|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
Arizona State University
Course Title: Emergent Literacy
Status: This project was part of Round II of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2008 – 2009. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2008. 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.
Arizona State University (ASU) plans to redesign Emergent Literacy, a required course for state certification in early childhood education. Currently offered once a year at each of three ASU campuses (Tempe, Polytechnic and West), the course is taught by full-time faculty in face-to-face sections of ~30 students, enrolling about 100 students annually. Because of new state certification requirements, enrollment is projected to grow to 300-500 students.
The current structure of this course requires a significant time commitment by the faculty. The face-to-face nature of the traditional course limits the number of students who can enroll at each of the three campuses. Providing access for practitioners who live and work in rural areas of the state is difficult. ASU needs to find a new way to enable large numbers of students to take this required course in order to gain early childhood certification.
The redesigned course will combine all sections of the course into one large section, regardless of the campus where the students are enrolled, and will be offered in a fully online format. One full-time faculty member, responsible for content and oversight of the graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), will lead the course. Students will be placed in small learning teams of ten to twelve students to engage in collaborative learning activities directed by GTAs and adjunct faculty. A tiered student assistance model will help students with both technical and content problems. Student interns and the University Technology Office will provide technical assistance. GTAs and adjunct faculty will monitor student participation and assignment completion and be available to help with content issues. An online “Student Tutorials and Resources” area will also provide step-by-step instructions on how to use the technical tools.
The student-centered, active-learning environment created by the redesign will enhance the quality of the course. It will diversify the types of activities and assignments to accommodate a wider range of learning styles and provide students a more cohesive understanding and application of the content. Students will receive individualized assistance for both content and technology issues as well as ongoing assessment and immediate feedback through automated comprehension checks, peer feedback and written and oral comments from the instructor. Duplication of effort and inconsistencies across campuses will be eliminated.
Student learning will be assessed by comparing student performance on a common final exam in traditional and redesigned sections. Samples of student work on a number of assignments will also be compared using common rubrics. Both overall and subgroup performance differences will be examined.
The redesigned course will decrease instructional costs by reducing three sections of ~30 students each across three campuses to a single university-wide section. When the redesign is fully implemented, total enrollment will increase from ~100 to ~300–500 students. The number of full-time faculty involved in the course will be reduced from three to one. The result of these actions will be to decrease the cost-per-student from $556 to $145, a 74% reduction.
The team working on this project was in the fortunate position of redesigning a high-quality traditional course with high student success. The primary concern was whether students would continue to meet the stated learning objectives in a fully online course. The team found that students in both the traditional and redesigned formats performed the same on different assignments within the course and in the overall course. There was no significant change in the drop, failure or withdrawal rates.
Student response to the course was very positive. Students said they liked the flexibility and felt that they had a high level of interaction with the instructor even though the class was online. They also said that course materials were designed in such a way that they did not feel they were missing out on an in-class experience.
Both the course redesign team and the college offering the program are pleased with the results of the project and plan to apply the lessons learned to other courses in the program. Thus, the redesign model will be fully implemented in all 14 courses that comprise the Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education. Pairing a faculty member with an instructional designer allows the faculty member to provide in-depth content expertise and learning activities for students while the instructional designer develops those activities online to make sure they meet course objectives while leveraging the capabilities of various technologies.
As the course grows, the college plans to implement an alternative staffing model to provide assistance to instructors by hiring graduate students or adjunct faculty (perhaps retired teachers or faculty or students who have successfully completed the online courses) at a lower cost to act as teaching assistants. They will grade assignments and respond to knowledge and comprehension-level questions. In addition, instructors have already begun directing students to the university help desk, which is available 24/7, if they have questions related to university technology systems.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
One-stop help for students. A series of tutorials and links to software and plug-ins required for the course provided students a one-stop area to prepare for the course and resolve low-level technical issues. Steps for submitting assignments online, accessing online feedback from the instructor and taking online quizzes were embedded in the course materials themselves so students could easily refer to them when they were most needed. Future plans include increasing the number of tutorials to address the most common student questions and centralizing all of the student support materials for all courses in the program on a single site so they do not have to be updated in individual courses.
