Unlocking your content gradually: the key to engaging students and monitoring their progress

Keeping students engaged, motivated and encouraging them to prepare for your sessions can be a challenge. Adaptive Release – a Minerva tool which restricts who can view your content and when – could be your solution to this.

adaptive release screenshot

Dr Craig. A Evans, Teaching Fellow and School Representative from the School of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at University of Leeds, talks to us about how he has used this Minerva function successfully to better engage his students and monitor their progression in the module.

What was the problem were you trying to solve?

“I am Module Leader for ELEC1620 Digital Electronics & Microcontrollers which is primarily a lab-based module with around 145 students. Historically, the contact time was a weekly laboratory session, with various bits of reading required before attending. However, it was becoming more and more apparent that significant numbers of students were failing to do the reading before attending the session and then showing up unprepared. They would then waste valuable lab time doing the reading instead of the actual practical work.

Several years ago, I added a weekly lecture that essentially replaced the pre-lab reading. However, there were still issues with students not attending (and not making the most of lecture capture) and hence showing up for the lab unprepared.

For the 2017/18 academic year I decided to make better use of learning technology and developed a ‘flipped laboratory’ approach.”

What is a ‘flipped laboratory’?

“The key idea is that students prepare for the laboratory in their own time, and then show up prepared for the session so that they can make better use of the time and laboratory resources including getting one-to-one help from staff.

To better facilitate this, I filmed my lectures as a series of short screencasts using Camtasia. These were uploaded to YouTube and embedded within Minerva. Each week there is a playlist of screencasts that the students must watch before attending the lab. The mix of videos and face-to-face interaction in the lab ensures there is a strong blended approach. However, you still need to ensure that the students watch the screencasts!”

How did you do this?

“This is where adaptive release comes in. Each week of the course is contained within a content folder in Minerva. The structure of each folder is as follows:

Week X

-> Screencasts

-> Screencast 1

-> Screencast 2

-> …

-> Pre-lab Quiz

-> Laboratory Resources

-> Post-lab Quiz

The adaptive release tool allows me to only make the folders visible once the students have completed various quizzes. The quizzes were created using the Minerva tool and are generally a mix of multiple choice or numeric answer questions, essentially ones that the quiz tool can mark automatically.

After watching the screencasts, students complete the pre-lab quiz. Once they have passed the quiz, the laboratory resources and post-lab quiz are ‘unlocked’. They can then complete the lab tasks and following this the post-lab quiz. Passing the post-lab quiz unlocks the following week’s content. In this way, the course is pretty much structured like a computer game. Only by completing a week can they unlock the following week.”

How has this approach affected student engagement in your module?

“This is the first year I have tried this approach and it has worked very well. It is noticeable that the vast majority of students are arriving for the lab and getting stuck straight into the lab tasks.

There has been no formal student feedback as of yet, but informal chats with students definitely suggest that they like the approach. Quite a few said the enjoy the fact that they must complete each week before unlocking the following week and see it as a challenge. Some are also ahead of schedule! The quizzes also act as a formative assessment and allow students to get some feedback on their understanding of the concepts.”

How has this enabled you to better monitor student engagement?

“The use of quizzes allows me to monitor engagement better than ever before. The quiz results are visible in Grade Centre and so it is very easy to see who is falling behind schedule. Even after only a couple of weeks of term, I could easily see those who were not engaging and send them an email through Grade Centre to encourage them to engage or seek help if there was a reason for them falling behind.

About 95% of the class are engaged, with only a few who have failed to get aboard. Unsurprisingly, there was a very strong correlation between engagement and the results of the January assessment.”

Have you used adaptive release for anything else?

“Yes, as well as unlocking content based on quizzes, it is also simple to set up adaptive release for things such as reviewing information. For example, for submitting assessment outside of Turnitin (e.g. computer code), the upload link is hidden until students have reviewed the standard statement of academic integrity. I have also used it for keeping a record of who has read Health & Safety advice and guidance. The information (such as safe soldering practice) is presented to the students, and they must mark the item as reviewed to unlock the resources required to continue.

I have also used it for collecting student feedback. The standard module feedback form was converted into a Minerva survey and then the Grade Centre was hidden until the survey was completed. Unsurprisingly, 100% of the class completed the survey!

To conclude, adaptive release is a very useful tool for controlling when students can access resources. Coupled with other Minerva tools such as quizzes, review status and surveys, it offers a very simple way to engage students and monitor progress.”


University of Leeds staff: where to get help in setting up Adaptive Release:

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