English Composition incorporates adaptive learning into classroom

The English Composition classroom is about to become a personalized learning lab. Over the course of the spring 2016 semester, faculty groups from Georgia State University, Montclair State University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Mississippi have collaborated in person and online to begin developing adaptive courseware for English Composition.

Adaptive learning technologies use assessment analytics to scaffold learning in a dynamic digital course experience. They are typically utilized in subject areas that emphasize content mastery, such as mathematics or the sciences. Now, however, the multi-institutional project team is imagining what an adaptive learning environment would look like for composition, a course that emphasizes skill development and rhetorical analysis. To do so, the project team has discussed learning objectives, class activities, assessment strategies, and the possibilities afforded by designing a hybrid learning system for writing courses. For instance, an adaptive learning platform could guide students through the writing process and help students understand productive peer review strategies, the elements of argumentation, and the principles of design for multimodal composition (i.e., projects that explicitly make use of multiple media artifacts and modes to compose an argument or narrative). While these topics are typically covered in first-year composition courses, adaptive software allows learners to move through the material at their own pace and ensures that they understand foundational concepts before advancing to more sophisticated learning activities. For writing classes, this is a game-changer, as students would be able to develop a robust toolkit of writing-related knowledge and skills before applying those tools to assigned writing projects.

Faculty involved in this project, including Drs. Christy Desmet, Lindsey Harding, and Sara Steger from the University of Georgia, aim to explore the potential for adaptive learning to improve how writing is taught and learned. Christy Desmet, Director of First-year Composition and UGA Writing Center, embraces the courseware development challenge.

“Aside from the sheer pleasure and intellectual profit that comes from collaboration with excellent colleagues and programs, the greatest benefit that the project will provide is a way of creating a composition community that uses adaptive learning for common, measurable goals. The project will also help our institutions provide students with strong support in ever-changing pedagogical situations,” said Desmet.

Specifically, the team from UGA is tasked with developing the multimodal composition unit, which will highlight concepts such as digital literacy and the affordances of digital media, as well as activities like the analysis and creation of texts that utilize different media and modes to develop their arguments. According to Lindsey Harding, Assistant Director of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences Writing Intensive Program, multimodal composition represents “an exciting area of composition pedagogy and research, one that provides a way for students to consider literacy in the digital age and understand media, modes, and design elements as composing tools.”

The four faculty teams represent the 237 institutions that are members of The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), an organization that utilizes research, policy, and advocacy to support public universities in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. APLU member institutions share a commitment to the organization’s three pillars: “increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and expanding engagement” (aplu.org).

Support for this courseware project comes from The Personalized Learning Consortium, an APLU initiative. The PLC facilitates collaboration across institutions for projects designed to enhance student learning through the innovative use of learning technologies. According to PLC Executive Director Meaghan Duff, ”Our experience with this English Composition team confirms that development of high-quality adaptive courseware works best when faculty, who have the subject matter expertise and teaching experience necessary to understand learner needs, work together across institutional boundaries.”

The team looks forward to piloting the courseware this summer.