How Utrecht University teaches Research Methods at large scale using Grasple

School type University

Students 30.000+

Employees 6700

Course First year Research Methods

Students 1400

Work Groups 60

My name is Kirsten Namesnik. I am lecturer at the Methods departments at the Faculty of Social Sciences. We provide education to all bachelor students in social sciences. We strive to provide personal and interactive education. Our challenge is to do this at large scale: we’re helping over 1400 first year students learn the basics of research methods and statistics.

Kirsten Namesnik - Instructor/Lecturer at Utrecht University

Our educational offering used to be: large scale lectures in which we discussed statistics theory, and work groups where students worked through sections of the book. We even spent two whole lectures just discussing the basics of statistics: mean, median, histogram, etc.

Kirsten Namesnik - Instructor/Lecturer at Utrecht University “Traditional lectures have a low retention rate. We wanted to change that.”

– Kirsten Namesnik - Instructor/Lecturer at Utrecht University

We noticed that students did not see the use of learning about research methods, because the theory was too disconnected from the practice. Two years ago we set ourselves a challenge: how can we make our education more relevant and interesting to our students? So we asked ourselves: how should we teach research methods and statistics and make it future-proof? We discussed this with the entire department. Finally we decided that we have to make it more conceptual, focus more on research methods and connect to statistics when it’s relevant. And our teaching has to become more interactive. So we started investigating what we needed to change to achieve this.

“I’ll be honest, we were skeptical at first. But a year later, Grasple showed us exactly what we were looking for: the ability to create and reuse materials and adapt them to match our educational vision.”

– Kirsten Namesnik - Instructor/Lecturer at Utrecht University

Grasple has allowed us to collaboratively create new materials and share them with our students easily. Additionally, we can integrate videos and links to our own Shiny-apps. With the help of Educate-IT, we agreed on a four-year campus-wide collaboration with Grasple.

Charlotte Rietbergen - Assistant Professor at Utrecht University “To me, Grasple means user friendliness, overview and fun - because of the interaction!”

– Charlotte Rietbergen - Assistant Professor at Utrecht University

We now use Grasple in three ways:

  1. Study basic concepts: we have created a list of all the concepts we expect students to master and are not addressed in class. Students can learn and practice these concepts at their own pace. We used Grasple’s existing lessons and exercises and tailored them to fit our specific curriculum.
  2. Flipped classroom lessons: we have created lessons in Grasple for concepts that we cover in the course. Students go through these lessons before class.
  3. Formative testing: every two weeks, we offer a 10-15 minute formative test in class. I can see the results immediately and discuss the questions that were answered worst in class. Students love to see their progress and get immediate feedback.

Formative testing

Kirsten reviews the results, immediately after one of the ten-minute formative tests.

Discuss misconceptions

Grasple visually displays student’s answers. Here you see that most students picked an incorrect answer, which is then discussed in the class.

We hear from the students that they enjoy practicing in Grasple. What we like about it is that students can go through the material multiple times. For some, one time is enough. Others need more practice. With Grasple, they can keep practicing.

UU FSW Students

Student at Utrecht University “I really like working with Grasple! I like that I can practice and immediately see how I am doing. Too bad we don’t use this in my other courses..”

– Student at Utrecht University

The support from Grasple has been great, too! They respond quickly and they’re always trying to help. Technology-wise we have only good experiences with it so far. Even if 500 students start a test at the same time, the program remains fast and the website has not given us any problems since we started.

In case you are also about to redesign your course, my advice would be: first take a good look at what is already out there and make use of that. It’s easier to reuse and change existing materials, than to start all over. In particular the lessons to review basic concepts, even if they do not fully match your vision yet, that’s still a good start. The students appreciate having the material. From there, you can start adapting and creating specific new materials and focus your energy on what’s most important to you and your students.

Are we willing to share the materials we created: sure, of course! If people ask me why, I think: well… why not?! If others see value in the materials we created, that’s great. We have put a lot of time and effort in creating them, so the more people can make use of that, the better it is for everyone. Others can then also add more exercises or add suggestions. We can then benefit from that. But the main reason is, we just don’t see any reason not to share.

Curious how Grasple could assist you in your course?