MITx an Effective Pre-class Preparatory Intervention

8.13; 8.14
Physics (Course 8)
Sean Robinson
Sean Robinson
Digital Innovations & Tools
Active Learning
Blended Learning & Flipped Classroom

8.13 and 8.14 is a two-term Physics Lab sequence for 3rd year physics majors. Known as ‘Junior Lab’, the course focuses on professional-level practices associated with being a physicist and researcher.

Educational Challenge
Problem: Given the limited class time available to engage in complex experimentation, students’ pre-lab preparation is critical for accomplishing lab goals. The preparation required goes beyond simple lab procedures and includes developing critical experimentation and professions skills (building scientific arguments in writing, data analysis and reporting, and effective presentation of results).

Solution: Instructor Dr. Sean Robinson uses MITx for pre-class preparatory work: readings, short videos, and lab manuals, which are followed by online preparatory problems and quiz questions. The aim of this process was to enable students to take better advantage of the in-lab time to engage in experimentation and engage with instructors in more productive ways.

Working with Senior Learning Scientist Aaron Kessler, Dr. Robinson wanted to find out if the pre-class preparatory materials were positively impacting student preparedness:

  • Are students submitting solutions to prep problems on MITx before the start of class?
  • Are students coming to lab more prepared to work and ask relevant questions?

Using data from the MITx platform Dr. Kessler and Robinson gathered all the ‘submit’ clicks for the preparatory problems for 8.13 and 8.14, for all class iterations since 2014. They compared submit dates to when the online problem was related to a class activity.

Result: The great majority of submissions (87%) occurred before the relevant activity. This strongly suggests that students were engaged with the preparatory exercises in useful ways and that MITx materials were being enacted as intended.

MITx functions as an effective pre-class preparatory intervention, resulting in better-prepared students, and more efficient and productive use of lab time.