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Two UTSC professors win grants for self-directed learning modules


Many students feel high school classes do not adequately prepare them for university. Others are simply overwhelmed by advanced concepts that they are introduced to as first year university students. Professors from U of T Scarborough plan to even out the playing field.

Professor Johann Bayer of the Department of Physical & Environmental Sciences, and Professor Douglas Bors of the Department of Psychology both led winning teams that each received $75,000 in provincial grants and university funds to develop interactive learning modules for first year students studying physics and statistics. Bayer’s application reviews the 10 core concepts taught in introductory physics in a number of first-year Life Science and Physical Science courses, with emphasis on Newtonian Mechanics.

The modules designed by Bors cover core principles in statistics. The modules will be available online, offer students an alternative to traditional study aids, and encourage self-instruction and self-assessment. Designed to accompany existing courses, these modules will, in some cases, replace assigned readings. Incoming university students who are currently in high school may also access the modules for review.

“Conventionally, illustrations in textbooks and online animations have been used but their often passive nature does little to facilitate conceptual learning,” says Bors.

Through interactive elements, the modules encourage active learning, which most researchers now agree is a more effective learning method than a passive learning approach. Each one will start with an animated introduction, followed by a self-assessment and a full video lesson about 50 minutes long, which will be broken down into seven-minute sessions. There will also be questions posed throughout the module that students need to solve. Each application allows students to click and drag visual objects, which encourages them to actively discover relationships between key parameters and outcomes.

Bayer notes that instructors don’t necessarily need to modify the way they lecture to use the new modules. He says they “will be able to provide the modules as extra resources where students can study material in a different way.”

While spearheaded by UTSC, the learning modules are not exclusively aimed at UTSC or even U of T students. Bayer continues,

“The project, sponsored by the MTCY (Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities), received provincial funds and thus the resulting modules will be made available to all institutions across Ontario.”

This is the second year Ontario’s Shared Online Courses Fund has been in place. In 2015, UTSC had one successful application that resulted in a set of modules for mathematics courses. The physics modules follow a similar format.

© University of Toronto Scarborough