|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
Truman State University
Course Title: British Literature
Status: This project was part of Round I of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2007 – 2008. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2007. In the C2R program, NCAT’s role was to introduce the course redesign methodology to participating institutions, assist them in developing project plans and work with them through the pilot period. NCAT was not involved in full implementation; consequently, the project’s status beyond the pilot period is unknown. For more information, contact the project contact listed above.
Truman State University (TSU) plans to redesign British Literature Chronology, a course offered in TSU's core liberal studies program. The course, with unmet student demand, enrolls ~90 students annually in 2 sections of ~45 students each. It is presently taught in traditional lecture format.
Two academic problems will be addressed by the redesign. Class size is an issue. Until recently, instructors have been accustomed to an average section size of 15 to 30 students. Due to reduced university resources, class size has and will continue to increase. Under-enrolled courses are being considered for reduction or elimination. The second problem concerns the changing way students learn. The extensive use of technology in nearly all other areas of their lives means that very traditional ways of teaching and learning are less effective in engaging students' attention.
TSU plans to use the Replacement Model in the redesigned course. One of the current three hours of lecture per week will be replaced with a one-hour student-led seminar meeting of small groups and an online discussion board. The historical and cultural background components of this literature survey course will be delivered through online cultural context resource material. Weekly online mastery quizzes will supplement in-class exams.
The redesigned course will enhance the quality of student learning by using technology to enhance lecture delivery and to engage students in active learning. Students will be provided with informal opportunities to identify subject areas they find difficult as well as areas of particular interest. Small group work will facilitate active learning and engagement with course material. An online discussion board, monitored by UGAs, will provide another arena for exchange of questions, answers, opinions, and interpretations. By directing students to resource material on cultural contexts of the literary works, instructors can use class time to help students apply and connect contexts to literary expression, and to call attention to aesthetic qualities and interpretative strategies. Students' access to assigned resource material will allow them to review the material in their own time, at their own pace and depth. Web resources will provide a wealth of ways to create context beyond the lectures. Frequent, low stakes online quizzes will encourage student responsibility for completing reading assignments. The quizzes provide immediate feedback to the students. The instructors can monitor student progress, identifying and addressing the areas that students are finding difficult.
TSU has a clear historical set of data for course completion. Common rubrics for use in evaluating written assignments will be developed to assess the impact of the redesigned course on student learning outcomes. Comparisons can then be made between the traditional and redesigned courses.
The redesign, when fully implemented, will allow TSU to increase the number of students served to ~180 over the current 90. Section size will increase from ~45 to ~ 90 students. Savings will be used in a variety of ways, including support for important but under-enrolled courses that are facing possible reduction or elimination due to resource pressures.
Students in the redesigned pilot course received higher final grades than students in the traditional course, and they performed better on the final exam. Faculty involved in the redesign will continue to use some of the learning strategies in British Literature as well as implement them in other general education courses. Other individual faculty members have expressed interest in learning about and possibly adopting aspects of the redesign in their courses.
The redesign became a catalyst for new discussion among the English faculty as a whole. The department’s relative resistance to using technology to support learning may have been positively influenced. Specific strategies to enhance learning, particularly the use of online materials that provide contexts for the literary works discussed in class and the regular use of peer teachers to lead small group discussion, also sparked interest.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Peer teaching. Peer teaching was the most successful aspect of the redesign, effective in engaging all students in weekly small-group discussions (5-6 students) and in community building. The peer teachers went out of their way to encourage, assist and accommodate students. Students in the redesigned course felt that they were more prepared for each class. Students participated more enthusiastically, raising questions, continuing discussion, and making more personal connections with the characters and texts in small-group discussions than they did in class. The communication between peer teachers and the professor made the professor more aware of what students were struggling to grasp and thus what to focus on in class.
Weekly quizzes. Weekly quizzes based on online resources that students could take any number of times were effective in providing learning contexts and background to the texts covered in class.
What implementation issues were most important?
Too much work for students. Instructor and students readily agreed that weekly quizzes, discussion boards and discussion sessions made for a course that was simply too scattered and busy. It required three contact hours, an hour or two for online readings and quizzes, and an hour for reading and responding to posts as well as keeping up with the reading for the course, which was not reduced from the traditional course, as well as exams and an essay.
Discussion boards. Discussion boards were least successful for the class as a whole, though they worked well for about a third of the class. This was by far the most frustrating aspect of the redesign, as not all students posted regularly and thus those who tried to often had no one to respond to. This strategy also seemed least neutral for students: while many were very comfortable talking and writing and exchanging ideas about the readings, for the less verbal and for those less comfortable with abstractions and with responding to aesthetic works, the board was threatening. It also favored the more organized; many students simply couldn’t remember to check the board weekly.