Bridge Instruction Model

Goals specific to this model:

  • 1Address diverse needs of heterogeneous students
  • 2Provide instructional scaffolds at the optimal time

Students commonly have varying skill levels in the following areas:

  • 1.

    Basic skills, including writing, reading, or mathematical literacy.

  • 2.

    STEM classes that include scientific or technical skills, such as those common in nursing or research programs.

  • 3.

    Subject-area prerequisites to upper-level courses or higher degrees. In these cases, prerequisite courses:

    • may not be required,
    • may have been taken a long time ago and the content forgotten,
    • may not have been mastered when taken, despite a passing grade.

How can educators provide instruction to a diverse group of learners? Bridge instruction seeks to fill selective gaps in knowledge that are identified on a student-by-student basis. There are two common approaches, each with benefits and challenges that will be discussed below.

  • In a “just-in-time” approach, gaps in knowledge are addressed in the course of normal instruction
  • In a readiness approach, students complete additional work prior to the beginning of regular instruction.

Variations of This Model

Just-in-time:

In a just-in-time approach, targeted skill practice is given to build specific skills before an assignment or assessment. Just-in-time means that the necessary knowledge and skills are specific to some imminent use. Instruction and practice (usually about a page or a module) may be placed in a central course area or directly next to the assignment it supports. The recommended content can be optional or required for all students, or can be recommended for specific students based upon past performance or diagnostic data.

When using this approach, it is important that only the critical knowledge and skills are targeted, and there is an imminent need for the knowledge and skills.

Benefits:

  • When students must complete an assignment that is due soon, just-in-time support may be perceived as highly relevant and useful, increasing adoption.
  • The combination of skill building and immediate application support retention of the knowledge and skills.
  • Students who cannot attend office hours, do not wish to seek help, or have waited too long to get help have a ready-made support lesson available.
  • Students commonly search online for help with topics they don’t understand, which can be time-consuming and yield inaccurate information. Bridge resources are both targeted and accurate.
  • Content can be as little as a few pages of text instruction and a few targeted practice opportunities, which makes these types of modules easy to develop.
  • Content can be developed before the start of the academic term and refined or extended as needed.
  • Just-in-time content can be made continuously available to students, such that they can revisit the instruction and practice as needed.
  • Ability to closely monitor student progress toward goals and time spent learning, as well as patterns of strengths and weaknesses, and to intervene as necessary through tracking of performance and progress.

Pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Students may perceive the work as “extra” and not schedule time to complete the module. If the module is too long or time-consuming, students may determine the cost is higher than the benefit.
  • If a module is not perceived as useful in supporting assignment completion, students may be deterred from attempting future just-in-time modules.

Readiness

In a readiness approach, a diagnostic test determines the knowledge and skills that are missing on a student-by-student basis. This determination can be made with a pre-test or from existing performance data. Then, based on the diagnostic assessment, specific, targeted instruction is delivered in the platform, before the normal course of instruction. In an adaptive readiness approach, students focus on just the knowledge and skills they are missing.

Readiness modules can take the form of:

  • A pre-course of instruction and skill practice. The time set aside for such a course is prior to the start of the targeted course.
  • A pre-module of instruction and skill practice. The module is given during the regular term, but before the other course content is attempted (such as during the first week).

Benefits:

  • If the diagnostic assessment is in Acrobatiq, it can be developed as a normal content module, which provides a learning opportunity for students. This may be time well spent in that it serves as refresher and skill-builder even for the students who are ultimately exempted from a readiness course or module, and pre-learning for students who are not exempted.
  • Students gain familiarity with Acrobatiq before beginning the course.
  • A pre-course or pre-module can be made continuously available to students, such that they can revisit the instruction and practice as needed.
  • Ability to closely monitor student progress toward goals and time spent learning, as well as patterns of strengths and weaknesses, and to intervene as necessary through tracking of performance and progress.

Pitfalls to watch out for:

  • Depending on the scope of the course, a readiness approach may require a large amount of content to be developed in order to address many different types of skill gaps.
  • Research is mixed as to the long-term effects of bridge instruction on learning and persistence outcomes and has generally recommended the inclusion of additional training on metacognitive skills, such as self-regulation of progress, and the inclusion of social support. The costs and benefits should be carefully weighed.

What this model means for students:

Some students may welcome help with assignments, particularly if the instruction targets common misconceptions or knowledge gaps. This help is available at their convenience and does not require an appointment with an instructor. Other students may perceive any extra work as a hindrance to completing the course. They may feel that they would rather have help from their instructors and seek this out instead of or in addition to self-paced bridge instruction.

Students may perceive this type of support as more helpful for technical topics directly related to their studies (e.g., nursing, research, statistics), than for more general skills (e.g., writing, reading, math). Making the applications to their coursework readily apparent will help students see the value of the time they invest.

What this model means for teachers:

This model has the potential to reduce individual help needed by students and to produce higher quality work from students, both of which could reduce instructor time on these tasks. Instructors should monitor and review progress with bridge instruction, to determine how students are using and learning from the instruction, and also to make any necessary adjustments to the instruction.

The instructor and institution must plan for what happens if students do not achieve a specified level of performance with bridge instruction. Policies around whether the bridge instruction is optional or required will help determine next steps. In general, if students are not learning from the targeted feedback in Acrobatiq, they may need additional academic support. If they are not able to progress in a timely or efficient manner, they may need additional administrative or social supports. Each of these scenarios should be considered prior to implementation.

Suggested strategies that best leverage the strengths of this model:

Instructional planning

It is important to know what knowledge and skills are needed in your targeted assignments (just-in-time instruction) or as pre-requisites for your course (readiness instruction) so that you can align your bridge Instruction to these. Instructor expertise related to key skills and common misconceptions will be helpful in doing this planning.

Development of bridge materials

Develop targeted instructional activities to help students be successful in completing a specific assignment or as pre-requisite to specific course. Avoid the temptation to address too much.

Support planning

Missing knowledge and skills may not be the only barriers to successful completion of a course. Research on bridge instruction offered before the start of normal instruction has targeted multifaceted barriers to success, including deficits in metacognitive skills, such as self-regulation, and social supports. Recognize that students who need bridge instruction may benefit from various types of supports.

Coaching students

Students should be oriented to the platform. In addition, students should be explicitly told about the benefits of working with the bridge materials. Instructor endorsement of the work can help students understand how it can make them more successful. Finally, if students can see the connections between the bridge materials and what they are being asked to do in the course, they are more likely to complete the bridge work. These connections will not be immediately obvious and should be made explicit.

Make the content and practice continually available to students, so that they can revisit the materials whenever they wish.