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University System of Maryland: Maryland Course Redesign Initiative

University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Course Title: Principles of Chemistry
Contact: Jennifer Hearne

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Project Abstract

University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) plans to redesign Principles of Chemistry, the first semester course in a two-semester sequence chemistry regimen designed for freshman science and health professions program majors. In 2006, four sections of Principles of Chemistry were offered during the fall semester and three during the spring semester. In the 2005-2006 academic year, approximately 20% of the freshman class enrolled in Principles of Chemistry. The course is taught in the traditional lecture format in sections of 50 students. Professors, typically three per semester, use a combination of Power Point presentations, the Blackboard Learning System, and chalk-talks. Each section meets three times a week for 50 minutes.

Principles of Chemistry suffers from the following academic problems: 1) inconsistent knowledge of incoming students; 2) poor student retention of material; 3) a 55.1% student retention rate in regard to enrollment into the second part of the freshman chemistry regimen; 4) a lecture-based format which is ineffective in engaging students; and 5) a lack of coordination among the faculty members teaching the course, leading to course drift and inconsistent learning outcomes.

The university's plan will use the Replacement Model to redesign Principles of Chemistry. The traditional three-50 minute lectures per week will be replaced with one-75 minute lecture each week and two required hours in a chemistry computer lab using modularized chemistry tutorial software packages. The section size will be increased from ~50 to ~90 students each. The software will monitor student time and progress, assign and grade homework, randomly generate and grade quizzes, as well as assign, grade, and compare pre- and post-module assessments. An optional recitation session, meeting once a week, will review the concepts covered in that week's learning module. These sessions will be mandatory for students scoring less than 75% on quizzes and/or examinations.

The redesign will enhance Principles of Chemistry by encouraging individualized, active learning through technology-based modular exercises, ongoing and prompt assessment and feedback. ULAs and tutors will offer on-demand, personalized assistance. The redesign team anticipates that the reinforcement of concepts presented in the lecture by completing modularized exercises as well as the support provided by individual assistance and online resources will increase the students' performance in the redesigned course and in subsequent chemistry courses.

One professor will teach both the traditional Principles of Chemistry course and the redesigned course during the pilot phase. These courses will be offered mid-day to eliminate the temporal factor and will employ the same materials. A comparison of pre- and post-module assessments, common exam grades, final grades (A-F, P/F), drop/fail/withdraw (DFW) rates, and retention rates will be utilized in the assessment of the impact of course redesign.

Appreciable savings will be achieved by decreasing the number of sections from seven to four and increasing section size from ~50 to ~90 students each. The number of professors will be decreased from six to two, and lecture time will be replaced with computer-based learning experiences, eliminating the duplication of professors' efforts. The software will automatically grade homework and tests. UMES projects that the cost-per-student will decrease from $268 to $151, a reduction of 44% or a savings of ~$21,000 per semester. The redesign efforts will allow an increased amount of faculty time dedicated to research and on faculty development and will enable the faculty to teach additional advanced courses.

Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Impact on Students

In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?

Improved Learning

The UMES team compared the final grades earned by students in the traditional format and in the redesigned format. The two formats were taught using the same materials, homework assignments and exams and were coordinated by a single professor. The number of students who earned a grade of C or better in the traditional course was 54.5%. In the redesigned pilot course, that number approached 66%, and in the spring 2009 full implementation, it was 69.4%.

Improved Retention

The final grades for both formats are reported above.

In the spring 2009 full implementation, the percentage of D grades decreased by 11% and the percentage of F grades decreased by 3.1% compared with the spring 2008 traditional section.

Other Impacts on Students

Faculty observed that:1) female students were more likely to work through the web-based problems as teams; 2) female students were more likely to seek assistance; 3) students were more likely to seek assistance from the learning assistant than the professor, and 4) student use of the text to complete the web-based activities improved.

Of the pilot population, 17.9% of the students were enrolled in fundamentals of reading, writing and/or mathematics; 21.4% of the full implementation course population were enrolled in fundamental courses. Consequently, the team developed a series of notes to assist students in learning how to be successful in university study of chemistry. These notes were posted on Blackboard after each lecture.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

The actual cost savings to the university was higher than the team anticipated. The average cost-per-student in the traditionally offered course was $268. The projected cost-per-student for the redesign was $151, a 44% reduction. The full implementation actually decreased the cost-per-student to $80, a 70% reduction.

