|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Course Title: Introductory Spanish
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.
UNC-Chapel Hill plans to redesign several of its introductory Spanish courses. Elementary Spanish enrolls ~380 students annually in about 20 sections of ~19 students each. The traditional course is modeled on four contact hours per week between instructors and students. Graduate instructors currently teach most sections of the Elementary Spanish course.
Due to the shortage of classroom space on campus, the Romance Languages Department is currently unable to scale this course to meet demand. Large waiting lists are common. An additional challenge facing the department is difficulty hiring qualified instructors to teach all of the course sections.
The redesigned course, using the Replacement Model, will replace three of the four weekly contact hours with alternative activities, reducing the amount of time students spend in the classroom. Two of the four contact hours will shift to an interactive, feedback-rich online program (En Linea by Vista Higher Learning). The third hour will be replaced with weekly, small group conversation sessions led by undergraduate student assistants. Graduate instructors will be replaced by fixed-term faculty members with more teaching experience.
Instructional quality will be enhanced in a number of ways by the redesign. The online portion of the course will provide more engaging approaches to learning grammar and other rote concepts. Instructors will be better able to monitor student progress. Students will have more options for customizing their learning experiences. Many will be able to work ahead at their own pace using the online materials. Others will benefit from gaining additional time on task with challenging concepts. The small group conversation sessions will leverage peer learning in a format that encourages informal interaction. Greater consistency across course sections will be ensured through the standardization of course materials and the course syllabus.
UNC-Chapel Hill's assessment plan centers on comparing the 5 parallel sections of the redesigned course with the 5 traditional sections that will be offered in the fall 2007 pilot. Common final exams, oral interviews and written compositions will be compared using a standard rubric. To help ensure inter-rate reliability, an experienced grader will be hired to double-grade an appropriate sample of oral interviews and written compositions. Students will be allowed to self-select for the sections and the team will control by regressing on the demographic variables.
Full implementation of the redesign will produce cost savings. The number of sections will ultimately increase from 20 to 30 with the section size reduced from 19 to 18 students each. Annual enrollment will increase by 40%, from 380 to 540 students. The number of instructional staff will be reduced from 10 to 8 and each instructor will teach 2 sections. The redesign is expected to decrease the cost-per-student from $416 to $213, a reduction of 49%.
Student learning was assessed by comparing student scores on written and oral exams between the two formats. Results found no statistically significant difference between the scores of the traditional and hybrid sections on the written exam. Students in the traditionally taught sections outperformed hybrid students on the oral exam by a small, yet significant margin. DFW rates were higher in the traditionally taught format, although this represented a very small number of students for both sections.
The Romance Language team is satisfied that the redesign model can meet its primary objective of expanding course capacity by making more efficient use of instructor time and classroom facilities. As long as student learning outcomes do not slip, the team is committed to full implementation. In fact, the team has already expanded its use of the model within its Spanish language program.
Full implementation of the course will be contingent upon identification of instructors who are a good fit with this format. Based on the results of the pilot, the team feels that instructors best qualified to teach the hybrid format are those who 1) are comfortable working in online environment, 2) do not need the traditional number of contact hours with students to be satisfied professionally and 3) are experienced enough to be able to quickly establish rapport with students and identify student problems and issues. While there may be some exceptions, most graduate instructors will not be asked to teach the hybrid sections.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Peer conversation groups. The use of small peer-led conversation groups built on a growing body of educational research literature on the effectiveness of peer learning groups. The absence of an instructor in this setting lowered the affective filter; students appeared to be more inclined to take risks and make mistakes in their spoken language practice. Student satisfaction with this component of the redesign was higher than that for both the online software and hybrid classroom sessions with instructors, and students indicated they felt a greater sense of community in these sessions than in the classroom meetings.
