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Improving Student Learning While Saving Faculty Time

Message Number: 


Michael Fried, professor of mathematics at the University of California, Riverside uses e-mail technology to give students much more personal time with him, without increasing his burden immeasurably. In fact, accor ding to Fried: 

"The tools developed save me time every day, OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM especially, for they give recoverable documentation of my activities almost effortlessly." 

The program also allows for grading high level exams with 1/3rd the effort. 

Fried's, Electronic Portfolios: Enhancing Interactions Between Students and Teachers project, was funded by the Sloan Foundation and you can find out more about it at:, or you can write to him at: 

Here is a very brief summary of some of the material on the above Web sites: 

* What the project did: 
Minority students show less confidence in using the instructor as a resource. To bring equity to the achievement of all students, the project: 

* Established quality student-instructor asynchronous e-mail communication 
* Gathered information on each student through e-mail questionnaires 
* Developed a system of automated portfolio creation with shell technology 
* Created a 3-stage process for developing individual and team projects 
* Provided continual e-mail reinforcement to maintain student initiative toward completion of the projects 
* Instituted weekly comment files for continual course responses to students and the assistant 

According to Fried, "These daily interactions brought more contact with students in one course than I had in 20 years of teaching. ...These portfolios started the process of documenting the value added by the instructor and the value of retaining these students. Many of these are minority students who were borderline for dropping out. " 

The key to not overwhelming the instructor in terms of time is something called "shell program technology," described more completely in the Web documents, and readily available to any university running UNIX in its e-mail accounts. 

* Reasons for doing it: 

Classroom time pressure cuts into the amount of feedback because (1) there is not enough time for more than a few students to interact, and (2) there's not enough time for students to think about what they want to say. In a practical way, classrooms a re synchronous channels. The Internet provides an asynchronous communication that uses individual freedom to replace time constraints. 

* Key portfolio interaction ingredients are: 
* The 3-stage project 
* Project and class evaluation 
* Electronic grading and evaluation tools 
* Day to day portfolio creation 

For more information, check out the Web sites listed above. 

It would be great to hear from others on how they have improved learning while decreasing (or at least not increasing) faculty time. 

Rick Reis