in Teaching & Learning

I made my students 49% smarter and I can prove it

“Well looky there, you learned something!  You’re 49% smarter than you were 5 minutes ago!”  This aha! moment  occurred while teaching over 400 business students this fall.  Using Tophat in my business research instruction sessions, I was able to assess that my students did in fact learn something through my teaching.

The Challenge

Each semester I have the awesome opportunity to teach two research sessions to  over 400 sophomore business students.  The 400 students are divided into 3-4 sections, which I teach in the same day (it can be exhausting).  The first session is generally a typical 30-45 minute database demonstration, as they need to do a basic industry analysis for their first project.  For the project, all students are researching the same industry, so the tools they will need are pretty consistent and straight forward (Type an industry keyword in a search box, get some useful stuff).

The second project is a bit more challenging to teach to, as each 5-member student team can choose their own business to create.  The resources they need to successfully complete consumer demographic, local market, and competitor analyses are quite a bit more challenging to use than the sources for the first project.  The resources they need for the second project require significantly more creativity to use, as well as more brain power to interpret the data.  In the past when I have done a basic database demo of these resources for the second project, students were paying more attention to how to use the interface than they were in understanding how they might apply the data.  This was clearly demonstrated in the 20+ consultations that I held with student teams, as almost every team had questions about how to interpret the data.    The consultations were very repetitive, with each student team having the same questions.  This was not an efficient use of my time, and was certainly slowing student learning.  There had to be another way to teach them to use the data first, and the interface second.

The Setup

In order for the students to do thorough research for their projects, they really needed to deep dive into Simmons Oneview, SimplyAnalytics, and Bizminer.  I outlined my class sessions so that the students would first look at the data available from a single database and answer questions about the data.  This would be immediately followed by a demonstration of how to navigate and find the data in the specific database.

For the sessions to be relevant to their assignment,  I needed to make up a mock business concept that could adequately demonstrate how to interpret the data from the business databases.  I chose to investigate opening a store that would serve two of the three sports of mountain biking /road cycling, running, or golf.  I created a  data handout for class (pdf) with screenshots of demographic data and local market data that would be useful in researching my business concept.  I then drafted questions that would lead students to interpret the data to make decisions about which two sports my store should cater to, as well as the location of my store.  These questions were based on the types of questions they should be asking about their own business concept ideas.

I decided that a video tutorial of each database would be more efficient and consistent at demonstrating how to find the data in each individual database.  Simply pushing “play” and watching a video would help me to stay on track with my usage of class time by avoiding database/internet slowdowns and my own tangential ramblings, as might be the case during a live demonstration.  I created three videos, one for each of the essential databases, to show the students after they answered the data questions how to find the specific information they were referencing in their handouts.  These videos were also embedded on the blog post that I created for the project , allowing students to refer back to them after the class.

Finally, I created the questions for the class in Tophat, and put all questions inside their own folder within the Tophat Course for the class.  Because I was teaching three sections that day and wanted to keep the answers separate, I created two additional folders and copied the questions into those folders.

A picture of how I set up my folders in Tophat

Folder system in Tophat

The Delivery

At the start of the class session, I explained to the students that they would be doing the bulk of the heavy lifting in the research session.  The were instructed to find the handout, which was posted to the class Basecamp page, as well as log into the Tophat course.  Each team was required to have at least one laptop, but most tables had at least three.

Student research in action

The format for each database was as follows:

  1. Students answer Tophat question using data from the PDF handout.
  2. Chad show answers and talk about how the class did as a whole.
  3. Chad discuss how to properly answer the question or interpret the data correctly.
  4. Students answer another similar Tophat question about the database information.
  5. Chad hopes for improvement between step 2 & 4.
  6. Chad plays video to demonstrate how to find the information.

The slideshow below shows some of the questions used for the class.  Note that not all question had “correct” answers.

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The Results

Not all questions had correct answers, as many of the answers were just their “interpretations” of the data and could not be judged right or wrong.  However, for the questions that did have specific correct answers, there was a noticeable improvement in the students’ ability to interpret the data correctly.    The two images below show just one example of how one class section immediately improved after I explained how to read the data correctly.  They really did get 49% smarter!

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In the other two sections, 71% and 67% answered the first question correctly, immediately improving to 84% and 89% who answered correctly.  Seeing such substantial improvement across all three sections for the same question was very satisfying, while at the same time it was very cool to visibly show the classes that they had in fact learned something.

Other questions that did not have specific correct answers were very useful in showing the students how the data might be interpreted differently to tell a different story.  In many cases with consumer data, the story you tell and the answer you give depends on which data point you use, and to visually demonstrate how their classmates interpreted the data differently was effective in teaching them that there isn’t always one correct answer in business research.

In the days and weeks after the class session, I held approximately 30  consultations and answered another 25 questions about the project.  What is interesting is that in general, the questions I now received were about what available data might they best use to tell their story and where to find it, not about how to use the interface or how to interpret the data.  I spent less time last semester explaining the tools than I had in the past, allowing for more meaningful conversations with students about how they were using data to tell their story.

I clocked approximately 8 hours of preparation into this session, which might seem like a lot.  However, I should be able to use the exact same content for the sessions in future semesters, as the exercises were general enough to be applicable to future class projects.  The only thing I will change for future sessions is to create some questions to assess overall comfort/knowledge  for before and after the class session.  The sessions also required me to work a bit outside of my comfort zone in the classroom, and future sessions should improve with additional practice.

 

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