Recently, our team revisited arguably one of the most important higher ed stories of 2015, which addresses the increasing trend among higher ed institutions in redesigning large enrollment courses.

In Colleges Reinvent Classes to Keep More Students in Science, New York Times reporter Richard Pérez-Peña visits with multiple universities that are overhauling the teaching of introductory science to incorporate a more active learning approach.

Today’s universities continue to function under a model that has little pedagogical value. With growing student numbers, classes are becoming more impersonal and students are learning less than what their teachers think. And not surprisingly “failure to persist to graduation can usually be traced back to difficulties in foundational courses.” Intro-level courses, and STEM in particular, can be critical in determining the success of one’s learning journey.

According to a 2008 report out of the University of Colorado—of the thousands of students who were tested over several years, before and after they each took an introductory physics class, those students in transformed classes had improved their scores by about 50 percent more than those in traditional classes. The University of North Carolina also recently reported increased student performance overall and yielded a particularly beneficial effect for African American and first-generation students as a result of redesigning the instruction of introductory biology courses.

Although this article published in the first week of the year, it is as relevant to us as any other that we’ve read all year. Why? Because it highlights that the motivation to redesign large enrollment courses is no longer just about cost savings, but rather, it’s about not accepting the variation in learning quality. Hence why, high-quality STEM courses “ones that mimic the best attributes of smaller upper-division courses, are emerging as a postsecondary differentiator”.

At Smart Sparrow, we are committed to empowering educators through technology, that enables them to create courseware that truly engages students. As Joshua Kim states in the Inside Higher Ed blog, “we don’t retain what we don’t manipulate, create, and explain.” In other words, learning-by-doing is essential in ensuring an effective learning experience.

Also critical to this experience, is making the learning experience relevant and personal for each student, and it is adaptive learning that enables this type of authentic learning. (We invite you to watch a webinar we held recently on the benefits of incorporating adaptive learning in your teaching).

This past January, in partnership with Arizona State University, we launched a network of science educators and experts who are working together to tackle the college completion challenge.The goal of the Inspark Science Network, which is funded through a grant awarded to Smart Sparrow as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Next Generation Courseware Challenge, is to address this issue head on and make introductory science courses more engaging for non-science majors.

This collaboration will empower instructors with the next wave of integrative and transdisciplinary approaches to teaching science. Using Smart Sparrow’s instructional design platform, the network of science educators and experts will work together to create new digital courseware that harnesses the latest personalized digital learning technologies combined with active learning, centered on compelling scientific questions that motivate and support students to succeed. For more information about the network visit