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The Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter

Vol. 1, No. 1
September 15, 1999
Editor: Wendy Rickard


An electronic newsletter of the Pew Learning and Technology Program (PLTP) highlighting ongoing examples of redesigned learning environments using technology and examining issues related to their development and implementation.

. . . sponsored by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.



  1. Redesigning Learning Environments
    • Virginia Tech's New Math
  2. Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign Announces First Round of Grant Awards
  3. Frequently Asked Questions about the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign
  4. Common Ground
    • Rutgers Tackles Large-Enrollment Courses with Technology
    • FIPSE Competition Aims to Control Cost of Education
    • U of Colorado at Denver Redesigns Online Course Delivery
    • Web-Based Electronic Homework System Leads to Savings
    • Awards Program to Honor Academic Excellence and Cost Management
    • Mellon Foundation Sponsors Initiative on Cost Effective Uses
    of Technology in Teaching
  5. Meetings and Events
  6. PLTP Calendar
  7. Archives and Reposting


1. Redesigning Learning Environments

Each issue of the Newsletter will feature an example of redesign efforts supported by the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign. This issue looks at work being done by Virginia Tech to redesign an introductory mathematics course.

• Virginia Tech's New Math

Much has been made in recent years of technology-based, student-centered, learning environments, but few examples exist to explain what those terms mean or how such learning environments are created. At Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, a new approach to mathematics education offers an important exemplar.

Virginia Tech's Math 1114, Linear Algebra, is a one- semester, two-credit course taken by first-year students in engineering, physical sciences, mathematics, and other majors. Its traditional format is similar to many large- enrollment, introductory courses taught at institutions nationwide. Organized in parallel sections of roughly 40 students each, Math 1114 is taught by a mix of tenure-track faculty, instructors, and graduate teaching assistants. Each section meets twice a week during the semester for 50-minute lectures; individual assistance is given during office hours and in review sessions for tests. At the end of the course, students are expected to have a firm grasp of the fundamentals and be able to move comfortably to more challenging courses.

Also like many large-enrollment, introductory courses, Math 1114 suffers from a number of academic problems. First, the old format does not take into account the range of academic preparation and learning styles that students bring. For many, the material is easily learned; for others, difficulties arise due either to weak backgrounds in math or problems with the lecture format. Second is the problem of student retention: typically one group of students drops the course early on while another group stays registered but essentially gives up and stops working. Third, a remarkable lack of uniformity in learning outcomes has been reported. Course grades across sections bear surprisingly little statistical relation either to SAT profiles or to scores on a common final exam. Finally, teachers in advanced math, engineering, and mechanics courses have expressed frustration at the inability of students who have passed Math 1114 to retain certain skills or recall material.

The Transformation Begins

The redesign of Math 1114 is part of a larger transformation involving all of Virginia Tech's introductory mathematics courses made possible by the creation of the Math Emporium, a 500-workstation learning center housed in 56,000 square feet of old retail space adjacent to campus. The redesign will take advantage of the Math Emporium's capabilities for online delivery of content modules and assessments in a flexible manner. The transformed course offers more options for self-directed study than are possible in traditional lecture-and-lab-based courses. If successful, the redesign will help improve learning productivity, raise learning- success rates, and increase retention of material for later use.

In order to achieve those goals, the new course structure completely eliminates lectures and replaces them with Web- based resources such as interactive tutorials, computational exercises, an electronic hyper-textbook, practice exercises with video solutions to frequently asked questions, applications, and online quizzes. The course material is organized into units that students cover at the rate of one or two per week, each one ending with a short, electronically graded quiz. And because the Math Emporium is open 24 x 7, students are able to complete the work on a flexible time schedule. Assistance is provided by the Math Emporium's peer tutors—available 75- to 80-hours per week—who act as guides; their role is to point students toward appropriate resources and strategies. Ongoing data collection about student performance allows the faculty to make changes in the course as it proceeds. In this way, continuous improvement is a built-in feature of the system.

Assessing the Changes

From the beginning, Virginia Tech has demonstrated a commitment to tracking the results of the overall initiative from the Math Emporium itself to the redesign of specific courses. Its assessment plan, which looks at learning achievement, retention, quality enhancements, changes in student perceptions, and consistency in the relationship between student learning and grades, is based on a solid combination of features. First, the common final exam is tied directly to learning goals on an item-by-item basis. This means that student performance patterns can be disaggregated by particular area of strength or weakness for particular types of students, providing a powerful analytical tool for determining impact. Second, the Virginia Tech team plans to examine patterns of course completion and retention. Third, partnerships with downstream faculty in client disciplines will allow student performance in subsequent coursework to be evaluated. Finally, questionnaires and focus groups will be used to gather data on perceptions, motivations, and satisfaction with the new format.

