|State University of New York: SUNY Course Redesign Initiative
SUNY at Oswego
Course Title: College Algebra
SUNY Oswego plans to redesign College Algebra, the first course in the Algebra/Calculus sequence that is offered for graduation credit. The traditional course is a three-credit hour, lecture based course, enrolling ~200 students annually. It is typically taught by different instructors in nine sections, five in the fall and four in the spring semesters.
College Algebra faces a number of academic and resource problems. Over the past five years, the average course GPA was 1.96 with ~63% of the students completing the course with a C- or better. Since successful completion of the course is required for a variety of majors, there is collegewide concern about this low success rate. A second academic problem is course drift. There is no guarantee that all instructors cover all topics, no consistency in the rigor and depth of coverage, and no set standard for assessment and evaluation. Current student demand is unmet due to resource problems, creating academic issues for students who opt to skip the course and go directly to the next math course in their sequence with unsuccessful results. Demand is expected to grow due to recent changes in the biological sciences major and the creation of a computer software engineering major. Finally, the pool of available full-time and adjunct faculty to teach this course is severely limited.
SUNY Oswego will redesign College Algebra using the Emporium Model. Section size will be increased from ~22 to ~50 students. Instructors will meet with one third to one half of each section for one hour each week, using the class time to present an overview of the coming week’s scheduled topics, engaging students in small group activities, troubleshooting, and making connections that could include real-life applications. The reduced class time will be replaced with three required hours of interactive learning activities in a computer lab, staffed by trained personnel.
The student-centered learning environment created by the redesigned course will enhance the quality of the course. Students will be more actively engaged with the material both in the delivery of the content and in the completion of the homework. Hawkes Learning System software delivers instruction, provides practice problems with immediate feedback in the form of step-by-step intelligent explanations and demands mastery certification of homework assignments before students can progress. Face-to-face interaction will be increased and become more individualized as students are assisted in the lab by instructors and/or undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs). Topics covered, quizzes, assignments and portions of exams will be standardized across sections and semesters, eliminating course drift.
SUNY Oswego’s assessment plan will use the comparisons of pre- and post-tests, measuring increases in student learning. The department will create an exam based on their defined expected learning outcomes, which will be administered to all College Algebra students at the beginning and the end of the semester. Pre- and post-testing will begin in the fall 2008 semester with five traditional sections (110 students) to obtain baseline data in the traditional course. Pre/post-tests will be administered to two pilot redesigned sections with 50 students each in spring 2009 and to four redesigned sections in fall 2009 during full implementation.
The redesigned course will decrease the cost-per-student from $387 to $226, a 42% savings. The savings will be achieved by changing the mix of personnel, reducing the number of instructors from seven to three, and increasing annual student enrollment by 50%, from 200 to 300 students. The number of sections will be reduced from nine to six, and section size will be increased from ~22 to~50. The savings will be reinvested at the department level to provide professional development, to purchase advanced technology for classrooms and to supplement the tutoring budget.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
To compare student learning outcomes, the team administered a locally written, 28-item, partially multiple-choice test at both the start and end of the semester. Baseline data was collected during fall 2008 when College Algebra was last taught in the traditional lecture format. Additional data was collected in spring 2009 during the pilot and in the fall 2009 full implementation. A summary of results is shown in the table below.
Although the comparison shows a slight decrease in the points gained from 38 in the fall 2008 traditional format to 36 in the fall 2009 full implementation, the 2009 cohort began the course with a weaker background. Moreover, this difference is not statistically significant. The average pre-test score was 13 for the fall 2009 students compared with 16 for the fall 2008 students. When learning gains are measured by percentage increases from the average pre-test score to the average post-test score, then the fall 2009 students learned more in the redesigned course than did the fall 2008 students in the traditional course. Fall 2009 students increased their performance on the test by 277%, compared to the 240% change for fall 2008 students.
The percentage of students earning a grade of C or better increased from 42% in the traditional course to 52% in the redesign.
Other Impacts on Students
The set of instructors was the same both for the traditional and the redesigned course. The responses to some items on the standard departmental course evaluation indicated improvement in students’ perception of the instructor. Generally, students in the redesign believed that their instructors were more consistent and fair in grading, encouraged more class participation and stimulated more interest in the subject. Unexpectedly, students reported the redesigned course to be slightly less difficult and more worthwhile than the traditional course.
Were costs reduced as planned?
The redesign achieved greater savings than anticipated. The cost of the traditional course was $77,400; the cost of the redesigned course was $37,400. This represents a 52% savings, compared to a planned 42% savings. These savings were achieved, as planned, by changing the mix of personnel and reducing the number of instructors from seven to two, instead of seven to three as planned. Traditionally, nine sections of ~25 students (N = ~200 students) were offered each year. The original redesign plan envisioned six sections of 50 to reduce the number of sections and accommodate an anticipated increase in student enrollment to 300, which has not yet occurred. As a result of the pilot and full implementation semesters, the team restructured the course to include three sections of ~75 annually (N = ~225 students.) In addition, beginning in spring 2010, the number of required lab meetings was reduced from three to two per week, resulting in an additional cost savings from undergraduate learning assistant (ULA) salaries.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques have contributed the most to improving the student experience?
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
What implementation issues were most important?
Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?
College Algebra will continue to be offered in the redesigned format for the foreseeable future. The cost savings achieved from increasing section size from 25 to 75, the increase in quality achieved by standardizing course content and the positive student evaluations are compelling reasons to continue the initiative. The mathematics department has been supportive, and other faculty members have expressed interest in the project.
Active engagement of students in the mastery of mathematical concepts and skills was a major goal of the redesign. This goal has been achieved to some extent, but such a significant change in student culture will require more time.
In recent years, with the declining number of full-time tenure track faculty, it has become more of a challenge to offer the requisite number of courses. As the redesign continues to be refined, the team anticipates the possible extension of this model to other appropriate courses.