View Site Map

The Learning MarketSpace, July 2011

A quarterly electronic newsletter of the National Center for Academic Transformation highlighting ongoing examples of redesigned learning environments using technology and examining issues related to their development and implementation.












Offering perspectives on issues and developments at the nexus of higher education and information


According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “Every year millions of young adults stride onto their local community college campus with aspirations of obtaining a college degree. But even though most of those new enrollees graduated from high school, nearly 60 percent will have to take a remedial class before earning college credit.”

How well do they do if they enroll in a developmental math class (and many who should enroll do not because their institution’s placement policy is not mandatory)? In the January 2011 issue of The Learning MarketSpace, we reported, “Among the Changing the Equation institutions, the average percentage of students who receive a grade C or better in developmental math in the spring semester is 48.2%. In the fall semester, that rate is 50.7%. Passing rates in spring terms are typically lower than in fall terms since spring includes those who failed to pass in fall, math avoiders, etc.” We also provided a lot of evidence to support the idea that our data base likely reflects the state of developmental math across the nation.

The Gates Foundation continues, “For most students, these remedial classes do not lead to a college degree or certificate. Studies have shown that three out of every four students who take remedial classes will not graduate within eight years compared to 40 percent of students not required to take remedial courses.”

So we know that we have a problem.

What’s new about the observations in this article is that the actual achievement rate in developmental math is far worse than you think it is.

In the words of one of the Changing the Equation participants: “It appears that completion rates for traditional courses are artificially increased [our emphasis] due to students passing the course without mastering all concepts necessary for success.”

Learning Goes Up But Completion Goes Down

During the pilot term of Changing the Equation, we observed scores on direct measures of student learning (common exams, common exam items, pre/post-tests) going up while completion rates (final grades of C or better) went down. We have observed this phenomenon in the past and discussed it at some length in the July 2010 issue of The Learning MarketSpace. Some readers of that article asked us if that was because more “weaker” students had dropped out of the redesign, thus “inflating” the learning results. While that could be a factor in some situations, we can show that it is not when the overall “retention” rate is the same for both formats—i.e., the same percentage of students stay enrolled in the course until the end. Here are two examples:

Community College #1

  • Common exam scores of 98 traditional students and 127 redesign students in Pre-Algebra were compared. The mean score increased from 75.1 to 84.1. At the same time, the completion rate (final grade of C or better) declined from 45.6% to 35.1%.
  • Common exam scores of 207 traditional students and 146 redesign students in Basic Algebra with Measurement were compared. The mean score increased from 71.8 to 84.2. At the same time, the completion rate (final grade of C or better) declined from 64.6% to 36.8%.
  • The percentage of students who stayed enrolled in both courses in both formats was consistent at about 86%, indicating that the increased learning was not a product of weeding out “weaker” students.                           

Community College #2

  • The percentage of correct answers to common exam items went from 60.9% in the traditional format to 85% in the redesigned format.  Yet the average pass rate (final grade of C or better) declined from 47.6% (2,769 students) to 40.7% (756 students.)
  • The percentage of students who stayed enrolled in both formats of the course was consistent at about 89%, indicating that the increased learning was not a product of weeding out “weaker” students.                           

We saw this pattern repeatedly in the pilot results.

How Was The Grade Inflation Problem Discovered?

Since we knew about this contradiction in prior course redesign programs, we asked each Changing the Equation participant, “If your learning outcomes went up or stayed the same and your completion rates went down, why do you think this happened? Was it due to differences in students? Was it due to prior grade inflation or curving? Please analyze and explain for each course where these discrepancies occurred.”

One of the responses summed it up, “I have had two main concerns in the past about the math department. One has been grade inflation and the other has been the difference in the way instructors teach and grade students. I believe that the redesign data more than proved those points.  Students passed the previous course and were not prepared for the next course in which they enrolled.”

Here’s how the problem was discovered at this particular institution.

Students who took a previous course in the developmental math sequence in a traditional setting were not prepared for the course they were taking in the redesign. Students who passed the traditional DEV 1 course demonstrated a severe deficit in the level of knowledge of the topics covered in it when they got to the DEV 2 redesigned course. This was especially true for intermediate algebra (the third course in the sequence) students.  So many students were stuck on their first module, which included graphing inequalities.  The faculty discovered that many of the students had passed the previous course with a D and did not know how to do basic graphing.

Confronted with this situation, some colleges created "review modules" to help address the deficiencies. The problem then became that many students got bogged down on the review modules. They were in the higher course and couldn’t do the “review”—i.e., the content of the lower course. The reality was that they were enrolled in the higher course, but they shouldn’t have been; they had simply been passed along without the requisite skills.

