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Portland State University

Course Title: Introductory Spanish
Contact: Rob Sanders

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:
Portland State University (PSU) is redesigning Introductory Spanish, a yearlong, multiple-section course. Because of funding and space limitations, enrollment has been arbitrarily set at about 240 students or about 690 enrollments over the entire year. In some academic years, offerings using the traditional format can meet only 50% of the demand. One senior faculty member coordinates the course content and teaches one section. Teaching assistants teach the 9-10 remaining sections with considerable variation in goals and teaching methods. The TAs lack significant training and experience in language acquisition, and the instructional approach often mimics older teaching practices focusing on language structure (grammar) rather than functional language acquisition, practice, and proficiency. The DFW rate is approximately 25% from fall to spring.

The traditional course is in transition; pedagogy and basic materials are proficiency-oriented, but instruction, delivery of materials, staff training and supervision, and logistics (testing, grading) have not been modernized. The redesigned course will address inconsistencies among sections through improved planning, coordination and training of teaching assistants, and clear articulation with new universal second-language requirements in Oregon K-12 (on exit) and Oregon University System (on entry) through specification of learning outcomes for the course.

The redesigned course will reduce class meeting times from three per week to two and increase time spent in the crucial area of interactive speaking. PSU will move testing, writing and grammar instruction, and partner/group activities outside the classroom using multimedia materials and reduce in-class time for students clearly performing above standards. (with remediation in class for others). The primary instructional materials will be a multimedia version of the comprehensive proficiency-oriented introductory Spanish program "¿Cómo?" produced at PSU.

Course quality will be enhanced because levels of speaking and writing proficiency achieved in the traditional format will be maintained and better assessed. The team will move multimedia reading, writing and listening materials to the online environment; automate record-keeping; shift the responsibility for the development of assignments to the course director, reducing preparation time for teaching assistants; spend additional effort training teaching assistants to conduct Oral Proficiency Interviews; increase class time spent in oral communication; increase small group communication and oral practice in assigned study groups; and direct low-achieving students to small group sessions for additional oral practice to address the most common issue driving low achievement.

Assessment will measure student success against established national (ACTFL) guidelines (including an Oral Proficiency Interview that has been widely validated) and Oregon standards. This will allow the university to compare results with progressive pedagogy to baseline literature about results of traditional pedagogy, to compare the added effect of use of multimedia to the same material delivered conventionally, and to gauge the effect of new remediation strategies on students performance. Implementation assessment will be addressed through videotaping of classrooms as well as more conventional procedures.

Cost savings will result from less instructor-preparation time, more students served per instructor without increased labor, and reduced use of classroom facilities. PSU intends to reinvest the cost savings for Introductory Spanish in serving more students for approximately the same labor cost. The traditional cost base serves about 240 students each year. After the course redesign, the university expects to serve 300-360 students per year, resulting in about 960 enrollments annually, without increasing overall instructional costs for the Introductory Spanish course.

 

Program in Course Redesign Quick Links:

Program In Course Redesign Main Page...

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

Savings:
Round I...
Round II...
Round III...