Structured, active, in-class learning (SAIL) is a term used to describe classroom education with an emphasis on learning-by-doing. Class time is built around a variety of student-centered activities with clear educational goals meant to engage students in the learning process. Introduction to Biomechanics is a required sophomore course focusing on the application of statics and mechanics to biologic tissue. In 2014, the course was re-structured to dedicate 50% of class time to collaborative group problem solving and hands-on activities, and 50% to lecture interspersed with instant feedback questions and responses. Here we investigated conceptual gains in a SAIL formatted course compared to a traditional, lecture-only format taught by the same instructors. Additionally, we explored student attitudes and confidence in the SAIL course to better understand the impact of the format.
The effectiveness of SAIL activities was assessed using a pre- and post-instruction concept quiz. Quizzes were administered to students in both the lecture-only (2013) and SAIL (2014) courses. The concept material was categorized into fundamental, prerequisite material (e.g. Newtonian physics), and material learned during the course, (e.g. statics and mechanics of materials). Differences between the pre- and post-concept quizzes were calculated and normalized based on pre-instruction scores to measure gains in conceptual understanding over the semester. To further understand student attitudes and confidence in skills associated with success in the SAIL course, surveys were administered at the beginning and end of the semester.
Results from the concept quizzes showed a significant increase in conceptual gains on course material taught in the SAIL format compared to the traditional format. Gains in prerequisite, physics knowledge did not differ. The SAIL course surveys demonstrated that 84% of students found the course structure an effective way to learn material. No significant differences in conceptual gains were found among under-represented groups. Comparing responses at the beginning of the semester to the end, the majority of students reported increased confidence in their problem-solving skills and their ability to work well in a group. Interestingly, students that entered with only moderate confidence showed similar confidence gains over the semester compared to their peers and were equally likely to show gains in course material conceptual understanding. However, these gains in conceptual understanding were not always reflected in course grades; students that entered the course with moderate confidence tended to receive lower grades than their peers with high incoming confidence. Finally, students who reported the greatest gains in enjoyment of learning biomechanics did not have the higher gains in conceptual understanding. This suggests that even students who struggled with the material found that the course positively influenced their enthusiasm and interest in the subject.
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