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Exploring Student Preference between Textbook Chapters and Adaptive Learning Lessons in an Introductory Environmental Geology Course

  • E. Christa FarmerEmail author
  • Amy J. Catalano
  • Adam J. Halpern
Original Paper


In a Fall 2017 introductory course in Environmental Geology, homework assignments alternated between traditional textbook chapters in an electronic format and adaptive learning platform (ALP) modules on the Smart Sparrow ( platform to assess student preference for and satisfaction with either modality. Few studies have evaluated the role of ALP technology in a classroom setting, and none have investigated ALPs in a homework setting. To probe student preferences between these assignments, and their engagement with the material through the different modalities, all (n = 17) students in the course were given eight surveys over the Fall 2017 semester. A subset of six students volunteered for qualitative interviews in addition to the quantitative surveys. Analysis of the results shows that students were more satisfied with the ALP modules, except for the longest assigned module. No relationships were found between preference for one module over another and major, engagement, or interest in environmental geology. A majority of the students interviewed identified the interactivity of the adaptive learning modules as a contributing factor to the retention of concepts presented. This suggests students experienced a higher level of cognitive engagement with the ALP material.


Adaptive learning platforms Student satisfaction Personal interest 



The authors appreciate the participation of the students in the Fall 2017 GEOL005 Environmental Geology course, and formative discussions of the research plan with Julie Sexton, Assistant Director of Assessment at the University of Northern Colorado. The authors also gratefully acknowledge the suggestions of four anonymous reviewers and appreciate the efforts of the editors to improve the manuscript.

Funding Information

Access to the Smart Sparrow adaptive learning platform was provided by Smart Sparrow and The Inspark Teaching Network for all 17 students, one faculty member (ECF), and one instructional designer who collaborated on module development (AJH).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Disclosure Statement

Except for the direct financial assistance provided by Smart Sparrow and The Inspark Teaching Network as described above, none of the authors have any financial interest benefit from this research.

Supplementary material

11528_2019_435_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 16.4 kb)


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications & Technology 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Geology, Environment, and Sustainability DepartmentHofstra UniversityHempsteadUSA
  2. 2.Teaching, Learning and Technology DepartmentHofstra UniversityHempsteadUSA
  3. 3.School of EducationHofstra UniversityHempsteadUSA

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