Will the redesign enhance the quality of education for students? Evidence already exists that the Math Emporium is having a positive impact on the academic performance of mathematics students in general as well as on the morale of faculty members. Most strikingly, the university reports that scores in mathematics in general have risen 17.4 percent while the failure rate has dropped by 39 percent. The data show that courses utilizing the Emporium the most are those most likely to show positive changes in student improvement.

Cost Savings

According to data from Virginia Tech, the shift from a traditional course environment to a technology-based, student-centered learning environment shows not only measurable improvements in the quality of learning but also a measurable decrease in the cost of delivering the course. In the traditional configuration, the course requires 105 hours of instructional time per section to teach 1,520 students in the fall semester. To teach the 38 sections of 40 students each requires 10 tenure-track faculty members at an average cost of $57 per hour, 13 instructors at an average cost of $23 per hour, and 15 graduate teaching assistants at $16 per hour.

Although changes and adjustments are being made each semester, the university expects the long-term arrangement to involve only two faculty members for the entire 1,520 student enrollment. One instructor and one tenure-track faculty member will share duties in approximately a 2:1 ratio of hours. The instructor will handle most of the day- to-day activities in course delivery, while the tenure-track faculty member will take the lead in planning and preparation. The new cost structure associated with the redesigned course also includes the graduate and undergraduate Math Emporium helpers, as well as two technical support people for database management and software upkeep.

The savings anticipated by Virginia Tech is about $53 per student—from $77 to $24—or $79,730 for the fall semester. Annual savings for all sections of Math 1114 are expected to be $97,400. Increased success rates will yield additional savings by reducing the average number of course attempts per student.

Can information technology be used to redesign large-enrollment courses to enhance learning and reduce costs? Virginia Tech tells us emphatically, the answer is yes.

For more information, please see or contact Dr. Robert F. Olin, Department Head and Professor of Mathematics.


2. Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign Announces First Round of Grant Awards

The Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign is pleased to announce the first of three rounds of grant awards. The purpose of the program is to encourage colleges and universities to redesign their approaches to instruction using technology to achieve cost savings as well as quality enhancements. Redesign projects will focus on large- enrollment, introductory courses, which have the potential of impacting significant student numbers and generating substantial cost savings.

The institutions that have received a $200,000 grant include Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), Penn State University, Rio Salado College (Maricopa Community College District), State University of New York at Buffalo, University of Central Florida, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign, University of Southern Maine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Virginia Tech.

Full descriptions of each project will be available on the program's Web site by the end of the month. For more information about the grant program, click here.


3. Frequently Asked Questions about the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign

Q. Is the grant program limited to schools with large enrollments or are small schools eligible to apply?

A. Any size institution is eligible to apply. "Large" (as in large-enrollment courses) is relative to the institution. In each case, we are looking at the top 20-30 (in terms of enrollment) undergraduate courses at any given institution. For some, that enrollment would be 300; for others, it would be 3,000.

Q. Are introductory graduate-level or professional courses appropriate targets for redesign?

A. No. This program is oriented toward introductory undergraduate courses since these impact the largest number of students at any institution.

Q. More than one department at our institution wants to submit a proposal. How many proposals will you allow from one institution?

A. The grants are designed to be institutional grants; consequently, the application process begins with an institutional readiness statement. If selected to move on to the next stage of the process, the institution then needs to decide which course it wants to submit--i.e., make an institutional decision and target the particular course that the institution believes will have the greatest chance of successful implementation and the greatest impact on students.

Q. Are distance learning courses appropriate targets for this program?

A. There is no prohibition against redesigning distance learning courses as long as the redesign can demonstrate both quality enhancement and cost savings. Rio Salado College, one of the pilot institutions, is redesigning college algebra, which is taught at a distance.

Q. Our consortium is interested in applying to the program. Can we apply as a consortium?

A. This program is focused on the individual course. While there is no prohibition against a consortium (or other form of collaborative effort) applying, it may create unnecessary complication in the process. For example, one would have to demonstrate institutional readiness for all institutions in the consortium rather than for a single institution.

