Digital Supplemental Instruction (SI)
"Just Three Minutes": A Learning Innovation for Struggling Students

created by Professor Carol Springer


Ultra-short on-line instructional videos, gave struggling and "turned off" students in a difficult, required course a taste of success and renewed hope in "just three minutes." These carefully designed "small bites" were enough to bring students back for more and more, and, within a semester, created enough momentum to improve the pass rates for a large enrollment course from 45%-55% over a period of several years to 71.43% in Spring 2007 and 73.09% in Fall 2007.

This innovation is perfectly matched to today's student generation where everything they are exposed to is delivered in small sound bites, attention-deficit behavior garners smirks rather than shame and immediate gratification rules their choices. Rather than criticize this mentality, this innovation strikes at the heart of it-providing instruction in the format that conforms to their style. In addition to improving student learning, this innovation also forced faculty development. The design required the author to devote extra time to thinking creatively about the course's big ideas.

What will you see


If you enrolled in this course you would see three tutorials sessions per chapter loaded in your course website.

If you viewed one of these Digital SI will not see....students being entertained....

What you will see is caring....a very very slow pace...and an emphasis on what struggling students need...

--> repetition of the main ideas
--> help with misconceptions
--> strategies for remembering and avoiding errors
--> diagnosing common learning problems

Oh no...let's not create three minute learners!

The intention is not to create a "three minute learner" but to scaffold struggling students enough to help them catch up and maintain a normal pace in the classroom (thereby improving their attendance) and afford them many repetitions. It is embarrassing to some students that they can't "get it" the first, second or third time--they need a dozen or more.

The follow up work that is needed is whether this just reinforces short attention spans or moves them along the maturity cycle by increasing their confidence and ability to "stick with it" as well as their understanding that fixing misconceptions and using strategies help with learning. If you are interested in this work, let me know. I am looking for an experiment that might reveal the effect of "Show Me How" Tutorials on learners' future habits.

Oh they won't come to class

The tutorials are not a repeat of the lecture. Although the main ideas are repeated, the idea is to diagnose the typical ways the weaker students may "get it wrong" in this domain. Student attendance has improved since the tutorials were added.

Hey...these are longer than three minutes
Yes, the instruction is three minutes but each tutorial also has practice problems at the end that students can try to see if they really "got it." The students are instructed to "freeze the frame" and work the problem before advancing to the solution.
Why not do more?

The idea is not to slice the full course into three minute segments but to help the students:

--> feel there is a way for them to grasp the main ideas deeply
--> help students prioritize the ideas into the most important and less important concepts (something strong students do naturally)

By limiting the number of big ideas in the tutorials, the instructor is forced to acknowledge that some ideas are bigger than others, some ideas are foundational to other ideas in the course and students tend to gather misconceptions around some ideas more than others. Limiting the number also permits the instructor to spend a disproportionate amount of preparation time on instruction for those big ideas.

Back to Professor Carol Springer Sargent Website