Low-stakes comprehension checks. As part of each weekly module, students were required to take a low-stakes “comprehension check” to verify they had completed the reading and watched the brief presentation on the lesson topic. Future plans include timing quiz questions such that students must be familiar with the lesson content to answer rather than looking through the readings for the answers.
Video demonstrations of tactile activities. Several of the major assignments asked students to build a physical resource they could use in their early childhood classrooms. Rather than just describing these in writing, the instructor created short video demonstrations that showed students a sample resource and talked about why particular objects had been selected or the rationale for the resource design. This provided students with a visual model for the activities. Additional video footage provided examples of the course concepts as demonstrated in actual classrooms or student interaction.
Student feedback on assignments. Feedback on student assignments was provided in the traditional course, and this was continued in the redesigned course. Students liked the instructor feedback and felt they had one-on-one contact with the instructor because of the comments provided. Future plans include exploring the use of audio feedback so a preceptor or teaching assistant can provide feedback to a large number of students without having to write down all of the comments and enter them manually into the course management system.
Consolidating all sections of the course. As enrollment in the course and program grows, offering multiple sections of the course not taught by a full-time faculty member runs the risk of course drift, where the materials provided to students change over time and no longer meet the stated learning objectives. By merging all students into one section, the institution ensured that all students have access to consistent, high-quality materials designed by a senior faculty member with expertise in the subject.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Coordinated development and delivery of the course . Rather than exerting the effort to individually develop and deliver each section on three different campuses, the institution coordinated development and delivery of the course and shared instructional tasks.
Reduce hand grading. By automating the grading of weekly comprehension checks, the institution saved time previously spent grading paper-based quizzes. Future plans include increased use of peer evaluation of assignments and other online activities to decrease the reliance on one-to-one instructor-student interaction.
Creation of step-by-step instructions and tutorials. The creation of high-quality tutorials, links to required software and plug-ins and step-by-step instructions for completing assigned activities reduced student reliance on the instructor to provide technical assistance as they work through the course materials. Future plans include increasing the number of tutorials and providing contact information for the course team along with information about which types of questions students should ask of the instructor, teaching assistants, course design team, or university help desk.
Consolidating all sections of the course. The institution assigned one faculty member to oversee a large section of a course rather than offering smaller sections on each campus that would quickly reach capacity and prevent other students from enrolling in the course. This decreased the number of tenure-line faculty required to teach the course and allowed faculty to teach other courses in the degree program.
What implementation issues were most important?
Collaboration by the course redesign team. Members of the course redesign team work on three of the four university campuses and communicated by email, phone and occasional video conference to develop the course and address technical issues that arose. This collaboration was a major strength of the course redesign, and the team approach is one the college is committed to maintaining when redesigning other courses in the program.
Technology issues. The redesigned course required students to use a number of different technologies, and other courses in the program are similar in their design. Providing students with very specific instructions on how to use the technology, resolve problems or contact the help desk for additional support was critical in allowing them to focus on the course content, not the technology. In addition, because the redesigned course was offered fully online, it was imperative that the assignment instructions, deadlines and submission procedures be clearly articulated to students so they did not have to email asking for clarification or wait for a response before proceeding with the course materials. Obtaining copyright permissions to digitize video footage from VHS or DVD posed a problem, and, in many cases, alternate video footage had to be identified.
Using existing materials. The redesigned course was based on an existing version of the course taught in a face-to-face format and all assignments and documents were used as the basis for this course. The traditional course was very successful, and using the existing materials allowed the course redesign team to focus on ways to facilitate the activities in an online environment or provide supporting materials such as video footage of what a “successful” project looked like.