Q. Where do I get an application and more information about the application process?

A. There is no application form. To be considered for an institutional grant, the first step is for the campus provost to send a brief narrative statement addressing the institutional readiness criteria, which can be found here. The narrative is due by November 15, 1999 for participation in the next round.

Still have a question? Contact Pat Bartscherer.


4. Common Ground

Reporting on projects that share the goals and objectives of the Pew Learning and Technology Program.

• Rutgers Tackles Large-Enrollment Courses with Technology

Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, realized that nearly half of its undergraduate enrollments are clustered in 22 large-enrollment introductory courses offered by 17 academic departments. As a result, the institution designed its new Instructional Technology Initiative to enhance the learning experience of undergraduates in first-year introductory courses. Awards have been granted to faculty members to restructure core courses with interactive course- development tools and state-of-the-art instructional software. During the 1999/2000 school year the teaching innovations in technology will be adopted in 17 courses enrolling nearly 8,400 undergraduate students. For more information, see

• FIPSE Competition Aims to Control Cost of Education

The rising cost--and price--of higher education has captured the attention of FIPSE, which in 1998 invited proposals for projects addressing cost control at postsecondary institutions. The program, called Controlling the Cost of Postsecondary Education, funds reforms that yield the same or more education per student for fewer dollars. Awards have been made to nine institutions and organizations for projects departing from familiar strategies for cost control. For more information about the competition, see A list of recipients and descriptions of their projects can be found at

• U of Colorado at Denver Redesigns Online Course Delivery

A new program at the University of Colorado-Denver is helping to control the cost of online courses while maintaining or improving academic quality. Enrollments in courses offered through the university's existing CU Online virtual campus were originally capped at 25 students per course because of instructor feedback that the requirement for interacting with students is much greater on line than in the physical classroom. This project will implement larger enrollment course sections by employing teaching assistants to assist experienced online instructors. In the first year, UC-Denver anticipates increasing each course to 40-50 students and in the second year to 70 or more per section. For a look at CU Online, see For more information about the university's new project, send e-mail to Marvin Loflin.

• Web-Based Electronic Homework System Leads to Savings

Over the last decade the University of Massachusetts at Amherst chemistry department developed a successful electronic homework system. Now used by over 2,000 students each semester, the system eliminates traditional faculty-led recitation sections and hand-graded quizzes and results in substantial faculty and TA time savings. While the initial cost savings are indisputable, U Mass believes that significant savings will be realized once numerous courses are using the system and a critical mass of reusable homework questions are created for each department. A comprehensive, two-year study, funded by FIPSE, will quantify and document cost factors by examining the cost of traditional large enrollment classes before adoption, the one-time costs during transition, and steady-state costs once the system is adopted. For more information, see

• Awards Program to Honor Academic Excellence and Cost Management

The America Council on Education and the USA Group Foundation have announced the Academic Excellence and Cost Management National Awards program, which recognizes, rewards, and gives greater visibility to innovative strategies that strengthen academic quality while containing costs. The program aims to identify and disseminate good practices on academic cost management within the higher education community and to demonstrate how institutions can communicate their fiscal accountability to the public. Award winners will be the focus of an invitational symposium to be held next year in collaboration with the National Association of College and University Business Officers and will be featured in a descriptive publication of best practices. The deadline for entries is November 1, 1999. For more information, see

* Mellon Foundation's Sponsors Initiative on Cost Effective Uses of Technology in Teaching

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has begun an initiative to test technology projects that enhance learning in cost- effective ways. This initiative is based on the premise that higher education can no longer have a mind-set that doing "good things" is all that counts. Instead, it insists on a mind-set that "cost-effectiveness" matters. The objective is to find faculty champions in a variety of kinds of higher education institutions to design and carry out experiments to test technological applications that may be both cost effective and educationally effective. Subject matter, course structure, time and place, type of technology, and other variables are all open to discussion. The Foundation hopes that such experiments will lead to niche applications of technology to teaching which are educationally sound and cost-effective and which preserve resources for continuing to do well many of the traditional activities which are so highly valued by students, by faculties, and by society. For more information, see


5. Meetings and Events

Meetings and events of interest to the PLTP community.