So think again what those average pass rates of 48-50% represent.

What Actually Goes On in Most Traditional Developmental Math Courses

As reported by the Changing the Equation participants, in traditional developmental math courses, there are no common standards.  Even the course content is subject to wide variation from one section to another, along with variation in grading standards.  When a student passes a traditional developmental math course, his or her success in the next course is possible but not probable.

No consistency in grading/standards

Frequently each instructor is allowed the autonomy to weight categories differently. Instructors in the traditional course have more opportunities to influence grades by

  • giving partial credit on quizzes, tests and exams
  • giving extra credit
  • giving a “mercy” grade—i.e., students receive a passing grade for their effort
  • allowing take-home quizzes and tests 
  • not checking/grading homework
  • not giving a comprehensive final exam

As one participant put it, “Looking over the grades for the traditional mid-terms and final exams, we found that some instructors would never count a problem wrong--they always gave at least partial credit.”

The point is not that one or another of these practices is wrong--it is because they are used inconsistently so that the final grade means little. An A from one instructor may be completely different from an A from a second instructor and so on.

No consistency in course content 

Even though all instructors may be given common course objectives, different instructors place more emphasis on some concepts and less on others. Many important objectives are not taught or barely covered. These objectives are important to ensure success in the next sequence of math classes, Since final exams are created individually, some concepts may be omitted entirely. Again, an A on one instructor’s exam may be completely different from an A on a second instructor’s exam and so on.

No requirement for mastery

In the traditional course format, students do not have to master each chapter/concept/module. They can survive a failing grade on a section test and continue on. They just have to make sure that the average of their exam scores is at least a 70.  This means they can fail a couple of chapters that contain important concepts and still pass the course. Frequently, students are permitted to attempt the final exam even if they have failed unit tests, have not completed homework and have had poor attendance. Some students are counted as “successfully completing” the course as long their final exam score was above 50%.

What Happens in a Changing the Equation Redesigned Course

A redesigned course is characterized by one word: consistency--consistent standards, consistent content coverage, consistent grading and consistent mastery of content. When a student passes a redesigned developmental math course, his or her preparation for the next course is guaranteed.

Consistent objective grading

Grading policies in all sections of the redesigned course are uniform. Grading in the redesign is done by the computer so the grades are more objective. No partial credit is assigned and no grade inflation occurs because students all do the same work and receive the grade they actually make with no occurrence of grade inflation or curving.

Consistent content coverage

Content overage in all sections of the redesigned course is uniform. All faculty know what the grades in each course represent. The redesign addresses the issue of adjunct instructors from other campuses who teach the traditional courses with no real supervision or review, a common occurrence in developmental math. (One adjunct was discovered to have given only a grade of 100% to all students.) Because adjuncts in the redesign operate under the exact conditions as the full-time instructors, their participation in the redesign is consistent and constructive.

Mastery of course material is required

The redesigned courses have higher standards than the traditional courses. In redesign, grades are based on mastery only.  Students in the redesign typically need 70% - 80% on each module test before moving on. Only students who complete all course modules are eligible to take the final exam and since they are required to master each module, final exam scores tend to be high. Students who complete the redesigned sections demonstrate greater understanding of the material compared with students in the traditional sections. 

Just To Reinforce the Point

One community college saw both student learning outcomes and completion rates increase in the redesign but decided to investigate the issue of grade inflation. Here’s what they found:

  • In the traditional version of Essential Mathematics, 195 students completed the course. Of those, 72 completed the course with a C or higher. Only 14 (19%) of those students passed every chapter exam with a score of 70 or higher. And only 47 (65%) passed the final exam with a minimum score of 70. This means that 58 students will progress to the next course without mastering all of the concepts necessary for success.
  • In the traditional version of Introductory Algebra, 187 students completed the course. Of those, 103 completed the course with a C or higher. Only 23 (22%) of those students passed every chapter exam with a score of 70 or higher. And only 71 (69%) passed the final exam with a minimum score of 70.  This means that 80 students will progress to the next course without mastering all of the concepts.
  • In the traditional version of Intermediate Algebra, 11 students completed the course. Of those, five completed the course with a C or higher.  No student passed every chapter exam with a score of 70 or higher. And only three of the five (60%) passed the final exam with a minimum score of 70. This means that five students will progress to a curriculum level mathematics course without mastering all concepts necessary for success.

Here are a few examples of students’ inability to demonstrate mastery on a comprehensive final exam yet still be successful and progress to the next course.


Final Exam Grade

Final Course Grade

Student A



Student B



Student C



As the project leader understatedly concluded, “It appears completion rates for traditional sections are artificially increased due to students passing the course without mastering all concepts necessary for success.” This also means, of course, that the success rates for this redesign project are much better than they look because of prior grade inflation in the traditional courses.


