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The Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter

Vol. 1, No. 2
December 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
    •  Rio Salado's Introductory Algebra: A New Model for Distance Delivery
  2. Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign
    • Round II Institutions Selected
    • Assessment Plans
    • Dissemination Ideas
  3. Pew Project Updates
    • Refining the Design: SUNY Buffalo
    • Pilots Underway: IUPUI, U of Colorado-Boulder, U of Wisconsin-Madison
    • Ongoing Development: UIUC and Virginia Tech
  4. Common Ground
    • Michigan State Uses Technology to Increase Student Success
    • University of Texas Cuts Lecture Time & Improves Learning
    • Remote TA Project Humanizes Technology-Mediate Learning at UC-Davis
    • Writing Software Allows More Student-Instructor Consultations at FIU
    • Flashlight Program Announces Cost Competition
  5. Meetings and Events
  6. PLTP Calendar
  7. Archives and Reposting

1. Rio Salado's Introductory Algebra: A New Model for Distance Delivery

Rio Salado College, one of the 10 community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District (MCCD) in Arizona, plans to redesign its online Introductory Algebra course, the starter course for students who need to complete College Algebra, in order to enhance learning and reduce costs. Enrolling 9,154 students per year, Introductory Algebra is third on the district's list of top twenty-five enrollment courses. 955 students per semester enroll at Rio in both on-site and distance-learning formats.

Rio has been involved in distance education for the last 20 years and online education for the last three years. The college was established in 1978 to provide working adults with flexible, convenient learning opportunities. Since the college does not have a campus, courses and programs are offered both at a distance and at more than 250 locations throughout the roughly 9,226 square miles of Maricopa County. Today, the college delivers 80 percent of its general education courses using technology.

Most of the colleges in the MCCD, including Rio Salado, use one instructor for 35 students for both on-site and distance formats. Instructors deliver content, grade assignments, evaluate student performance, and assign final grades. On-site classes normally run 14 weeks and meet three times a week. Rio's distance-learning courses begin 26 times a year, so students never have to wait more than two weeks before starting a course. And although each distance course is advertised as a 14-week class, students may accelerate or decelerate their progress as needed.

A Plan for Redesign

Since last year, Rio has delivered its pre-algebra and college algebra courses using the Internet and interactive CD-ROM technology developed by Academic Systems. The college has been very pleased with the Academic Systems software, noting that it presents the course content so well that instructors do not need to spend time either preparing or delivering it. Despite the high degree of satisfaction with the software, student retention and course completion remain concerns. Although the retention rate for Internet classes is about 2 percent greater than that for the print/mixed media form of distance delivery, the overall retention rate is only 59 percent.

In addition, instructors are spending the majority of their time on nonacademic tasks — such as troubleshooting technology problems, navigation within the lessons, and student advisement — rather than on assisting with learning. In many ways, the delivery model merely takes the instructional aspects of a traditional classroom and transfers them to an online environment by using technology.

These observations identify the academic problems that need to be solved. The overall intent of the course redesign is to take advantage of the software's capabilities and use instructor time as effectively as possible. Instead of "bolting" the interactive CD-ROM technology onto a "traditional" delivery design, the redesign will allow instructors to focus their time on helping students stay in the course and succeed. The college hopes to increase the number of students completing the course by 20 percent. Along with increased retention, student achievement levels need to be maintained or increased.

The best way to achieve the institution's goals is to increase the amount of instructor time spent helping students learn. The redesign will differentiate instructional tasks, adding three student assistants to each course to troubleshoot technology problems, to monitor student progress using Academic Systems' built-in course management system, and to alert instructors to student difficulties with the material. In addition, a Help Desk system will support TA/instructor/student communication. The instructor can therefore focus on creating a successful start for students and on providing academic help when necessary.

Assessing the Changes

How will Rio determine whether the course redesign results in improved learning? Student achievement can be measured by comparing performances on pre- and post-tests. Under both the old model and the redesigned model, Introductory Algebra students at Rio take a pre-test that contains questions relating to the official MCCD course competencies. These questions reappear on the midterm and final exams. The pre-test scores will be compared to the post-test scores; data for those taking the course under the current delivery model can therefore be compared with those taking the course under the redesigned model. In addition, student achievement can be measured by the amount of knowledge students retain after the course has been completed. This will be determined by examining success rates for both groups in subsequent courses that require knowledge of algebra.

Data on student retention will compare those who complete the course with at least a grade of C with those who received a D or an F. Data from the current delivery model show that students who stay in the course up to a certain point in the semester are more likely to receive a grade of C or better. Therefore, by comparing retention data under the old model with data under the redesigned model, the success rates can be evaluated. Furthermore, data about student demographics -- such as age, ethnicity, or academic history -- will be collected and compared to reduce any bias inherent in the study.

