period using pretest/postests, knowledge surveys and interviews (N=881). While there was no statistically significant difference in student perfornce gains over three semesters, classroom observations indicated higher student engagement in lectures using LectureTools. Student interviews revealed how LectureTools and the FA-based assignments helped them study and self-assess their knowledge. At the conclusion of the study an interview with the course instructor revealed that while he saw value in the treatment strategies, his future use of these strategies would depend on obstacles such as changes in Blackboard or LectureTools. Results of this study help educators identify the potential costs and benefits of using multiple applications and how they can be used to improve student engagement and learning.

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