The ultimate impact of this rampant grade inflation is, of course, on students who are passed along into college-level math. It is not surprising that our success rates in college-level math are poor as well since so many students are coming to those courses ill prepared.

During the past 11 years, we at NCAT have learned a lot about the relationship between assessing learning outcomes and creating sustainable change. In order to create real change, you must measure what you do and understand what you are measuring. Doing so reveals problems in academic practice that are frequently glossed over in higher education. There are many (most?) developmental math reform efforts going on currently that are using final course grades as a comparative measure with little or no regard for the complexity of this issue. As we said in the opening, even if you think things are bad, they are in reality worse than you think.

--Carol A. Twigg


Featuring updates and announcements from the Center.

May/June Issue of Change Magazine Features NCAT's Math Redesigns

A new article by Carol Twigg, “The Math Emporium: A Silver Bullet for Higher Education,” is featured in the May/June 2011 issue of Change magazine. One of our most persistent learning problems is the dismal record of student performance in developmental and college-level mathematics at our two- and four-year institutions. But we now know how to improve learning outcomes and student success rates in math at a lower cost than that of traditional instruction—and we can prove it. While not effortless, the solution is as close to a silver bullet as one can get in the complex world of teaching and learning. As readers of this newsletter know well, NCAT calls its model for success the Emporium Model, named after what its originator, Virginia Tech, called its initial course redesign. Interactive computer software combined with personalized, on-demand assistance and mandatory student participation are the model’s key elements. In the article, Carol describes NCAT’s 11 years of experience in conducting large-scale redesign projects in mathematics, which collectively have affected more than 200,000 students. The article breaks these 11 years into four stages of innovative practice from which NCAT extracted the Emporium’s core principles and provides illustrative case studies that document its scalability and sustainability. To read the entire article, see

Trusteeship Magazine To Feature Course Redesign

The September/October issue of Trusteeship, the bimonthly magazine of the Association of Governing Boards (AGB), will feature an article, “Lessons Learned in Academic Transformation,” by Carol Twigg. Trusteeship magazine reports trends, issues, and practices in higher education to help board members and chief executives better understand their distinctive and complementary roles and to strengthen board performance. The article describes NCAT’s 11 years of experience in conducting course redesign programs and focuses on the implications of these successes for board members and chief executives. Carol will also speak to AGB’s Council of Board Chairs on October 30, 2011, in Washington DC. To learn more about AGB, see

Appalachian Community College Presidents Learn about Course Redesign

On June 13, 2011, Carolyn Jarmon, NCAT vice president, spoke at the Nineteenth Annual Conference of the Community Colleges of Appalachia (CCA) in Asheville, NC. CCA is a voluntary association of public community colleges serving the common interests of member colleges and their communities through programs and services responsive to the unique cultural, geographic, and economic development challenges facing the region. Carolyn provided an overview of course redesign as it has been practiced in a variety of academic areas in community colleges. Throughout the Appalachian area, community colleges are focused on increasing the success of their students and reducing instructional costs. Attendees were quite interested in learning how they might move their campuses forward using course redesign, a proven strategy for change. To learn more about CCA, see

Australian Redesign Initiative Begins This Summer

Building on a December 2010 meeting with Carol Twigg and Carolyn Jarmon, the LH Martin Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Management and the Australian Learning and Teaching Council have established a pilot program in course redesign in collaboration with NCAT. Two institutions, the Australian Catholic University and James Cook University, will participate in the pilot. An orientation to course redesign will be held via webinar on Thursday, August 25, 2011 (US time). Following the orientation, interested teams will respond to NCAT’s readiness criteria and submit these responses prior to a more detailed planning webinar which will be held on October 19, 2011 (US time). The project is being coordinated by Leo Goedegebuure, deputy director of the Martin Institute, and Hamish Coates, director of higher education research at the Australian Council for Educational Research and associate professor at the Martin Institute. The Martin Institute at the University of Melbourne was established to enhance tertiary education in Australia and New Zealand by providing programs and activities focused on the leadership and management development of current and aspiring leaders. To learn more about this program, see or contact Leo Goedegebuure at


Engaging community colleges in a successful redesign of their developmental math sequences.

Changing the Equation Teams Report Pilot Outcomes at June Workshop

On June 2 and 3, 2011, 36 redesign teams from NCAT’s Changing the Equation program met in Dallas, TX, to report the results of their spring 2011 pilot semester. The purpose of the workshop was to share experiences, exchange ideas and receive feedback from the group as well as from NCAT staff and Redesign Scholars. Carol Twigg provided an overview of the results achieved thus far and identified a number of issues shared by most, if not all, of the projects. The rest of the day was devoted to individual team presentations in smaller groups moderated by the Redesign Scholars and NCAT staff, an opportunity to discuss each project in more depth.

