New approach to teaching: ASU opts for smaller classes, online tools

TEMPE, Ariz. (FOX 10) -- When most people think of the typical college classroom, they think of a professor standing up front to give a lecture, and hundreds of students sitting and taking notes. However, Arizona State University is currently phasing out the traditional classroom setting, at least for its math and science courses.

This new way of teaching is about providing a more interactive learning experience for students, and the new system has been so successful that it has been adopted by about 30 other universities across the country. Instead of going to class to listen to lectures, students in Professor Susan Holechek's class do that online. Then, they go to class to work on problem-solving in small groups.

"I feel the students are more engaged because in a setting like this, they work in groups and able to go table by table, group by group. I can interact with them," said Holechek, an instructor at ASU's School of Life Sciences.

Since 2011, Dale Johnson, ASU's Director of Adaptive Learning Initiatives, has been working with other faculty and students to develop new course formats to improve student success rates.

"The adaptive active model uses a different approach," said Johnson. "What we're doing is teaching a student individually."

Delivering individualized lessons that are effective for different students, using new technology, because each student has their own way of learning.

"We're talking about video lectures, reading material, assessment questions, engaging activities online," said Johnson.

They do that work not after, but before coming to class, and so that when they get to class, they're prepared and understand the material. When all of the instructional resources are online, Johnson says these students can review a lecture two or three times.

"We're talking 18-year-old first-year students, and we're challenging them to think creatively about problems," said Johnson.

Problem-solving is another skill that will be useful once these students graduate from college and start working for companies.

Currently, more high school graduates are enrolling in college in the U.S., but nearly half fail to actually finish and end up saddled with debt. With this new type of classroom setting, ASU hopes to reduce the number of students withdrawing and increase the number of students passing their classes.