Summary

In a lecture with a big number of students various e-learning offers are provided in order to check on the learning progress of the students and, if necessary, to adjust the contents of the course. Self-tests can be used for individual learning checks and in forums questions can be asked about the learning content. The results and the questions are dealt with during the actual lectures. 

The lecture "Methods of genetics and molecular biology" at the Department of Biology, Chemistry and Pharmacy has many students enrolled and no tutorials are available. In order to reach the individual students and gain some knowledge of their actual learning status, self-tests and forums were implemented in Blackboard. The online self-tests were offered as learning checks and for the preparation of the exam in Blackboard after the lecture. In addition, questions on the learning content were posted in the forums. The lecturer thereby received an insight to the learning status of the participants and was able to use the information in order to optimize the course. The students were able to assess their own knowledge status, uncover knowledge gaps and were able to review some examples of possible exam questions. 

Table of contents

Course

Course titleMethods of genetics and molecular biology
Course typeLecture
Department/InstituteBiology, Chemistry, Pharmacy
Degree programBachelor
LecturerDr. Alexander Heyl
No. of participants

approx. 150 participants

PhaseAccompanying the course
Durationone semester
SWS/CP2 SWS

Tools

Blackboard, tests and surveys in Blackboard

The central LMS Blackboard was implemented for the lectures, especially the content areas for the provision of material, the discussion forum for questions posed by the students and tests for self-checks.  

  • Self-tests: These were created using the test feature within Blackboard; here especially the question types "multiple answers" and "true-false questions" were used.
  • In the Blackboard course the lecture slides as well as the questions for the self-tests were provided.
  • A discussion forum was created in which - for the first few lectures held - discussion threads were pre-configured.

Illustration 1: Screenshot of the subfolder "Course material methods lecture"

Realization

The main function of the face-to-face course was the frontal dissemination of knowledge. This was enriched with e-learning offers. For one, the self-tests in which students answered questions on the contents of the previous lecture. The questions within the self-tests have two functions. The students should self-check themselves by answering the questions and thereby assess if they have correctly understood the lecture contents. As the questions were similar style-wise to the later exam questions, answering the questions served not just as content preparation for the exam but was also a formal preparation (type of questions being asked). At the same time, the course lecturer was able to discern if the students had understood the lecture contents from what and how the students answered. Neither the learning check nor participating in the discussion forum were mandatory.  

Illustration 2: Blended learning concept

Illustration 2 shows the blended learning concept; i.e. the interaction between the lectures and the e-learning elements: Ideally, the self-test is posted together with the lecture slides in Blackboard approx. 24 hours before the course begins. The self-test also provided the answers directly; therefore no special supervision was necessary here. The forum was checked every 48 hours and, if needed, help and pointers were provided. In case the results of the self-tests and the forum posts pointed to problems with the comprehension of the lecture contents, then these aspects are re-discussed during the next face-to-face session. Planning in this manner presumes that all students have access - either privately or via Zedat - to a computer in order to be able to log in to Blackboard and work within the system.  

Experiences made by the lecturer

The students were introduced to the usage of the various Blackboard areas during the first lecture hour. The possibilities of using the self-tests were pointed out. All in all, around 30-40% of the students took part in the self-tests at the start. This participation percentage was under that expected as, in the past, the students often asked about preparatory exam questions. For future use we are thinking of providing the right answers as a document so that the students receive the correct answers directly after entering their answers.  

The students did not participate in the discussion forum. At the same time, about 50 reading hits were registered during the semester. Even though posts could be anonymous, the inhibitions to participate in the forum were apparently high.   .

In the course two e-learning tools were implemented and only one of these was used. The experiences made by the lecturer show that an introduction to the tools is necessary for the students as not all of them seem to know how to use and work with Blackboard. The events and results of the online environment should also be taken up in the face-to-face sessions. For example, questions that were answered incorrectly by more than 30% of the participants within the self-tests were taken up during the lecture once again and explained in another manner.  

Support offered by CeDiS

  • Consulting services for the implementation of digital solutions in teaching: The Center for Digital Systems (CeDiS) has extensive experience of many years when it comes to the implementation of digital media and systems within the fields of teaching, learning and research. We offer a wide variety of consulting services on the implementation of these tools and systems within the entire academic scope and especially at Freie Universität Berlin. 
  • Training courses and workshops: For lecturers at Freie Universität Berlin (professors, employees, tutors) as well as lecturers of other universities CeDiS offers training courses and workshops on the topic of teaching and learning with digital media. These course enable participants to implement online elements within their own sphere of teaching. For the present scenario being described the following course offers could be, amongst others, relevant: 
    • Blackboard in 15 minutes
    • Blackboard for beginners
    • Blackboard for advanced users: tests and surveys
  • In addition to the university-wide LMS Blackboard, there is also a centralized examination system for computer-aided examinations at Freie Universität Berlin. This also includes an e-examination center set up for this purpose with all-in-all 151 stations reserved specifically for these types of exams. The examination system LPLUS is implemented when legally binding tests / examinations are being undertaken with the aid of computers. 
  • The Executive Board of the Freie Universität supports e-learning initiatives: With the e-learning funding program financial resources are provided to lecturers that enrich and improve their courses quality-wise by implementing technological and media-related support. All of the academic staff teaching, the lecturers or even the institutions of the Freie Universität - without the Charité-Universitätsmedizin - can be supported within this program. 

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