Of the 33 projects that had complete data to report, nine projects saw both student learning outcomes and course completion rates go up. In 15 projects, learning outcomes went up and but completion rates went down. (This discrepancy is due in large part to the phenomenon of prior grade inflation discussed in more detail above.) Seven projects had mixed results: improvements in some courses but not in others. In two projects, both learning and completion declined. These results are typical of a pilot semester where “bumps in the road” are frequently encountered despite a lot of prior planning. Again, that’s why we require a pilot as part of the redesign process—to work out any problems encountered prior to full implementation. All teams have been asked to analyze their results to explain any discrepancies in the data they reported and describe their plans for correcting any problems discovered prior to full implementation.

Issues that the teams faced in common related to both faculty and students. Successful redesign is dependent upon all faculty being willing to adhere to the redesign principles consistently throughout all of the courses. During the transition to the new model, there is frequently some tugging and pulling among faculty who are enthusiastic about the change and those who are somewhat resistant. This resistance often is expressed as calls for “academic freedom,” that faculty should be allowed to “do their own thing” or that students should have “choices.” We reminded the teams that the old way was not working, which is why they are redesigning in the first place.

Student issues can be summed up as, “How do we ensure that students do the work?” All teams discovered that when students fully participated in the redesign, their achievement was strong. But ensuring that participation remains a challenge. Teams identified a number of omissions in the way they had implemented their pilots, which led to lack of engagement: viewing the redesign as “self-paced;” not having clear expectations and requirements for student work including firm deadlines; failing to award course points for attendance/participation and to monitor student participation coupled with an active intervention plan. NCAT staff and Redesign Scholars along with those projects who saw increased success offered suggestions for dealing with these issues along with encouragement to “follow the rules” for success.

The teams are spending the summer preparing for full implementation in fall 2011 and refining their plans to increase their overall success. Summaries of all Changing the Equation projects along with contact information can be found at


Featuring initiatives to scale course redesign through state- and system-wide redesign programs.

Missouri Institutions Submit Full Proposals

On July 15, 2011, thirteen institutions submitted proposals for course redesign as part of the Missouri Program in Course Redesign, a statewide initiative supported by the Governor of Missouri and Missouri’s public four-year institutions in partnership with NCAT. The program focuses on redesigning large-enrollment, multi-section undergraduate courses using technology-supported active learning strategies. The goal is to achieve improvements in learning outcomes as well as reductions in instructional costs. During the period 2011-2013, the program expects to support one project at each of the 13 participating campuses.

Institutions submitting plans along with the course(s) they propose to redesign are: Harris-Stowe State University: Developmental Algebra; Lincoln University: Basic English; Missouri Southern State University: Oral Communication; Missouri State University: Psychology; Missouri University of Science and Technology: Chemistry; Missouri Western State University: Introduction to Business; Northwest Missouri State University: Principles of Management; Southeast Missouri State University: College Algebra, Sociology and Spanish; Truman State University: Health and Fitness; University of Central Missouri: Anatomy and Physiology, English Composition and Intermediate Algebra; University of Missouri-Columbia: Statistics; University of Missouri-Kansas City: College Algebra; and, University of Missouri-St. Louis: Information Systems and Spanish.

Projects selected to participate in the initiative will be announced on July 31, 2011. The selected teams will pilot their redesigns in spring 2012 and fully implement them in fall 2012.  To learn more, contact Chris Weisbrook at or see


Linking those new to course redesign with experienced colleagues to whom they can turn for advice and support.

Update on the Activities of the Redesign Scholars

As we announced in the October 2010 issue of The Learning MarketSpace, NCAT has expanded its Redesign Scholars Program to include 50 experts in course redesign, adding greater breadth and depth of academic redesign expertise. Scholars are available to 1) speak at national, regional and local meetings and conferences; and, 2) consult with individual colleges and universities that want to initiate one or more course redesigns.

What kind of assistance do the Scholars offer? Based on a survey of the Redesign Scholars, we know that they are providing a wide-variety of services to higher education. Some of the activities could be easily anticipated. Redesign Scholars have organized campus events on course redesign, both face-to-face and virtual; spoken at conferences for particular academic disciplines, accrediting bodies, state organizations and companies; conducted or presented at workshops and seminars on course redesign; and, responded to emails, held telephone conversations and hosted visiting teams from other campuses seeking to learn more about course redesign. In addition to these activities, Redesign Scholars have also worked on their own campuses, visited other campuses and conducted sustained interactions with them to provide advice about how to initiate or expand a redesign program. Here is a sampling of some of the activities Redesign Scholars have engaged in.

