Increasing Active Learning with Technology In-class and Online

By Stephanie Kincaid

“Don’t underestimate the power of a video lecture to replace, or even surpass, a live lecture.”


I used this FITI grant to explore technologies that allowed me to stop lecturing and engage students in my introductory Applied Behavior Analysis course.  With the help of my FITI team, I developed online modules that included video lectures and quizzes.  These modules allowed students to master essential content at their own pace prior to coming to class.  Because I no longer had to lecture during class time, class meetings were dedicated to applying the course material with activities including classroom response technologies (e.g., NearPod, Kahoot), discussion, debates, scavenger hunts, role-play exercises, and more.

What inspired you to implement this project? 


When I taught this course in Fall 2016, I was challenged as an instructor.  Like most survey-style classes, the scope of the class is extremely broad, the material completely novel to some of the students, and the sheer volume of content seems to necessitate a break-neck pace.  At the same time, the expectations for student learning are critical: the course needs to create a strong foundation upon which subsequent courses can build.  As a result, I found myself becoming prey to my worst instincts as an instructor: relying on a lecture format, rushing through the content, not having enough time to support struggling students by explaining a concept multiple times, while also not having time to lead an in-depth discussion for students that were ready to “go deep.” I felt that the course needed a technology-assisted active learning makeover.

What were the goals for this project?


I had two overarching goals for this project.  First, I wanted to create a resource for my students that would 1) Be flexible enough to meet the needs of students of differing levels of familiarity with the subject (and not create busy work!), 2) Be active-learning and competency-based (I didn’t want them to be passively clicking through modules), and 3) Increase preparation for class meetings, as assessed by start-of-class quizzes.  This goal was met by my online modules (video lectures and unlimited-attempt quizzes).


Second, I wanted to explore technology tools that would increase student engagement in class.  Specifically, I wanted to decrease lecture slides by 30% and have each student participate at least 2 times per class period.  About a third of the way through my course, I stopped lecturing in class entirely.  The activities I created to replace lecture ensured that every student participated numerous times.  In particular, using the website NearPod allowed students to participate in several different ways (multiple choice questions, polls, free-response questions, and even drawing) while giving me detailed data on student responding.

Identify the tools and resources you used for this project.


Technology tools included:

  • Blackboard Test and Pool Tools, for building module quizzes
  • Kaltura CaptureSpace, for video lectures
  • Blue Snowball Microphone, for video lectures
  • NearPod (a student response system website; free version)


My whole FITI team assisted in helping me develop a clear direction for my online modules, and helping me de-bug the modules by being “test students.”  Deb Wellman from the Christian A. Johnson Institute for Effective Teaching helped me make sure my techniques were aligned with best-practices for teaching, Bill Svitavsky from the Olin Library helped me find materials I could point students to if they were struggling with a concept, and Scott Bokash from Instructional Design & Technology helped me identify the tools to turn my vision for this project into a reality.  In addition, several students that had taken the class previously gave feedback on the content of the video lectures and helped me fine-tune the module quiz questions.

What pedagogical techniques, strategies, and/or philosophies did you employ?


This project was guided by my philosophical orientation as a behaviorist and empirically-supported strategies from my field, Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).  For example, my online modules were heavily influenced by Personalized Systems of Instruction (PSI) and in-class activities incorporated Response Cards and Behavioral Skills Training (BST). 


These techniques incorporate: frequent immediate feedback, positive reinforcement, competency-based training, and practice opportunities (e.g., role play).  Because these are topics that are covered in the class, I felt like I was able to “walk the walk” and “practice what I preach” with respect to instructional strategies.  It was wonderful to see the students make connections between the topics we covered in class and the design of the class itself.

What were some of the lessons that you learned from implementing this project?


I was surprised by how individualized the needs of my students were.  My online modules allowed me to analyze the data to see how long it took for each student to learn each topic.  I expected that some students (presumably, ones that entered the class with more familiarity with the subject) would master topics more quickly than other students.  But I was surprised about the shades of gray in between these two extremes.  A topic that would take one student 2 attempts to master would take another student upwards of 10 attempts, and there would be a lot of variation in between!  Some students would watch a video lecture once, whereas others would watch it in 10 minute bursts but replay the same lecture 4 times.  And while some topics were generally more difficult than others, it was pretty difficult to predict which topics would stump individual students from week-to-week.  This emphasizes to me the importance individualized instruction, and I see technology as a way to make that kind of individualization feasible.

How did this endeavor change your teaching in expected or unexpected ways?


I feel that my FITI grant provided me the time and resources to make my vision for this course a reality.  Prior to the grant, while I felt that I had some good potential ideas for the course, the up-front investment required to make my ideas into reality seemed out of reach.  I believe this experience allowed me to “practice what I preach” as an instructor.

What did you change (or would you change) the second time you implemented this project in class?


I am currently in the process of making the video lectures more accessible to students by adding a transcript.  This is something I would have liked to the first time around but the time requirement would have been prohibitive.

How did this project impact student learning?


This project improved my student’s preparedness for class (as assessed by start-of-class quizzes) as well as test scores.  I am happy to provide supporting data (i.e., graphs) to support these claims.  Students reported that class periods were fun, engaging, and effective in promoting learning.  Additionally, students reported that the modules were essential for their learning and made a daunting class more manageable.


I’ve noticed that students are more prepared for meetings with me (I’ve even noticed them watching my video lectures in the lobby prior to coming to my office).  Additionally, I’ve noticed downstream-effects in that the students who completed this course are now demonstrating greater learning in subsequent courses.


Here are some comments from students regarding the course:

  • “Coming into this program, I knew most of this material already, but Stephanie still managed to make the class interesting and interactive. I still felt I learned something new every class, even if I was already familiar with the material.”
  • “Each week included some form of interaction and/or role play, which facilitated in learning the material.”
  • “This was my favorite class this semester. I really looked forward to coming to class every week and was so excited to participant in the classroom activities.”
  • “The modules were SO HELPFUL! I really felt like that made a huge difference for me. Stephanie always puts in so much extra work into this course in order for us to completely understand the material.”
  • “This course was set up to provide the proper amount of support for students with any level of experience.”
  • “I know I did well in this class because of these video lectures and online quizzes she provided. I can’t say enough about this format.”

Stephanie Kincaid

Visiting Assistant Professor, Health Professions (Applied Behavior Analysis and Clinical Science)

Stephanie Kincaid is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst-Doctoral®. Her doctoral training at West Virginia University included basic behavioral research with non-human animals as well as applications of behavior analysis in schools. After finishing her Ph.D., she completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship in Severe Behavior at the Marcus Center (an NIH Autism Center of Excellence). She is interested in translational research and applications of behavior analysis to college teaching.