For the past decade, a variety of courses at Michigan State University (MSU) have used the Computer-Assisted Personalized Approach (CAPA) system, a network tool designed to facilitate and improve the way assignments, quizzes, and examinations are delivered and graded in large enrollment courses (E.Kashy et al., 1993). An instructor uses the system to generate unique assignments for each student in a class. The system then provides immediate feedback to students (and instructors) on conceptual understanding and correctness of solutions and allows students to rework incorrect solutions. Recent analyses of data from introductory physics courses suggest that women are particularly likely to benefit from the broader use of such systems (D. Kashy, Albertelli, E. Kashy, & Thoennessen; 2001).
MSU will conduct a planning study with two objectives: 1. Examine the vast database from courses in many areas of the sciences that have used the CAPA system in the past to see whether and to what degree the gender differences found in physics are found in other science fields. 2. Plan a comprehensive study that will attempt to identify the critical elements that promote gender equity in science, mathematics, and engineering education when using this technology.
The courses in the study make use of the LON-CAPA system (Learning Online Network with CAPA), an integrated tool that uses network technology for learning and assessment. In addition to providing improved versions of the tools in CAPA, it includes a content authoring and management system that allows new and existing materials to be broadly and easily exchanged among instructors and institutions, an extensive data collection and retrieval system, and a content delivery system that will provide gateways to and from NSF's National STEM Digital Library.
The study will investigate whether the use of this widely available and free technology is also a tool for enhancing the success rate of women in science courses.