Gordon Hodge from the University of New Mexico has been consulted by faculty from the Missouri State University as they work on their proposal to redesign psychology as part of the Missouri Course Redesign Initiative. Michelle Miller from Northern Arizona University (NAU) led a two-day workshop on course redesign for California State University, Fresno (CSUF) in January 2011. The workshop oriented participants to the rationale for redesigning foundational courses and the major techniques used.  Participating faculty teams subsequently produced proposals for course redesign projects, which Michelle helped evaluate in collaboration with CSUF's Center for the Scholarly Advancement of Learning and Teaching. Tammy Muhs, from the University of Central Florida (UCF), has worked with several institutions in the State University System in Florida to help with their redesigns. She visited the University of South Florida to meet with faculty and administrators and has presented to faculty and administrators who have visited UCF to learn about the construction and operation of the Emporium. A team from Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) has visited Shahla Peterman at the University of Missouri--St. Louis (UMSL) on five occasions since June 2010 to observe and discuss aspects of UMSL's math redesign including the course model, data collection, team structure and lab design.  As a result, SIUC has made significant progress in expanding and modifying their math redesign based on UMSL’s recommendations. A dedicated math lab opened in Jan 2011. The redesign has been successful and in fall 2011, 1000 students will be enrolled in lab sections of Intermediate and College Algebra.  

Chattanooga State Community College’s John Squires has led successful math redesigns at two institutions, and his services are in great demand. John has worked with several colleges and universities around the nation, including Weber State University, Florida State College at Jacksonville, the University of Hawaii - Maui College, and the University of South Alabama. He has helped conduct math redesign workshops for the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, the Nevada System of Higher Education, the Ohio Board of Regents, and the University of Hawaii. Meredith Toth, from Arizona State University, facilitated a day-long professional development workshop at Hofstra University in January, 2011 on designing online and hybrid courses that incorporate active learning techniques. During the workshop, faculty from the School of Education, Health and Human Services explored and discussed the design of several online courses from ASU's ongoing education redesign projects, then collaborated in small groups to discuss and redesign a lesson/module from one of their courses for online or hybrid delivery. The workshop focused on ways to design and develop online and hybrid courses that actively engage students and maintain the academic rigor and quality currently offered by the college's programs.

Redesign Scholars are also active on their own campuses spreading the message of course redesign. Michelle Miller is involved in NAU’s First Year Learning Initiative, aimed at improving student learning and success in the first year of college by improving rigor, course design, and consistency across key foundational courses. Leslie Jones and Arlene Ready from University of Texas at Brownsville/Texas Southmost College have been appointed co-directors of the learning center at their own institution to spend the next year redesigning it using what they have learned about course redesign. They started in this position on June 1, 2011.

If you are interested in engaging an experienced Redesign Scholar to speak or consult about course redesign, please contact that person directly to make arrangements by following the links at


Featuring updates from the Alliance, a member organization of institutions, organizations and companies committed to and experienced with large-scale course redesign.

Mark Your Calendars: Redesign Alliance Announces Upcoming Fall Events

People frequently ask us, “How can our institution get started on course redesign? What should we do first?” Due to popular demand, NCAT is planning another Getting Started on Course Redesign seminar for those who are thinking about beginning a redesign or who are in the early stages of planning. Scheduled for October 21, 2011, at Northern Virginia Community College in suburban Washington DC, the seminar will provide participants the opportunity to learn about how redesign efforts have begun at both four- and two-year institutions and how these initial redesigns have spread to other departments on campus. This event will be open to the higher education community. The program will begin with an overview of course redesign by NCAT vice president, Carolyn Jarmon. Then representatives from Frostburg State University and Northern Virginia Community College will share their experiences with initiating course redesigns in psychology and developmental math respectively. Participants will learn about the issues they faced and how they resolved problems that arose. The agenda includes plenty of time for discussion, including an interactive exercise to help attendees think about how to get started.

The registration fees, which cover lunch and breaks, are $100 for Redesign Alliance members and $150 for attendees whose institutions and companies are not members of the Alliance. The agenda as well as information regarding registration and the seminar location can be found at If you have questions about this seminar, contact Carolyn Jarmon at

On December 9, 2011, the Redesign Alliance will hold a Redesign Colloquium at the University of South Florida in Tampa, FL open only to members of the Alliance. Members of the Alliance have asked to have an event that moves beyond getting started on course redesign and focuses on what comes next. Because most member institutions have already initiated at least one redesign, this gathering will focus on sustainability and proliferation of redesign. During August, NCAT will poll members about the kind of sessions that would be most useful and will build an agenda based on those responses. Registration for this event will open on September 1, 2011.

