How do you increase student success? Practice, practice, practice!

Man standing on top of a mountain in front of the sun with arms stretched wide

Classroom technology isn’t a magical fix for all of the challenges instructors face. Instead, technology is simply a tool that yields greater returns the more thoughtfully and skillfully it is used.

This was certainly the case for Adjunct Assistant Professor William H. Sawyer at West Chester University, who has spent five years refining his use of TurningPoint in the classroom and is now reaping the rewards in the form of increased success for his students.

The road to student success

When Sawyer first introduced TurningPoint into his introductory physics class for non-majors, which enrolls nearly 80 students per section, he simply hoped to increase engagement. However, he didn’t initially see the results he wanted.

“I wasn’t as systematic about using the clickers in terms of asking as many questions in the beginning,” he said. “I would ask some review questions, but I frequently introduced several ideas without checking their understanding of the material.”

In order to improve his students’ experiences, he decided to change the way he leveraged the technology.

First, he expanded his usage of the polling software by methodically adding interactive questions both at the beginning of class and after the introduction of every new concept. These questions were often not just simple recall, but ones that made students think and apply the relevant concepts.

I’m kind of a data hound, but I hadn’t really looked at how much better it was until after the first exam this semester. And that’s when I really started to get excited. You know, this really does make a difference.

Now that he could quickly see when students were struggling with the material, he also introduced peer instruction techniques to help them dig deeper into these challenging concepts.

“If 70 percent of the class doesn’t get it right the first time, I’ll re-poll the question and ask them to talk amongst themselves to come up with a better answer. Sometimes they learn better from their peers than they do from the lecture.”

In addition, at his students’ request, he started assigning points to each TurningPoint question: four for every correct answer and three for every incorrect one.

“I want to encourage them to participate, but I don’t want them to feel a great deal of stress about it,” he said. “On the other hand, if they don’t show up they get a zero. They can’t get very many zeros and still do well in the class participation part of the course, which is 15 percent of their grade.”

Finally, he added a TurningPoint-heavy review session prior to every major exam that covered all of the concepts students could expect to see.

Significant improvement

As he integrated these new techniques, Sawyer noticed a slow but steady improvement in his students’ performance. However, it wasn’t until this year when he decided to investigate more closely that he discovered an impressive 4.5 percent increase in his students’ test scores.

“I’m kind of a data hound, but I hadn’t really looked at how much better it was until after the first exam this semester,” he said. “And that’s when I really started to get excited. You know, this really does make a difference.”

Sawyer attributes much of the student success to “the fact that the technology is a much more integral part of the course now, and the fact that I am evaluating their understanding all the way through the process on a very regular basis.” He plans to continue using TurningPoint, and to keep refining and innovating every step of the way.