Online software and student learning preferences. In the redesigned format, students could submit their online assignments any time before the weekly deadline. In the end-of-semester surveys conducted for the pilot, many students indicated that they appreciated the ability to work ahead at their own pace. Several students said the ability to work through online assessments as many times as they liked made it easier for them to identify and rectify problem areas in their understanding of course concepts. A small percentage of students worked beyond the assigned material, taking advantage of extra assessments available through the online software.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Restructuring staff time and roles. By reducing the number of contact hours from four to one per week and standardizing course materials, instructors could teach two sections of the hybrid as the equivalent of one traditional section. Also critical to the success of this model was the availability of the peer tutoring students who conducted weekly peer conversation sessions (3 per section). These students received academic credit through the campus Learning Center for the time they spent tutoring.
Standardizing and re-using course syllabi and learning materials. Roughly 75% of the course materials used during the pilot will be reused in subsequent semesters. Those materials include all online assignments, low-stakes classroom assignments, syllabi, etc.
Consolidating face-to-face course interaction into one location. Facilities-related savings for this course are contingent on the use of a larger, multi-purpose classroom that can accommodate up to three simultaneous small-group conversations (5-7 students each). The team was able to convert its old student computer lab for this purpose. It has now effectively reduced the use of classroom space for the course by half and has the capacity to double the number of annual sections using this facility alone.
What implementation issues were most important?
Time devoted to conversation in target language. Performance on the oral interviews was slightly lower for students enrolled in the redesigned section. Instructors were not surprised, given that less time was devoted to the spoken language in this format. In fall 2008, however, the team will likely modify the redesign to provide more time-on-task in this area. One option instructors are considering is utilization of an online conversation feature in the online software (En L ínea by Vista Higher Learning) that is already integrated into assignments.
Pacing coverage of course material. At the end of the fall 2007pilot semester, instructors teaching the hybrid discovered that a number of students had not gotten enough review during the semester to master key concepts. After budgeting a week and a half for each lesson during the pilot, they will devote two weeks to each lesson during the spring 2008 semester.
Student adjustment to course format. Most students enrolled in the redesigned Spanish course had little or no experience taking courses in a non-traditional format. Student resistance to new course formats is not unusual, and this redesign was no exception. As a group, students in the traditional sections expressed higher satisfaction (at statistically significant levels) with the course than their counterparts in the redesigned sections. Students in the traditional sections stated that they would recommend the course and found the course to be a good fit for their learning style at higher rates than in the hybrid sections. The students’ self-assessment of their learning was more positive for the traditional format, even though no differences were found on objective measures of written performance or final grades.
In addition to providing an orientation for students on the first day of class, the team is asking instructors teaching the redesigned sections to offer two mandatory office hours each semester (only one meeting was required during the pilot). This gives instructors additional opportunities to identify problems with the course and reinforce student guidelines for success. The team is also considering implementation of a more comprehensive orientation program for instructors teaching the course next fall.
Supplemental assistance. In order to provide students in the redesign with additional learning supports, the team offered a drop-in tutoring service where students could get assistance with course assignments. It was staffed 15 hours per week by work-study students who were already being paid to monitor the team’s Foreign Languages Resource Lab. Though originally intended to support students in the hybrid sections, it was also made available to students in the traditional sections. This resource was largely underutilized by students. At mid-term, fewer than 10% of students in the hybrid sections had taken advantage of the service. (See NCAT’s “Freshmen Don’t Do Optional at http://www.thencat.org/PlanRes/Innov_CrRedPractices.htm#3.)
Sense of community. A student’s sense of classroom community, the extent to which he or she feels that the classroom is place of support and belonging, has been shown to relate to positive perceptions of performance and measures of actual performance. The team was interested in the impact that fewer classroom hours would have on the students’ sense of community in the course. One potential drawback of the redesigned format is that students may be isolated and not feel as if they are a part of a learning community. The small group sessions were designed, in part, to reduce this potential problem. Students in the traditional sections had a significantly greater sense of community, as compared to the hybrid classrooms and small groups.