Cost Savings

Often distance learning is assumed to be inherently cheaper than classroom instruction. In announcing plans to develop the Western Governors University, for example, Colorado Governor Roy Romer stated: "This is a revolutionary idea. Many people can't afford the traditional way of getting a higher education degree, which is learning by sitting in the classroom. Technology can be an effective and cheaper way to help people learn."

Technology-based delivery can be cheaper, but it depends on how the distance-learning course is designed. Those models that replicate the traditional campus model — such as televised classes or site-based delivery methods — tend to have higher operating costs. Full-time faculty members frequently offer asynchronous courses over the Internet. Yet this approach can be time consuming. Furthermore, because the medium encourages active student participation in discussions, faculty can spend a great deal of time responding to student postings. Despite the virtues of this type of delivery, it actually raises per-student costs rather than lowering them. In fact, this mode of delivery can wind up costing more than traditional delivery.

Rio's restructuring will permit increasing the number of students that can be served in a distance learning format, thus reducing the cost-per-student. Significant savings can be achieved by increasing class capacity from 35 to 100 students per instructor, an increase which is possible by relying on the Academic Systems software and by shifting non-academic duties to student assistants and other kinds of support. Savings will also result from reducing the numbers of students who need to re-take the course. By using technology to its full capacity within the course structure, redesign will result in a projected cost-per-student reduction of 35 percent (from $49 to $32) compared to traditional MCCD classroom instruction and 40 percent (from $54 to $32) compared to previous distance learning formats at Rio.


The redesign of Rio Salado College's Introduction to Algebra course offers several lessons. First, it shows that traditional courses can benefit as much as distance-learning courses from course redesigns in the areas of increased learning and cost reductions. Second, it demonstrates that a college can triple the number of students in a course with only a slight increase in resources. Third, differentiation — assigning to student assistants the tasks that have usually distracted instructors from their mission — can benefit everyone. And finally, in many cases, using commercial software can help cut costs. By thinking systematically about the course delivery process, offloading some instructional tasks to the technology, and using human intervention when necessary, Rio Salado College is developing a new model for distance delivery.

For more information, please contact Dr. Carol Scarafiotti, dean of instruction, Rio Salado College, at

2. Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign

• Round II Institutions Selected

Forty institutions have been selected by the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign to move to the next stage of the Round II application process. The program received a very large number of excellent responses to its institutional readiness criteria. Three-person teams from the 40 institutions will participate in a program workshop in New Orleans on January 18-19. Following that workshop, each institution will submit responses to the program's course readiness criteria. Based on those submissions, twenty institutions will be selected to participate in a second workshop and to submit final proposals.

The institutions selected are Arizona State University, Belmont University, Bentley College, Buena Vista University, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly-Pomona, California State University-Chico, Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Drexel University, Fairfield University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida State University, Highline Community College, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, Lansing Community College, Lehigh University, Michigan State University, New Hampshire Community Technical College, North Carolina State University, Northern Arizona University, Old Dominion University, Riverside Community College, St. Philip's College, University of Alabama, University of California-Los Angeles, University of Dayton, University of Delaware, University of Idaho, University of Iowa, University of Kentucky, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Oregon, University of Pittsburgh, University of Southern California, University of Tennessee-Knoxville, University of Virginia, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

• Assessment Plans

How will institutions determine how well students learn in redesigned course environments? Examples of how six of the institutions participating in the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign will assess the impact and implementation of their redesigns have been added to our web site. Assessment plans for the following institutions are included: Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), Penn State University, University of Central Florida, University of Colorado-Boulder, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Virginia Tech. See Project Descriptions Sorted by Grant Rounds

• Dissemination Ideas

Spreading the word about large-scale course redesign is an important aspect of the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign. Some of the ways that Round I project participants intend to disseminate the results of their projects are now available on the program web site. Ideas for dissemination on campus, among peer institutions, and at regional and national levels are included. See Project Descriptions Sorted by Grant Rounds

3. Pew Project Updates

Progress reports on Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign projects.

• Refining the Design

The University at Buffalo has concentrated on several tasks during the first semester of the project. They have specified the course goals in more detail than before, working from the NRC/NSF (National Research Council/National Science Foundation) goals for computer fluency as a starting point. They have designed the assessment procedures and collected base-line data on students in the traditional design course. They have researched Web-based supplementary course materials, looking at those available on NSF-sponsored repositories and have met with publishing representatives for demonstrations of their on-line supplemental materials. They have been evaluating course management software and learning about on-line testing. Finally, the team members have begun videotaping lectures, key sections of which will be digitized and made available for students on the course Web site. These techniques are already being used successfully in other courses at University at Buffalo, but only for small section courses.