Making Better Use of Money and Time: Shining a Flashlight on the Costs of Teaching and Learning with Technology
September 22-24
Indianapolis, Indiana
Participants will work with colleagues from other institutions to plan studies of the costs of technology in teaching and learning. Some studies may focus on helping current activities and programs make better use of staff time, space, and budgets; others may be concerned with the resources that might be required by proposed initiatives. The design process will be guided with the new Flashlight Cost Analysis Handbook. Cost analyses completed by IUPUI, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Washington State University will be spotlighted.

Evaluation of Web-Based Courses: Shining a Flashlight on the Benefits, Problems, and Costs of Teaching and Learning on the World Wide Web
October 1-2, 1999
Rochester, New York
This workshop will help participants plan a study of an Educational activity or program and the resources it uses. It is designed as a retreat where teams can design and critique surveys and other forms of evaluation (e.g., studies of faculty development programs, preparation for accreditation, libraries, etc.).

Fifth International Conference on Asynchronous Learning Networks
"Making the Transition to Mainstream Education: The Art and Practice of Online Learning"
October 8-10, 1999
College Park, Maryland
Asynchronous learning networks (ALNs) are transforming education and training from site-based, time-bound experiences to anytime-anywhere online learning environments. Sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in conjunction with University of Maryland University College, the University System of Maryland, the ALN Center at Vanderbilt University, and the Goethe-Institute Washington, this conference provides an opportunity to study key issues, learn new approaches, see new technologies, share best practices, and hear research results.

1999 SIGMA XI Forum
November 4-5, 1999
Minneapolis, Minnesota
The theme of the annual SIGMA XI International Forum is changing the culture of science, math, and engineering education by leveraging what we have learned about effective instructional practices and materials. Inquiry-based learning in undergraduate education will be the focus of the forum, which will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on November 4-5 in conjunction with Sigma XI's annual meeting. A particular area of interest is large classes at the introductory and (in some places) intermediate level of education. The conference will allow educators and administrators from academia and industry to experience innovative science instruction, experiment with state-of-the-art educational products and discuss a variety of models for institutional reform, science curriculum, and pedagogy.


6. PLTP Calendar

A comprehensive calendar of meetings, symposia, publishing dates, and relevant deadlines for the Pew Learning and Technology Program community.


September 20-21
Advisory Board Meeting
Saratoga Springs, New York

*** OCTOBER ***

October 8
Publication of "Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: Redesigning Large-Enrollment Courses," a monograph based on July 1999 symposium

October 21
"Developing Competitive Proposals for the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign," a workshop led by Carol Twigg at the League for Innovation in the Community College Conference on Information Technology
Chicago, Illinois

*** NOVEMBER ***

November 15
Deadline for Institutional Readiness Criteria submission
(First step in Pew Grant Program application process for Round 2.)

*** DECEMBER ***

December 1
Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter
Vol. 1, No. 2

December 2-3
Pew Symposium in Learning and Technology
"Who Owns Online Courses and Course Materials? Intellectual Property Policies for a New learning Environment"
Miami, Florida

*** JANUARY 2000 ***

January 18-19
Orientation to Redesign Workshop
Overview of redesign process for Pew Grant Program Round 2 participants.
New Orleans, Louisiana

*** FEBRUARY ***

February 15
Deadline for Course Readiness Criteria submission
(Second step in Pew Grant Program application process for Round 2.)

*** MARCH ***

March 15
Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter
Vol. 2, No. 1

March 15-16
Mid-Course Sharing Workshop
A workshop for Round 1 grant recipients to exchange ideas and share experiences.
Washington, DC

March 16-17
Developing the Proposal Workshop
(Third step in Pew Grant Program application process for Round 2.)
Washington, DC

*** JUNE ***

June 1
Deadline for Final Pew Grant Program proposal submission
(Last step in Pew Grant Program application process for Round 2.)
June 15
Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter
Vol. 2, No. 2


7. Archives and Reposting

The Pew Learning and Technology Program is an $8.8 million, four-year effort to place the national discussion about the impact that new technologies are having on the nation's campuses in the context of student learning and ways to achieve this learning cost effectively. The program has three areas of work: The Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign, the Pew Symposia in Learning and Technology, and the Pew Learning and Technology Newsletter.

* Archives of The Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter are available.

* You are welcome to repost The Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter on your intranet without charge. Material contained in The Pew Learning and Technology Newsletters may be reprinted with attribution for noncommercial purposes only.

Copyright 1999, The Pew Learning and Technology Program

Pew Learning and Technology Newsletter ~ September 15, 1999