Focus on Faculty: Priya Jamkhedkar

Dr. Priya Jamkhedkar replaces textbook with adaptive platform in PSU physics classroom.

faculty working at a computer


For Dr. Jamkhedkar, adaptive learning offers a chance to take the active learning she already supports in her classroom so much further. In the summer of 2018, she began the process of redesigning a three course series of PH201-203, known as General Physics, to ensure that students had the space and time to make mistakes and practice learning without a huge financial cost to themselves. By building an adaptive system into the course to amplify the space for learning, Priya believed it could take her active classroom much farther to support the students’ long term success. “One of the main goals of this course is to decrease the people that drop or fail,” she says,”and I think that's also one of the holy grails of undergraduate education, as well: trying to engage people that you're losing on the way. I think the first step is identifying who the students are. And then the second step is finding out why, and then the third step is doing something about it.” Working in a huge class setting, she hoped to learn more about her students through adaptive software, so that she could reach out to more and more students, with the potential to radically shift the drop and fail rates in introductory Physics courses.

How to get there? Not without taking a risk, ruefully laughs Dr. Jamkhedkar. She and her course building team members, Dr. Ralf Widenhorn from Physics, an OAI instructional designer, and an OAI UX designer, 

I think that's also one of the holy grails of undergraduate education: trying to engage people that you're losing along the way.

faced a surprising number of hurdles in the redesign process. When they began their work a year ago, the adaptive platforms available were not even offering the kind of integrations she wanted for her students. Unlike a text-based course that required written content for reading assignments, or multiple-choice question and answer tests, the interactive material Jamkhedkar envisioned for her course included multiple media integrations and math and physics simulations, additions that she knew were integral to an active teaching technique and an engaged classroom for the content she would cover over the next three sequences of General Physics.

While this might be challenging from an implementation standpoint, Jamkhedkar and her team were determined to streamline what can be a chaotic and expensive learning experience for students. 

Instead of paying out of pocket for a textbook, video platform, clicker, and a separate homework platform, they envisioned students being responsible for a single $45 fee each term, allowing them access to a D2L-integrated adaptive platform, home to all of their course content and homework, including open source lessons, videos, and simulations authored or adapted by Priya.

After reviewing many platforms, the team formed a close working relationship with Cogbooks to create the tools and integrations needed to keep the active learning at the center of the course. Building quickly, they launched the first term in Fall 2018, while building out the winter 2019 quarter. Continuing this workflow throughout the year, Dr. Jamkhedkar is finishing teaching this spring, having successfully redesigned all three courses in the General Physics sequence.

faculty working at a computer
Above: Priya Jamkhedkar and Ralf Widenhorn worked with an Instructional Designer and UX Designer from the Office of Academic Innovation throughout the planning, designing, and launching of her course.

Integrated into the course mainly as a participation and learning platform, the Cogbooks adaptive system allows each student to work at their own pace, getting help where needed, or skipping ahead when ready. Students complete homework assignments in the adaptive software at home prior to class time, which gets included in their participation grade. In-class time includes a condensed lecture and in-class demos, when Jamkhedkar is able to build upon and clarify the learning they are doing on their own time, as well as give bi-weekly quizzes and exams.

From an instructor's perspective, Dr. Jamkhedkar noted with relief that she no longer has to maintain multiple platforms and can focus her attention on providing a place and the time for students to make mistakes, practice, and receive recognition for their hard work and attempts. “Often in physics, online homework systems are based on getting things right, which, from the perspective of the instructor, might have its advantages. You want people to get the correct answer. But it also adds stress for students and then it is not necessarily about understanding anymore for them, but about how do I get the right answer even though that understanding may not always be there.” In allowing space for learning to take place, the adaptive system also helps her ensure students are sharing a general baseline of understanding and growing expertise each week, so she can spend less time catching everyone up to the same place in lengthy lectures during class time.

Ralf Widenhorn points to the value of colleagues and university faculty support funding and encouraging this kind of exploration to take place. He believes this is just the beginning of the impact adaptive learning could have at PSU. “To have these types of initiatives, I think it is almost required to have the extra support,” he says, “I mean, the idea is to impact more students. There are other physics introductory courses that have large enrollment. We could use this course that is newly developed as a foundation for these.”

Analyzing the data available through the adaptive software is an ongoing process, but Widenhorn believes the information will influence how they design courses in the future. He is interested in examining the student behaviors in PH201-203 with an eye to improving the course over time, as well as similar courses at PSU: “I'm looking at how people interacted with the system and looking at other course performance-specific parameters and see what changes you can make based on that. Now that the course has run for a full year, I think we now want to look and see where did student engage and where didn't they engage.”

We are allowing for learning to happen with a lot of different paces and skill levels.

The process of rebuilding the course has required trial and error, and some creativity at times for the whole team. “I've had actually a lot of fun because there were so many things we were learning and then so many challenges that we were tackling,” says Dr. Widenhorn, “and Priya always had a smile throughout. Sitting back now and looking at what we've accomplished is kind of fantastic.”

Talking with students after the first term of General Physics, Jamkhedkar found that students recognized the change. What they faced on exams was reminiscent of what they had done at home already, she says, and they expressed finding value in doing the adaptive work prior to their class and tests. “I got a lot of feedback about how the adaptive pre-lecture actually help them understand my class lectures better because they were familiar with the concepts and the content.” She sees the course now as reaching out to more students than she could ever have hoped to do before in a large class setting, where at times it felt impossible to get everyone on the same page. “I think we are getting to a lot of students, and we are offering a lot of learning styles, and we are allowing for learning to happen with a lot of different paces and skill levels.” The team is now launching into a new development plan for the summer, building the calculus-based version of this course series, PH 211-213, with an adaptive platform. Dr. Jamkhedkar is hopeful that this will lead to a better understanding of the students who typically disengage or drop out of these courses, and allow for freedom of learning style and pace for her students.