* Pilots Underway

Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI)

During the Spring 2000 semester, Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI) will pilot one linked section of two large-enrollment introductory courses - Introduction to Sociology and Elementary Composition I. The linked section will be taught by one sociology instructor and one writing instructor, with writing assignments keyed to sociology topics. The number of linked sections will increase to five in the Fall 2000 semester. During the intervening summer, professors will work to integrate technology into the linked course, including Web-based tools developed by the Center for Teaching and Learning at IUPUI. With these tools, students can access course materials, student-run surveys, and large survey databases through the Web and use chat rooms to discuss the course material.

University of Colorado at Boulder

The University of Colorado will offer one section of a redesigned astronomy course in a wired classroom during the Spring 2000 semester. The initial trial, which will involve 72 students and six undergraduate teaching assistants, will be measured against the standard lecture sections of the course before the redesign expands to several 200-student sections in Fall 2000. The trial run will let instructors field test the software and communications systems and determine how best to use the TA's. Technology resources developed for the course includes a test bank facility, software to enable synchronous and asynchronous Web-based communication among learning groups and with the instructor, database software for student records and assessment, and on-line homework problems.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Instructors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are using WebCT to deliver homework assignments and online tutorials in the first semester of a two-semester general chemistry course. In collaboration with other university departments, new Web-based tutorials have been developed for stoichiometry, molecular structure, electrochemistry, acids and bases, and several biochemical topics. Through a standardized final examination, the pilot section of 250 students will be evaluated against those course sections that use conventional homework assignments. Already, students in all sections of the general chemistry course are using WebCT to manage pre-laboratory quizzes. The project is on target with the time line included in the group's proposal.

* Ongoing Development

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The team at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been redesigning its Economic Statistics course. The fall 1999 course was a testing ground: half the sections of the course were taught with the previous asynchronous learning network (ALN) structure, and half with the new structure, about 550 students in total. Both courses used Mallard with Excel for online quizzes and WebBoard for responding to student queries online. Under the new structure, students worked on three projects in assigned teams and attended recitation sections in a computer lab, where graduate teaching assistants served as consultants on the projects instead of presenting new material. Some fine-tuning remains; teaching assistants need greater preparation -- their graduate training in economics did not prepare them for the new structure, and they lacked experience with Excel. Using what was learned this fall, another semester or two of the new approach should show whether the redesign is sensible and more effective than the prior course structure.

Virginia Tech

In the last newsletter we highlighted the redesign of Virginia Tech's linear algebra course, Math 1114, and its Math Emporium. The course is running this fall in the online format previously described. Two faculty members are teaching a class of approximately 1500 students. The Web-based system has become more reliable, and the layout, online performance, and database scripts for tracking student performance on quizzes have all been upgraded. Beta testing of the online testing engine will begin in February, and the content of the interactive tutorials will be revised through the spring semester. In addition, faculty members are busy publicizing the project. Teams of faculty and administrators from Penn State and the Universities of Alabama and Idaho visited Blacksburg this fall, and Professor John Rossi gave two presentations on the Math Emporium and Math 1114 at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. Finally, a variety of surveys and focus group sessions have been carried out this fall as planned. A survey designed to measure active learning and its results in the context of learning technology is being prepared for the spring semester.

4. Common Ground

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

* Michigan State Uses Technology to Increase Student Success

A project at Michigan State is showing that asynchronous learning networks can increase student success rates. In the fall of 1996, a 500-student calculus-based physics course for engineers served as the basis for measuring technology's potential to enhance student success. Two software tools were used — a networked system that enabled a computer-assisted personalized approach (CAPA) to assignments, quizzes, and examinations, and a conferencing and bulletin-board system that allowed students to interact with each other and with the instructional staff. With those tools, the total course staff was reduced to two-thirds that of previous years, and instructors' and teaching assistants' time was reallocated from administrative jobs, such as grading and record-keeping, to tasks more directly related to helping students. Recitation sections were replaced with networked assistance and a centralized learning center. The combination of software tools resulted in higher grades among a larger fraction of students than in previous years, and the class drop-out rate was cut in half. The full report can be found in the October 1998 issue of the Journal of Engineering Education.

• University of Texas Cuts Lecture Time and Improves Learning

The positive response to a tutorial videotape for Engineering Graphics, an introductory engineering course, led to the development of a comprehensive multimedia instructional CD-ROM/Web page for the course. The CD-ROM for the project contained linked HTML pages, PowerPoint slides, tutorial movies (AVI clips), audio files (WAVs), and JavaScript games and quizzes. While the project reduced total lecture time by 80 percent, lectures became larger and the laboratory environment became less interactive. To reintroduce interaction among students, a semester group design project was created. Faculty time in the classroom has been significantly reduced and measures of student learning and course attitudes have improved. Furthermore, a scaled-down version of the project has been successfully developed for another engineering course with a fraction of the total time invested. For more information see