New Redesign Alliance Membership Levels Support Campuswide and Statewide Initiatives

NCAT now offers a diversified way for institutions to become involved in course redesign via two new levels of institutional membership in the Redesign Alliance: 1) a $10,000 level that includes the current member benefits plus one campus workshop annually conducted by NCAT staff and/or NCAT Redesign Scholars plus related follow-up telephone and email advice and counsel throughout the year; and 2) a $25,000 level that includes the current member benefits plus ongoing consultation about campus redesign activities from NCAT staff and/or NCAT Redesign Scholars throughout the year, including at least two campus visits. Each level provides increasing involvement with NCAT, with the Redesign Alliance and with the institutions undertaking course redesigns.

The University of Southern Maine (USM) has the distinction of being the first $25,000 member. Joining earlier this month, USM plans to conduct a three-year course redesign program on their campus with input from NCAT.  The campus received funding from the University of Maine system to support this campus initiative. While specific plans are still under development, USM will receive two on-campus visits by either NCAT staff or Redesign Scholars as well as on-going consulting during each year of their membership.

A new $10,000 member of the Redesign Alliance is the University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington).  Carolyn Jarmon will visit UT Arlington on September 15, 2011, to kick off this campus’s redesign initiative. While the schedule is still under development, the visit will definitely include a campus-wide session open to all faculty as well as discussions with smaller groups that have already expressed interest in changing how students learn in their courses. Plans for follow up will also be part of the conversations.

Redesign Alliance Members Move Forward with Campus Course Redesign Programs

As previously reported in The Learning MarketSpace, three $10,000 members of the Redesign Alliance have initiated redesign programs on their campuses. Here are updates on the University of South Florida, the University of Nebraska Omaha and Amarillo College.

After joining the Redesign Alliance, the University of South Florida (USF) began its redesign Initiative by issuing a campus-wide Request for Proposals that will provide support to three course redesigns during 2011 and an additional three in 2012. Each department at USF received data on DFW rates produced collaboratively by the offices of undergraduate studies and student success. Target courses were identified, and USF formed three design teams consisting of instructional development staff along with faculty and administrators in each department. Three academic departments (mathematics, biology and communications) are in the process of redesigning courses at this time.

The college algebra redesign is farthest along the redesign path. Marcus McWaters, chair of the math and statistics department, describes their experience thus far: “Achievement in mathematics is critical to student success, yet students often struggle in mathematics courses. At USF, we have successfully taught pilot sections in College Algebra based on methods used at NCAT partner universities to improve student outcomes. Spring 2011 pilot pass rates in College Algebra were 78% compared to an average pass rate of 55% in spring 2007.”

Integrative Biology is in the planning phase of the redesign process. Susan Bell, chair of Integrative Biology, made the following observations: “Our redesign includes: 1) an online module that replaces the first hour of each laboratory period. The module consists of materials introducing the topic, materials explaining the in-class work to be done, topical refreshers, emphasizing connections to the textbook, preparedness exercises and a mandatory quiz; and 2) two hours of in-lab work emphasizing data collection, data analysis and writing. In addition to enhancing student understanding of important principles, we suspect that this approach will not only set the bar for the level of performance expected of students in subsequent courses but also provide feedback to students at an early stage of their academic careers as to their likely ability to be successful in subsequent science classes/majors courses.”

The communications redesign is also in the planning stage. Michael LeVan, a faculty member in the communications department, observes: “I learned to learn in the model of reading books and listening to lectures, so a move to cooperative learning, immediate feedback with clickers, meta-assessment in interactive online quizzes, etc. requires an attitude of exploration, experimentation and openness. The redesign team has been careful to listen to my course goals and the intended learning outcomes that I am after, and then to provide suggestions for ways to use instructional technology to help reach those goals and outcomes.”

