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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Course Title: General Chemistry
Contact: Kathy Christoph

Status: This project originated as part of NCAT’s Pew-funded Program in Course Redesign (PCR) program, 1999 – 2003, and was successfully completed.

Descriptive Materials: In addition to the project description below, links for this project include a full academic plan, a full cost savings plan, a completed Course Planning Tool (CPT) an interim progress report, and a final project report. The final project report describes the impact of the redesign on student learning and student retention; final cost savings achieved; techniques that most contributed to improved learning and reduced costs; and, as assessment of future sustainability.

Project Plan:
The University of Wisconsin-Madison plans to redesign its two-course General Chemistry sequence. About half of the freshman class enrolls in the first semester, and more than a third enroll in the second semester. Enrollments are about 2300 students in the fall semester and about 1700 in the spring. There are eight sections of the course, each enrolling 250 - 350 students. Each section is taught by one professor, assisted by eight TAs. Each week, students attend two one-hour lectures, two one-hour discussions, one two-hour lab and one one-hour quiz/exam session.

  • The current course faces the following academic problems:
  • Inconsistent student academic preparation in chemistry
  • Inability to accommodate different student learning styles
  • Inadequate student interaction with learning materials
  • Difficulty in tracking multiple student experiences in large classes
  • A 15% rate of failures, D grades, and drops
  • Inability of students to retain what they have learned
  • Inability of students to apply chemical principles to other disciplines.

The course redesign involves eliminating one lecture and one discussion period per week and substituting for them a modularized system of online, diagnostic homework exercises, tutorials, and quizzes. This system will allow students to determine what they do not know and then study intensively those areas where they are weak. The homework will define the content students must master each week and will provide students with directions to other materials, including text materials and computer-based tutorials, that will help students achieve mastery. Quizzes will test students' mastery each week. Out-of-class activities will prepare students to make the most of in-class interactions with TAs and other students.

The redesigned course will enhance quality by individualizing instruction, thereby addressing the problem of varying student backgrounds. It will assess students' knowledge in much smaller subject-matter chunks and provide them feedback and direction that will allow them to make up for specific deficiencies by means of extra work and effort. It will help students learn to identify their own deficiencies and do their own remediation, a good habit for lifelong learners to develop early. It will incorporate examples and information from other disciplines that will help students to see the applications of the chemistry they are learning. It will also provide a means by which chemistry can be reviewed by students in subsequent courses.

The impact of the course redesign on student learning will be assessed by comparing experimental and control groups (e.g., online and traditional sections) in terms of student performance on course tests and final course grade; a national exam designed to test conceptual understanding; course completion and retention rates; and success in subsequent courses.

Significant savings can be achieved in the time spent by faculty and teaching assistants in general chemistry courses, which translates to significant cost savings. By substituting technology-based materials for time spent by faculty and teaching assistants, UW-Madison expects to reduce the cost-per-student from about $257 to $185, a reduction of 28%. Because this course affects 4,100 students per year, this saving translates to annual savings of approximately $295,000



Program in Course Redesign Quick Links:

Program In Course Redesign Main Page...

Lessons Learned:
Round 1...
Round II...
Round III...

Round I...
Round II...
Round III...