Faculty Perspectives: Craig Roberts

Craig Roberts

Craig Roberts, PhD, Assistant Professor of the Practice, Duke Institute for Brain Sciences

Bass Connections Project Team: A Course Performance Mapping App

How can educational institutions help students understand their progress both within a learning unit and across a semester? Students can struggle to connect their test scores with their progress on course learning objectives. This issue is compounded when subsequent objectives require mastery of earlier concepts. Professor Roberts led a Bass Connections project team, in collaboration with Professor Nick Carnes, to develop an app to track student progress through a visual interface. The team produced a prototype and is refining the software and collaborating with the Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and the Office of Information Technology to bring it to Duke classrooms and eventually to market.

We asked him a few questions about his Bass Connections experience; below are excerpts from our conversation.

Informing student learning

A lot of courses are doing assessments online, and for a lot of us at Duke that happens in Sakai, our learning management system. So my colleague Nick Carnes and I were thinking about two things simultaneously: how could we better convey to our students how all the concepts in a course fit together; and how could we use all this data that’s being generated in the form of quizzes and tests or assessments? There was more information that we could use to help inform student learning.

So we worked on this idea of developing an app of course concepts across the year and then using the data from the learning management system to personalize that map for each individual student. It’s a dashboard for them to see, how am I doing in [each] particular area?

Three computer science majors put together the initial code for this app, and we felt it would be a good fit for Bass Connections to bring together knowledge of computer science, learning sciences and visual arts. This project has really enabled us to connect with students in different disciplines and also faculty members with these types of expertise.

Refining the product, assessing the market

We had two graduate students last year, in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and both of them had experience in software coding. We had the original prototype and they worked on developing that into a much more functional piece of software.

One of our goals for the app was to develop something that was applicable to the marketplace. This semester our goal is to test it out in undergraduate classrooms, particularly in large introductory STEM courses. They’re where we see the greatest application.

We have a student, Megan Bader, that’s doing a market research analysis on comparable types of products that are out there. She’s a neuroscience major and an econ minor. She’s been doing a really excellent job and has really pushed the project forward in trying to define more clearly, how is this going to fit in the marketplace? Sharon Peng is an intended statistics major who’s pursing an education minor. She’s driving both the evaluation in classrooms and the software interface with Sakai—a very interdisciplinary experience.

We’re also leveraging the connections we have in the education technology industry to understand what sorts of challenges both nonprofit and for-profit education institutions are taking on right now. How this might fit within that landscape?

Building understanding through collaboration

One thing that was very helpful was to work with other classrooms at Duke. It certainly gave me a better understanding of how learning interventions may scale across institutions and across disciplines. What are the elements of what we’re doing that are very applicable broadly across higher education? And what are some of the things that maybe just don’t have broad applicability?

That’s been very helpful to some of the work that I do in education technology and learning innovations.

New challenges

I think this exposed me to a number of challenges associated with my work that I didn’t even know existed.

I sort of thought, okay we’re working on interesting stuff in the classroom, new innovations…I hadn’t really thought about how those scale across disciplines or across institutions. It exposed me to challenges that I wouldn’t have known how to approach without being pushed through this interdisciplinary experience.

See other faculty perspectives and learn how you can get involved in Bass Connections.