To learn more about the USF initiative, contact Diane Williams at

The mathematics department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is redesigning Intermediate Algebra and College Algebra using student-centered, active-learning strategies. UNO success rates are currently averaging 61.8%. Having obtained the unanimous approval of the university administration, deans and math faculty, the UNO team is modeling their redesign after the one at Louisiana State University, which has increased success rates from 61.8% to 75% in fall semesters. When fully implemented, the UNO Math Lab will serve about 1,600 students in fall semesters and 1,000 in spring semesters. UNO is constructing a 101-seat computer lab and an adjacent 20-seat classroom with a high-tech setup to be used for overflow at peak use times and for staff training. The new facility will open in August 2011. The UNO lab will use virtual desktops (thin clients) as opposed to traditional PC’s. This configuration allows better client management and application support as well as power savings. Savings will also be realized by not having to upgrade PC’s on a three- or four-year cycle, as thin clients can be used anywhere from seven to ten years. UNO joined the Redesign Alliance in 2011, and has already benefited from NCAT’s expert assistance in this initiative. To learn more, contact Mary Rita Dennison at  

When the U.S. Department of Education awarded Amarillo College (AC) in Amarillo, TX, a Title V grant to facilitate the redesign of its general education courses based on the NCAT models, it fit perfectly with the college’s goal to “Change Lives and Create Futures.” Upon receiving the grant in October 2010, AC joined the Redesign Alliance. Carolyn Jarmon visited the campus to kick off the initiative in March, 2011. Following Carolyn’s visit, AC engaged Dr. Sally Search, an NCAT Redesign Scholar, from Tallahassee Community College (TCC) to advise them on how to approach the redesign of AC’s Freshman Composition I and II courses. (Sally led the redesign of English Composition at TCC as part of NCAT’s Program in Course Redesign.) Sally visited AC’s campus in June 2011 to work with the English team and met with others on campus as well. She will return in October, 2011 for further consulting. Over the next four years, AC will redesign additional general education courses in math, history and biology as part of the Title V grant, all with an eye to increasing student engagement, success and retention. To learn more about this initiative, contact Cara Crowley at

Pearson Education Plans Eighth Annual Conference on Course Redesign

Building on highly successful prior events, Pearson Education will hold its Eighth Annual Course Redesign Conference on September 23 - 24, 2011 at the Hilton Bonnet Creek in Orlando, FL. Participants will learn more about how to get started on course redesign from NCAT’s Carolyn Jarmon and from large- and small-group interaction with experienced educators in accounting, biology, chemistry, developmental reading and writing, math, psychology and world languages. The workshop will highlight successful course redesigns that take advantage of technology to improve student learning and efficiency in large-enrollment, introductory courses. Participants will learn how to implement course redesign principles in both quantitative and qualitative disciplines. Faculty will also have the opportunity to learn more about Pearson's leading technology products. To learn more and to register, go to or contact Karen Mullane at

Florida State College at Jacksonville's Math Redesign Shows Promising Results

Redesign Alliance member Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) is an open-admission, multi-campus, former community college with 25,000 FTE students. Recognizing the importance of students being able to succeed in basic math, the college has been experimenting to improve student success and retention in this area for the past five years. At the Deerwood campus, one of six campuses at FSCJ, the redesign of pre-college math uses the Emporium Model and includes an active learning lab environment, commercial software and minimal lecture time of 12-20 minutes per week. Students are required to be in the lab four hours per week. Faculty members have assumed the role of facilitators in the labs, joined by student assistants. The redesign has paid off.  In fall 2006, the C or better rate in Elementary Algebra was 59.5%; in fall 2010, the rate improved to 70.65%. Similarly, in Intermediate Algebra, a 62.5% rate of students earning a C or better in the traditional format has increased to 74.5%. Now all six campuses have labs and are working to ensure that all FSCJ students will succeed in basic math. FSCJ also plans to expand the Emporium Model to reading and writing. For more information, contact Jack Chambers at


Reporting on initiatives that share the Center's goals and objectives.

National Governors’ Association Presses for Higher Education Performance Measures

With cuts for higher education topping $5 billion this fiscal year, a committee of the National Governors’ Association (NGA) has recommended that some form of performance related metrics (such as graduation rates among others) be used to document the return on investment taxpayers see according to a July 15, 2011, article in Bloomberg News. While the governors are not questioning the important role higher education plays in preparing the workforce, they are concerned that the money spent is not yielding the outcomes the public expects. The recent NGA report “highlights performance measures used in [the] state of Washington as well as performance funding initiatives in Indiana, Arkansas, Colorado and Ohio where some public support is tied to benchmarks such as graduation rates and minority achievement.”  According to John Thomasian, director of the governors’ Washington-based Center for Best Practices, “The post-secondary system is not often accountable to the real world. . . . Governors are recognizing we are investing in these systems. We need to make sure they are performing to the level we need them to.” To read the entire article, see

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Says Higher Education Needs Transformation

