Eugene Quinn, assistant professor of mathematics, is fascinated by data. For 27 years he crunched numbers for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Providence Washington Insurance Group and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.
But in 2003, when his job was outsourced, he decided to go back to school. The year he finished his Ph.D., Quinn got a one-year teaching appointment at Stonehill and was then hired full time. “I’m incredibly lucky. I wake up in the morning, and I still have to pinch myself,” he says.
Motivated by a career of using analytical tools, Quinn was quick to explore how technology could enhance his teaching methods. By using Stonehill’s online assessment tools, he’s discovered an innovative way to deliver problem sets to his classes and track their progress. For example, Calculus I students will sign on to the system and be presented with a group of six questions, one at a time. An important function of the system, Quinn explains, is that once they answer a question, the program provides instant feedback. “Students immediately see whether they got it right or wrong and also see an explanation of how to do the problem to reinforce what they’ve learned,” he says. “Research shows that people learn better when they get immediate feedback instead of handing in an assignment and getting it back days later.”
For the assessment feedback, Quinn employs one of Stonehill’s newest technologies: lecture capture. Using an iPad, he writes out a problem and solution while verbally explaining the process. It is recorded as a video, which Quinn then links to the appropriate answer online.
Quinn is enthusiastic about the benefit to student learning. “They get a custom explanation, on demand, and can take the assessments and watch the videos as much as they want,” he says. “Students with a higher learning curve can do it more, and others who came in more prepared do less. To a surprising degree, even after they get them all right, I often see students keep taking it for more practice.”
Quinn has uploaded about 200 videos online, some only a couple of minutes in length and others that are seven to eight minutes long that serve as a summary of the lecture materials. Students use the lecture capture software too, as a way to present their solutions to the class. Their videos are also permanently recorded and posted in the course module, so students can watch each other’s work. “It’s good practice of presentation skills for when they are out in the workforce,” Quinn says.
Quinn’s next challenge is to demonstrate the impact of technology in terms of what – and how – Stonehill students learn. “Technology is evolving very rapidly. The vast majority of students say they prefer doing work online, but it’s not just about what they like,” Quinn says. “It’s what works in terms of learning more effectively.”
Faculty across Stonehill use online assessment tools in similar ways, providing Quinn with a rich bank of information from a variety of disciplines and types of courses. To date he has collected 86,000 responses and continues to develop data-mining programs to extract information from the system. “By recording student responses – how long it takes to answer a question, right versus wrong answers, multiple choice trends – we can see how people use the technology,” Quinn explains.
He is eager to analyze the data and hopes to get a handle on how quickly students progress through course content with the aid of new technologies. “If students do better,” he says, “that’s the bottom line.”