Report on Getting Started on Course Redesign November 13, 2009

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) hosted the seminar, “Getting Started on Course Redesign” on Friday, November 13, 2009. Over 100 faculty and staff from across the country were in attendance. This posting is a summary of key points that were presented and discussed at the seminar.

Carolyn Jarmon provided an overview of course redesign (CR) with a focus on the various methods and approaches that institutions, states and systems have used to begin the redesign process: the CR planning stage; the importance of good commercial software; the top reasons for redesigning courses; and a review of the characteristics and models of redesign.

NCAT’s characteristics (principles) of CR are used for beginning and guiding a project. Universities and colleges build on these characteristics to define CR for specific courses. One characteristic is to focus on redesigning the whole course. There are ethical reasons for doing this such as if the CR results in a better course then all students should have access. She posed an interesting question that has been asked here at NCSU: Should students have a choice between the traditionally taught course or the redesigned course? Carolyn’s opinion was that it is unlikely the students will choose the “new” course because it “disrupts their vision of higher education” (i.e., learning in a lecture setting).  Students will “push back” from faculty when presented with an alternative way to learn. The best strategy is to have all students enroll in the redesigned course after the pilot phase is complete. This is when we can assume any problems that occurred are fixed.

Universities are redesigning courses as a result of a resource or student related institutional problem: high drop, fail, withdrawal (DFW) (particularly in Math); large waiting lists; improve performance in subsequent courses; course drift; student and departmental complaints about the course; difficulty finding qualified adjunct instructors.

Carolyn reviewed the characteristics of the redesign models: Supplemental, Replacement, Buffet, Emporium, and Online. A new model has been added, “Linked Workshop Model (see http://www.thencat.org/PlanRes/R2R_Model_Linked.htm for more information). The goal is to better accommodate the need for remedial learning while retaining the basic structure of the course. It replaces remedial/developmental courses with just-in-time workshops that are designed to remove deficiencies in core course competencies. The workshops are supervised by faculty and facilitated by graduate or undergraduate student tutors. The design may include computer-based instruction or small group activities or a combination of both.

As an introduction to the six models, Carolyn presented two questions and a list of key points for CR that is worth mentioning.

Two questions to ask when considering and undertaking CR:

  1. What does technology do as well or better than how the course is currently taught?
  2. What can we teach face-to-face and what can we teach using the technology?

Key points:

  • Do not redesign an existing exemplar course.
  • Integrate active learning into the CR—“Get students to work harder than the professor” by encouraging students to become more involved in their own learning process.
  • Rely on commercial software.
  • CR should be based on mastery learning—do not “dumb down the course.”
  • Learning outcomes do not always change after redesign—CR teams are discovering that the student grade averages are the same after a series of redesign iterations because the course becomes more difficult.
  • Keep in mind that freshman students are not ready for a self-paced class—The course should be designed to include milestones and deadlines.
  • Build in on-demand, individualized assistance for students to get help with the course material.

Following Carolyn’s presentation, faculty and staff from the Department of Romance Languages at UNC-CH presented how they identified the need for and how they launched the redesign of Introductory Spanish. Sally Search, Dean, Academic Support Programs, Tallahassee Community College presented how the redesign team at TCC identified the problems they were trying to solve and how they launched their initial redesign of developmental math, and English and reading. (Information about these projects can be found on the NCAT website, http://www.thencat.org.

The UNC-CH Introductory Spanish CR team emphasized lessons learned from their project:

  • Start with a good course design
  • Reuse teaching materials
  • Provide an orientation for the students
  • Be efficient
  • Create effective assessment methods
  • Have a consistent organization pattern
  • Determine what you can do best in class and online
  • Students perceive greater learning in traditional sections while CR assessments show the actual learning outcomes are equal

What I found informative from the TCC presentation included the following:

  • Leverage technology without compromising human interaction
  • Program design should address the “whole course and the whole student”
  • CR is iterative
  • Make provisions to train faculty and encourage ongoing professional development
  • Measure against your own progress
  • Ask the questions, “Does it make a difference?” and “Is it scalable and sustainable?”
  • Conduct an honest assessment and analysis
  • Get broad-based buy-in (upper and departmental administration, faculty and student assistants)
  • Leverage current resources
  • Encourage collaboration and team-building
  • Spring semester phenomenon impacts the data (ABC grades and DFW rates)—Spring semester grades are lower after failing or dropping the course in the previous Fall semester.

The day was concluded with small group discussions and a panel discussion to talk about common obstacles faced by other colleges and universities. There were many questions about the software used in the courses that were presented. Funding and faculty buy-in were two shared concerns across colleges and universities. Educating the administration about the benefits of redesign and advocating for funding is key. Provide monetary support for CR planning and development (i.e., course release), scholarly recognition for reappointment, promotion, and tenure (RPT), and college and departmental mandates were suggested as steps toward getting all faculty involved.

For more information about CR please visit the NCAT website, http://www.thencat.org.