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Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)

University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Course Title: Principles of Biology
Contact: Joseph Pitula

Status: This project was part of Round III of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2009 – 20010. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2009. 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.

Project Abstract
Progress Report (as of 3/1/10)

Project Abstract

University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) plans to redesign Principles of Biology, the first semester course in a two-semester sequence designed for freshman science and health professions majors. Annual enrollment is ~550 students, representing about 40% of the freshman class. The course introduces students to the basic concepts in biology with an emphasis on molecular, cellular and genetic concepts. Faculty teach in a lecture format using a combination of PowerPoint presentations, chalk-talks and Blackboard. Evaluation is based upon four homework assignments, quizzes and exams that typically include a mix of multiple-choice questions and short essay problems.

The traditional course faces five academic problems: 1) inconsistent foundational knowledge of incoming students, 2) poor retention of course content, 3) ineffective lecture-based format, 4) under use of course textbook, and 5) a high rate (~40%) of students ineligible to enroll in the second semester course due to grades of DFW.

UMES will redesign Principles of Biology, using the Replacement Model. Reduction in the number of lectures from three 50-minute sessions weekly to one 50-minute lecture session each week and the incorporation of computer-based learning experiences are critical components of the redesign. Students will be required to spend at least two hours in a learning resource center which features online resources and on-demand personalized assistance. Recitation sessions to review concepts in the week’s module will be required for students scoring less than 75% on quizzes or exams and optional for those scoring higher.

The redesign of Principles of Biology will improve the quality of the course by eliminating inconsistencies in students’ learning experiences and encouraging active learning. All students will work on one set of learning goals and with one professor. Instructional software will include biology concept tutorials, exercises and quizzes that provide feedback for deriving correct answers. The learning resource center will be staffed by undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) and tutors to offer students individualized assistance as needed. Faculty will also be in the center for five designated hours per week to work with students and to supervise ULAs and tutors.

Student learning outcomes will be assessed by comparing performance data from parallel sections. Two professors will teach both the traditional course and the redesigned course during the pilot phase. A comparison of common exam grades, final grades (A-F, P/F), drop/fail/withdrawal (DFW) rates and retention rates will be utilized in the assessment of the impact of course redesign.

Appreciable savings will be achieved by doubling section size from 55 to 110, decreasing the number of sections offered annually from eight to five, replacing lecture time with computer-based learning experiences, eliminating the duplication of professor’s efforts, using ULAs and tutors and taking advantage of the automated grading features of the software. UMES projects a cost-per-student decrease from $158 to $94, a reduction of 41%. Upon full implementation, the savings is estimated to be more than $33,000 per year. The redesign will allow faculty more time dedicated to research and to teaching advanced courses and will support ongoing faculty development activities.

Progress Report (as of 3/1/10)

Student learning outcomes were assessed by comparing performance on a common final exam. There was no difference in average performance (traditional = 56.9%, redesign = 57.2%.) The percentage of students successfully completing the course (grade of C or better) was 60% for the traditional sections compared with 55% for the redesigned sections. Despite these differences in completion, the team notes that final exam scores were similar, pointing to other factors that determined a final grade for the class.

In the redesign pilot, only three students (5.5 %) withdrew from the course compared with 17 of 162 students (10.5 %) in the fall 2009 traditional sections. When the redesign instructor last taught this course, 11 of 54 students (20.4%) withdrew.

Lessons Learned

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Reduction in lecture time. The redesigned section consisted of two 80-minute periods per week. One session was reserved for instruction; the other was devoted to students working on computer assignments, assisted by undergraduate or graduate learning assistants, and to administering quizzes and exams, proctored by a graduate assistant. Thus, three hours of faculty time per week (lecture preparation and delivery) were freed for other duties.

Reduction in grading time. Traditionally, homework assignments were not given because of the need to conserve faculty resources for other duties. Using a computer-based homework program with built-in grading provided a way for students to master course material with no additional effort needed on the part of faculty. This accounted for a savings of three hours per week in grading time.

Reduction in office hours. The course instructor perceived a noticeable drop in the amount of office hours devoted to instructing the students. (This is only a perception, and no time recordings were conducted.) In the past, students were more likely to visit the instructor for additional tutoring during office hours. In the redesign, they were able to interact with learning assistants in the learning center, which appeared to be the preferred means of one-on-one instruction.

Ability to increase section size. Section size can be readily expanded using the redesign method. The computer grading programs can accommodate any size, and the room in which the course was taught (the UMES library auditorium) can handle a section twice the size of the redesign enrollment, which in fall of 2009 was 55 students. The UMES administration has also invested in more computer space for the future. The expansion will require hiring two more undergraduate learning assistants, but this cost will be offset by the reduction in faculty time.

Implemenation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Excellent university support from administration. The computer classrooms were fully equipped, and funds for supporting the learning assistants were sufficient to cover all hours. The vice president of academic affairs was in constant contact with the project leader to ensure that all support was delivered and that the redesign process proceeded on schedule. To further support these efforts, an additional room containing 30 computers is in the process of being built.

Closer alignment of homework and test material. The students generally gave positive feedback on the computer assignments. Some expressed concern that the amount was excessive and that, in some cases, the assignments did not directly relate to material on tests and exams. In the spring 2010 implementation, the team will make an effort to make sure that the assigned homework problems more directly reflect the assessment questions on exams.

Need for pre- or co-requisites. The results of the pilot have forced the team to consider requiring pre- or co-requisites for this course. The mission of UMES is to provide access to higher education, especially to individuals who are first-generation college students. Completion of a college algebra course is not required, which creates several problems. Many of the students are not sufficiently trained in quantitative analysis and the conceptual/analytical skills necessary to approach problem-solving in the abstract. Concurrent with this concern, a significant number of students reported that the textbook was too difficult to read. A semester of preparatory college work may be necessary in order for the students to gain full benefit from the redesign effort.

 

 

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