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How to educate large numbers of people – and achieve measurable improvement

Education is often filled with buzzwords. When I was a kid, we had buzzwords such as “new math.” Later, we had “back to basics.” Today’s buzzword is “common core.” These buzzwords often take on religious overtones, as we champion and denigrate each one.

However, the true measure of any educational system is whether it actually educates anyone.

Take this recent example. Many introductory college courses have large numbers of students, and effective methods need to be employed to educate in vast quantities. On the surface, the proposed method may sound like your typical trendy starry-eyed ivory tower theory.

[T]he mechanics faculty at Purdue University have developed the Purdue Mechanics Freeform Classroom (PMFC) – a new approach to engineering mechanics education. This complete, yet evolving, course system…seeks to combine the more successful elements of the traditional classroom with new hybrid textbooks, extensive multimedia content, and web2.0 interactive technologies to create linked physical and virtual learning environments that not only appeal to students, but markedly improve their technical competency in foundational engineering technical areas.

Sound trendy, but what are the results?

New findings indicate that the rate of students receiving a D, fail or withdraw from courses has been substantially reduced since its implementation. The DFW rate in Basic Mechanics I was 32 percent in the fall semester of 2008 and 18 percent in the fall semester of 2013. Likewise, the DFW rate in Basic Mechanics II was 21 percent in the spring semester of 2009 and 11 percent in the spring semester of 2013.

While some may quibble over whether this is an accurate measure of whether students are actually being educated, it’s undeniable that increasing numbers of Purdue students are performing at C level or above.

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