University System of Maryland: Maryland Course Redesign Initiative
Course Titles: Fundamentals of Biology
Fundamentals of Biology is a course offered in a traditional lecture and laboratory format: three hours of lecture and two hours of lab per week. Annually, approximately 40 laboratory sections of 24 students each enroll in the course. These laboratory sections are grouped into lecture sections of 72–96 students each. Enrollment at the university is expected to increase in the coming years, and it is reasonable to think that there will be pressure to increase the number of available seats in the course. Fundamentals of Biology fulfills a general education requirement and also fulfills a state requirement for life sciences in the elementary education certification program.
Fundamentals of Biology has been targeted for redesign because the course enrolls a large number of students each semester and commands a large amount of faculty resources. The faculty involved in the course note a general lack of student engagement with the course material as it is currently taught. The department also realizes that the course is ready for a serious update of its curriculum.
Significant changes to the course format and the curriculum characterize the redesign, which will use the Replacement Model. The three hours of traditional lecture will be reduced to 1.5 hours. These classroom hours will be used mainly for active student work (e.g., problem-solving, group discussions) with limited introductory and closing remarks from the instructor to address questions and to help students synthesize information and recognize connections among topics. Online learning modules, delivered through WebCT and created around the Biology for Non-majors ePack from McGraw-Hill, will provide instructions and materials (e.g., video clips, animations, tutorials, quizzes) to support active student learning prior to class meetings. The modules will also include additional activities to be completed after class. The two-hour lab will include time devoted to discussion in addition to lab activity.
Because Salisbury is changing both the format of the course and its content, direct comparisons between the traditional and the redesigned course could be problematic. Thus, assessment of the impact of the redesign will consider multiple sources of data. During the redesign pilot, the team will compare student performance throughout the course with the performance of students in the traditional sections, looking at assessment items dealing with areas of overlap between the two courses. Once the redesign is launched in the entire course, we will compare student performance across semesters. We will also compare student course evaluations before and after the redesign.
The redesign of the course will produce cost savings in several ways. The course is projected to grow from 840 to 960 students annually. The number of sections will decrease from 12 to 10 and the section size will increase from 72 to 96 students. The number of full-time faculty teaching the course will remain the same, and the number of lecturers will decrease from eight to six. Faculty time will also be reduced because classes will only meet for 1.5 hours per week rather than three. The cost-per-student will be reduced from $329 to $192, a 42% decrease.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
Students in the redesigned course outperformed students in the traditional course on common exam questions. The average percentage correct for the traditional students was 74% whereas for the redesigned students, the average was 82%.
The percentage of students (N = 648) earning a grade of C or better was 77% in the traditional course (fall 2007) compared with 72% of students (N = 513) in the redesigned course (spring 2009.) Some fall 2007 sections, however, used a grading method that inflated the final grade distribution whereas no sections used that method during spring 2009 and in subsequent semesters.
Other Impacts on Students
Redesign students spent more time outside of class working on course material. Surveys and end-of-course evaluations suggested that students spent more time reading the textbook and doing additional coursework (online learning modules) under the redesigned course format. On end-of-course evaluations from traditional sections, students often commented that they did not use the textbook very much or at all.
Student engagement was greatly improved in the redesigned course. Students showed greater interest in class, asked good questions, made thoughtful comments, and—according to surveys—found the course material both interesting and relevant to their lives.
Students in the redesigned course asked a greater number of content-related questions (both inside and outside the classroom) than students in traditional sections. The questions themselves and the discussions surrounding them also suggested greater mastery of the material by students in the redesigned course.
Were costs reduced as planned?
Cost reduction was greater than originally planned. By reducing class time to one hour per week instead of the 1.5 hours projected and by increasing enrollment in lecture sections to 120 students instead of the 96 projected, the team has reduced the number of lecture sections from 12 to eight annually rather than 10 as originally planned. One full-time faculty member and three lecturers each teach one section each term. The cost-per-student has decreased from $329 in the traditional to $155 in the redesign, a 53% decrease. Since the course serves approximately 1,000 students per year, a savings of $174 per student is substantial.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Cost Savings 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?
The combination of increased student learning, increased student engagement and cost reduction ensures that the redesigned course model is sustainable. Faculty teaching the redesigned course find it to be effective and enjoyable, even more so as they gain experience with the new model. While the redesigned course has now been implemented fully, the work is not considered complete. Student success and engagement continue to be monitored, and further improvement is sought.
Not only will the redesign be sustained, redesign successes are being extended to other portions of the biology curriculum at Salisbury University. The Department of Biological Sciences at Salisbury University is currently discussing the application of course redesign principles to other large-enrollment courses like Anatomy and Physiology. Another introductory course for majors has also benefited from approaches implemented in the course redesign.