• Remote TA Project Humanizes Technology-Based Learning at UC-Davis

The Remote TA project (RTA), developed at the University of California-Davis, is based on the idea that human interaction is central to improved learning, no matter what the environment. A client-server, multimedia, platform-independent package, RTA provides a seamless link between synchronous and asynchronous communication and can be used between students, between instructors, or between a student and an instructor. UC-Davis uses RTA in language learning and plans to expand its use to other disciplines, both on campus and at other institutions. It monitors all dialogues and multimedia transactions, which remain accessible for subsequent analysis. The program is available to other not-for-profit institutions at no charge. For more information contact Richard Walters, RTA's developer, at

• English Composition Software Allows More Student-Instructor Consultations at FIU

Five sections of an introductory essay writing course at Florida International University were taught in the summer of 1999 without any regularly scheduled class meetings. Instead, students used Interactive English, a self-contained composition software program, on their own schedules, and then brought the written products of that work to a standing one-hour, five-person group conference with a writing teacher. The program freed teachers from conducting three large sections per week and grading papers and allowed more interaction and consultation between instructors and students. Furthermore, the program cost less than paying Writing Center tutors to hold one-on-one student conferences. The program expanded in the fall of 1999, and all sections of the course are expected to use the software by the summer of 2000.

• Flashlight Program Announcez Cost Analysis Competition

Thanks to funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Flashlight Program announces a competition to determine the best studies of resource use in teaching and learning with technology. The competition is open to teams that make some use of the Flashlight Cost Analysis Handbook (version 1.0). Winning teams will receive advice and consultation on studies as they proceed from initial conception through implementation; send a representative to a special Mellon working meeting on Managing Resource Use in Teaching and Learning with Technology in early 2000; be invited to write a case or chapter for the "Flashlight Cost Analysis Handbook: Modeling Resource Use in Teaching and Learning with Technology," Version 2.0; and be invited to join a pool of consultants who are periodically invited to provide training in Flashlight methods. For information about the Handbook, see For guidelines to the awards program, see

5. Meetings and Events

Meetings and events of interest to the PLTP community.

Third Ubiquitous Computing Conference
Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ, January 6-8, 2000.
When a campus formally requires that all students, faculty, and staff should have their own laptop computers, there is an impact on teaching and learning, campus technology infrastructure, strategic planning, finance, enrollment, technology support, academic leadership, and many other aspects of campus life. This conference, formerly held at Wake Forest University, will explore the impact and implications of across-the-board computer requirements on college campuses.

Mathematics/Science Education and Technology (M/SET2000)
San Diego, CA, February 5-8, 2000.
Sponsored by the Association for Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), this is a unique conference that focuses on learning and teaching across all educational levels and settings, including elementary, secondary, college, and teacher education, in mathematics, science, and computer science.

Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE2000)
San Diego, CA, February 8-12, 2000.
The theme of the conference, sponsored by the Association for Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), is "Bridges Among Professional Associations."

Interactive Multimedia
Kissimmee, FL, February 21-25, 2000.
Sponsored jointly by the Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT) and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), Interactive Multimedia 2000 offers a community of learning under one roof. This is your opportunity to get on the leading edge of the training industry in a conference devoted entirely to digital learning.

International Conference on Learning with Technology: Does Technology Make a Difference?
Temple University, Philadelphia, PA, March 8-10, 2000.
How can educators and policymakers gauge the effectiveness of expensive and ever-changing technology investments? ICLT 2000, the International Conference on Learning with Technology, synthesizes groundbreaking research, best practices, and policy experiences into a new framework of understanding about educational technology.

ED-Media 2000: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications
Montreal, Quebec, Canada, June 26 - July 1, 2000.
Sponsored by the Association for Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), this annual conference serves as a multi-disciplinary forum for the discussion and exchange of information on the research, development, and applications on all topics related to multimedia, hypermedia telecommunications, and distance education.

Educational Technology Conference
Arlington, VA, July 24-26, 2000 (abstracts due December 31, 1999).
Topics to be covered at this conference, sponsored by the Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT), include Technology Systems, Technology Applications in Schools and Colleges, Knowledge Management, and Partnering and Funding Source Development.

TechKnowledge 2000
Indianapolis, IN, September 20-22, 2000.
This conference is sponsored jointly by the Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT) and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD).

6. PLTP Calendar

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

*** JANUARY 2000 ***

January 18-19
Workshop Information
Overview of redesign process for Pew Grant Program Round 2 participants.
New Orleans, LA

*** FEBRUARY ***

February 15
Workshop Information submission (second step in Pew Grant Program application process for Round 2)

February 17-18
Pew Symposium in Learning and Technology "Who Owns Online Courses and Course Materials? Intellectual Property Policies for a New Learning Environment"
Miami, FL

*** MARCH ***

March 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 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 ~ December 1999