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has recently issued a report, College 2.0: Transforming Higher Education through Smarter Innovation and Smarter Regulation, which declares that higher education needs a face lift. Written by the Chamber’s Institute for Competitive Workforce, the report’s introduction is telling:  “Digital technology has not only changed many economic sectors, it has transformed them by lowering costs, increasing access, and delivering the personalized, customized, and interactive experiences that consumers have come to expect. Higher education, however, has yet to experience the kind of disruption and subsequent gains in productivity realized by other knowledge-based industries.”  But it’s not all bad news. Change is on the horizon. As the report notes, “an array of forces is now working to disrupt the traditional business models of higher education,” many of them private sector companies looking to effect lasting change and shake up the status quo. The report features 10 “Spotlight Innovations” — “potentially game-changing” products “helping usher in this transformation to a new technology-driven, student-centered model of higher education,” including the National Center for Academic Transformation, StraighterLine and Western Governors’ University. The report concludes with five policy recommendations to increase innovation in higher education. The National Governors’ Association would agree with the final recommendation: “Financing of higher education should reward productivity and performance” and advocates moving from input metrics such as numbers of students and hours in class to providing incentives to make “make education more affordable while increasing or maintaining access and quality.” To read the full report, see

Grade Inflation: Where A is Average

Many of the institutions participating in Changing the Equation have learned the hard way that grade inflation is rampant in developmental math. Unfortunately, they are not alone. A new report written by Stuart Rojstaczer and Christopher Healy, “Where A Is Ordinary: The Evolution of American College and University Grading, 1940–2009,” explores the history of grade inflation. Published in the Teachers College Record, the report traces changes in grading practices over the past 70 years with a focus on data that “provide a means to examine how instructors’ assessments of excellence, mediocrity, and failure have changed in higher education”. These data were collected from more than 200 four-year colleges and universities. Current data show that “on average across a wide range of schools, A’s represent 43 percent of all letter grades, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988.D’s and F’s total typically less than 10 percent of all letter grades.” The authors state that “as a result of instructors gradually lowering their standards, A has become the most common grade on American college campuses.” To access the full report, visit


Helping the higher education community understand change strategies.

Are Accreditors Missing the Point

The July 13, 2011 issue of the Florida Sun Sentinel asks, “Miami Dade College Gets Accreditation Warning:  First Sign of Jeopardy for All Florida Colleges?” The article reports, “Miami Dade College, the largest public college in the country, has been warned it could lose its accreditation because it does not have enough full-time faculty. Although the school strongly disagrees with the finding, some inside and outside MDC fear this could be the first sign that all of Florida's public colleges could be in jeopardy, as each deals with dwindling state dollars and surging enrollments.” According to Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which issued the warning late last month, “The school is still fully accredited, but this is the first sign that something's wrong.

SACS, the main accrediting body for schools in the region, has no official guidelines on how many full-time faculty a school should have, only that it must be adequate for the school's mission. In fall 2010, Miami Dade College had 658 full-time (17%) and 3,129 part-time (83%) faculty members. According to Wheelan, adding part-time faculty is "not an effective way to manage the budget. Everyone's having to take drastic cuts, but we begin to worry about the quality of education if an institution tries to spread itself too thin."

Let’s think about this issue for a moment.  Does the presence of full-time faculty automatically ensure quality?  Does a high percentage of part-time faculty automatically hurt quality? Or is monitoring how all faculty teach and the kinds of learning environments students experience the key to ensuring quality? The assumptions that full-time faculty consistently provide an excellent experience and that adjuncts are by definition poor teachers are simply not valid. What is lacking in many institutions—and especially at community colleges--is guaranteeing administrative oversight of all instructors, providing sufficient training for all instructors and requiring accountability in regard to student learning outcomes for all instructors.

Are accreditors asking the right question?  Suppose you have a 50/50 split between full-time and adjuncts but no supervision, no training and no accountability? Would that ratio guarantee quality? Wouldn’t it make more sense to focus on creating the conditions needed for student success?  It’s always easier to count the number of part-time vs. full-time faculty members, but are these the metrics which actually ensure quality? We don’t think so. To read the entire article, see,0,4470158.story.


The National Center for Academic Transformation serves as a source of expertise and support for those in
higher education who wish to take advantage of the capabilities of information technology to transform their academic practices.

  • To subscribe to The Learning MarketSpace, click here.
  • To submit items for inclusion in this newsletter, please contact Carolyn G. Jarmon,
  • Archives of this newsletter are available here.
  • This newsletter is a merger of The Learning MarketSpace and The Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter.
  • Archives of The Learning MarketSpace, written by Bob Heterick and Carol Twigg and published
    from July 1999 – February 2003, are available here.
  • Archives of The Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter, published from 1999 – 2002,
    are available here.
  • You are welcome to re-post The Learning MarketSpace without charge. Material contained in The Learning MarketSpace may be reprinted with attribution for non-commercial purposes.

Copyright 2011, The National Center for Academic Transformation