Instructors of college students, or any students for that matter, want to create the best possible learning outcomes for those they are teaching. But ideas on how to improve results have changed over the years. The latest trend focuses on data-driven decisions to better educate college students. Read on to learn tips for improving learning outcomes in your classroom.

Using student data

Data-driven decisions have been a part of education since education was first formalized in the United States. Teachers used information about how students did in certain areas and what techniques worked best to adapt their methods to create the best possible learning outcomes for all of their students. Today’s standardized tests offer instructors another tool for how to improve classroom results.

Even with college students, who don’t utilize the same standardized tests that are used throughout the public school system, it is possible to use data to determine what each student’s strengths and weaknesses are and then teach with those in mind.

Craig A. Mertler’s book, The Data-Driven Classroom: How Do I Use Student Data to Improve My Instruction?, described other forms of data, besides standardized tests, to gather tips for improving learning outcomes, “Local assessments—including summative assessments (classroom tests and quizzes, performance based assessments, portfolios) and formative assessments (homework, teacher observations, student responses and reflections)—are also legitimate and viable sources of student data for this process.”

new ideas for your classroomThe changing classroom

Our digital age has affected most aspects of life, including learning outcomes for college students. Today, instructors have more opportunities to make data-driven decisions that can have a greater impact on their students. Author Dianna L. Van Blerkom argued in Taking Charge of Your Learning: A Guide to College Success, 1st Edition, that the key to creating active learners in the classroom is for instructors to “provide them with new strategies that will help them be more successful in college,” and to “find ways to motivate them to use those strategies in their own coursework.” (Van Blerkom, xvii)

Be sure your sample size is not too small, or you may get an inaccurate conclusion. Tips for making the most of the data in the classroom include:

  • First, identify the areas or skills where the highest number of students performed poorly.
  • Next rank these areas in order of the poorest performance.
  • Finally, focus on the top one or two areas to go over again with students.

Old vs. new

The idea of data-driven decisions is not new, although the terminology and methods may be different. Earlier generations of instructors may have relied on intuition about their students or personal experience for how to improve the learning outcomes in their class. These are valid sources of tips for educating, but they should not be the only tools an instructor utilizes. Obviously, some trial and error is necessary in the classroom, but data-driven decisions are an important and valid method for standardizing assessment and providing a more scientific and systematic approach to learning outcomes.

Do you have any other tips for utilizing data-driven decisions to improve learning outcomes for college students? Let us know in the comments.

Reference: Van Blerkom, Diana L. 2011. Taking Charge of Your Learning: A Guide to College Success, 1st ed. Boston, MA: Thomson Higher Education.