Academic Excellence Initiative Classroom-based Projects

What We've Done

Below, you will find a summary listing of our first cohorts' team projects, followed by the project plans for the current 2013 cohort teams. All of these projects use different methods and are aimed at assessing and/or reducing the achievement gap in different schools and colleges across campus.


2012 COHORT PROJECTS (completed or in-progress)


Biology 151/152 (CALS)
Course instructors – Doug Rouse, Jean Heitz, and Seth Blair
Delta Intern – Matt Clay
This project examined the effect of a smaller group format on the achievement gap in a large introductory biology course. Project leaders re-designed a module about evolution and organismal diversity from a lecture-only format to an interactive, small-groups format. They compared students' learning and satisfaction outcomes across the two formats. In their first attempt, they found that the new format did not directly or immediately create significantly greater learning gains for targeted minority groups. However, students found the material presented in the small group format to be more interesting, relevant to their life, and important to know. This was especially the case for targeted minorities and first-generation students.


Communication Arts 100 (L&S)
Course director – Sarah Jedd
Delta Intern – Rup Chakravorty
This project held a student focus-group to understand the issues that students face in the class that may lead to the achievement gap. Though only a small percentage of the students participated, making data inconclusive, the participants enjoyed the interactions during the focus group and found them helpful. The project group plans to provide more incentives for students to participate in future focus groups in order to generate useful data about the achievement gap.


Sociology/Psychology 160 (L&S)
Instructor – John DeLamater
Delta Intern – Brianna McMillan
This project investigated how structured role-playing group work affected the achievement gap in an introductory sociology class. Due to the low number of minority student participants, the project focus shifted to first generation students. Specifically, the project organizers asked whether first generation college students in the class were differentially impacted by the structured group exercise. Findings included no significant effects on learning or perception of diversity for the group, but a marginally significant effect on openness to diversity. This project will be replicated with added incentives and further opportunities for students to participate in order to obtain more robust data.


Human Physiology 335 (Med School)
Course Instructor – Andrew Lokuta
Delta Interns – Jessica TeSlaa and Lee Bishop
In this project, the impacts of introducing mandatory discussion attendance, including more diverse role model biographies relevant to course content, and developing cooperative learning activities were measured on the course’s achievement gap. The interventions together led to both a drop in adverse outcomes for all groups and better grades for all students, including targeted minority students. The project leaders point to the required attendance as a key factor in these better outcomes.


Geosciences (L&S) (Project still in progress; results not available)
Intern Partner – Herb Wang
Delta Intern – Kelsey Winsor
In this project, final grade data was examined for two large introductory geoscience courses for majors for the fall 2007 through spring 2012 semesters at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Achievement gaps were present between targeted and non-targeted minority students, female and male students, and first generation and non-first generation students. The magnitudes of the gaps vary between semesters, suggesting that different professors, teaching assistants, and/or student bodies have significant influence on the achievement gaps. This project is still in progress.

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2013 COHORT PROJECTS (in-progress)

Physics Learning Center (L&S)
PLC staff – Susan Nossal and Amihan Huesmann
Delta Intern – Anna Porras and Yewseok Suh
The Physics Learning Center (PLC) provides academic support and small group supplemental instruction to students in introductory algebra-based and calculus-based physics. The project seeks to measure the impact of a training PLC student peer mentors differently on the achievement gap in related courses. Specifically, they will teach the peer mentors methods of becoming self-aware in peer mentoring interactions, achieving common goals, and how to maximize those interactions. The effects of this new training will be assessed on student satisfaction with the PLC, performance on exams and course grades, and the academic performance of minority students in particular.


Engineering Mechanics 201 - Statics (CoE)
Course instructor – Bob Witt
Delta Intern – Matthew Bayer
This project group will revise the large introductory statics course to include a greater number of active and cooperative learning, for which there is evidence in the literature for increasing overall student performance and reducing the achievement gap. Those outcomes will then be assessed and compared to previous iterations of the course to see whether there is a significant difference in student performance and/or a change in the achievement gap.


Institute for Biology Education (Cross College)
IBE staff – Kristin Jenkins and Jennifer Ball-Sharpe
Delta Intern – Erin Shanle
The Exploring Biology course is a large 2 credit first-year interest group seminar and serves as an entry point for a variety of students interested in biology. This project team will perform a longitudinal study to evaluate the impact of participation in this course, as well as various pedagogical approaches implemented in the course. The project will start by establishing a database of students, and then move to identifying trends in achievement and persistence by following their paths through college.

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