Parina Patel: Giving Students Targeted Feedback through Online Learning

Parina Patel, School of Foreign Service

For classes with a lab component, variability in lab sections is a perennial challenge that can complicate the consistency of the students' knowledge.  When Parina Patel prepared her SFS statistics course for the fall of 2012, she had an idea that would help mitigate that variability—she decided to incorporate OLI, the "Open Learning Initiative," into her course. Using OLI-delivered online lab sessions in place of some TA-led lab sessions would allow her to ensure that all her students were on equal footing with the content while still retaining the student-TA interactions that many students value. 

The Open Learning Initiative, developed at Carnegie Mellon University with funding from the Hewlett Foundation, is an interactive online learning platform that can either be used independently or in conjunction with face-to-face instruction. Parina Patel worked with Oded Meyer (Mathematics and Statistics), one of the pioneers of OLI at CMU who has since moved to Georgetown, to develop OLI statistics content tailored to her course's focus on international politics.

When Patel's students learn through OLI, they are able to work at their own pace, and TAs are on hand to help students who need individualized attention, providing the kind of one-on-one attention that makes a big difference in learning. Immediate and targeted feedback through OLI helps students understand why their answer to each question was right or wrong, improving their learning. And because OLI content is accessible indefinitely, students can always go back and review the material. Patel finds that students appreciate these features and identify them as important to their understanding of the class content. Bringing the learning feedback loop full circle, the data on student answers that OLI records helps Patel tailor her next lecture sessions to address those concepts with which students are having the most trouble. 

I’m not worried that online teaching is going to make me or my job obsolete…I think that the hybrid model is most effective.
—Parina Patel

Patel notes that developing the modules with OLI was a rewarding challenge. For one, she had to revisit the content in close detail, and she found herself constantly thinking about the learning goals of each module and how she was going to help the students reach those goals. Creating feedback and hints for students required her to "think like a student" and try to anticipate misconceptions and points of difficulty. Patel sees much promise for the use of OLI in other courses, and she thinks that OLI offers a great opportunity to share resources across disciplines. 



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