The increased savings was due to increased section size. UMES was able to enroll 30% more students per semester than before. The increased student enrollment in the course, however, significantly strained the resources for offering the laboratory co-requisite course.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

  • Establishing a chemistry computer laboratory. A comparison of the learning outcomes achieved showed that the success of the redesigned course hinged on using a dedicated computer laboratory, which was available during the spring 2008 pilot (66% C or better) but not during the fall 2008 full implementation (55% C or better.) A new, dedicated chemistry computer lab opened in April 2009, and the percentage of students earning a grade of C or better rose to 69%.
  • Incorporating web-based exercises. The UMES team used CengageNOW, a Thomson/Brooks/Cole web-based program. This program was specific to the text used, Chemistry, The Molecular Science by Moore, Stanitski and Jurs.
  • Classroom management technology. Blackboard was used to provide students with instant access to the course syllabus, announcements, important dates, lecture notes and review exercises. Students reported that the Blackboard tools were helpful throughout the course and in preparation for exams.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

  • Consolidating course sections. The most effective cost reduction strategy was consolidating course sections by increasing section size from 50 to 114, thus reducing the number of sections from seven to three per year. This meant that the number of faculty members necessary to teach the course was reduced as well as the need for classroom space.
  • Restructuring class time. One 75-minute lecture session was offered weekly compared to three 50-minute lecture sessions in the traditional format. During spring 2009, two 50-minute lecture sections were offered. Although the number of lecture sessions decreased, the number of contact hours increased by requiring students to participate in a designated computer laboratory.
  • Changing the staffing mix. Professors and tutors have traditionally been involved in the chemistry course. In the redesign, the UMES team employed a learning assistant (LA) and undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs), who provided on-demand assistance to students in the computer laboratory. The LA was also responsible for an optional 75-minute recitation session in which students could seek additional assistance. The team estimates that the tasks accomplished by the ULAs and LA freed the professor from 90% of course-related student contact duties.
  • Web-based program. The introduction of the computer laboratory saved the professors a copious amount of time by automatically grading homework, assigning and grading quizzes, and monitoring student progress and time on task.
  • Course coordination. The professor teaching the course was designated as the course coordinator. The coordinator was responsible for such things as posting CengageNOW assignments, notes, calendar dates, and announcements on Blackboard and for setting common goals for examination. This eliminated duplication of effort and ensured that teaching toward a common set of learning objectives occurred.
  • Use of existing text and accompanying web-based program. The use of existing materials decreased the upfront work load associated with the course redesign process. The UMES team found that it was critical to review the CengageNOW problems thoroughly before using them in an assignment. Careful evaluation of the CengageNOW problems prevented students from encountering incorrect problems, which could have led to confusion.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

  • Technology glitches. During the pilot phase of the redesign, the team used an existing computer laboratory, which allowed the team to offer students an academic environment featuring on-demand help. The lab computers experienced a technical glitch that could, often times, not be resolved.
  • Lack of a dedicated computer laboratory. Students in the fall 2008 full implementation phase were not privy to a dedicated computer laboratory with on-demand assistance due to the time required to develop a proposal and receive funding for a large lab. Students had to use the academic computing center for the laboratory portion of the course. Although there was an LA in the center, students complained that he was difficult to find (there are five labs in the center.) The students also complained that the atmosphere was not conducive to academic work and that they had a hard time concentrating on the lesson. The center also did not allow the LA to provide examples on a white board or have discussion with a group of students. A new, dedicated chemistry computer laboratory opened in April 2009.
  • Tech savvy students and professors. Despite the daily use of technologically advanced items, students were not efficient in the use of the web-based program.
  • Student preparation and skill level. An evaluation of the pilot phase course population revealed that: 17.9% of the students were enrolled in fundamentals of reading, writing and/or mathematics, 10.7% of the students did not meet the math prerequisite, and 70.2% of the students were enrolled in chemistry for the first time in their college career. The same evaluation of the full implementation population revealed that: 24.1% of the students were enrolled in fundamental courses, 17.3% of the students did not meet the math prerequisite, and 58.2% of the students were enrolled in chemistry for the first time in their college career.
  • Administrative, departmental and faculty buy-in. The team found that support was critical from all interested parties in the redesign process. Their advice is that open dialogue should occur before deciding to undertake a substantial redesign.


Will the redesign be sustained now that the MCRI project is over ?

Prior to the MCRI, the traditional version of the course commonly employed up to six professors per year. The redesign decreased the number of sections offered annually from seven to three. This freed one full-time faculty member to teach other courses. Two professors are now assigned to teach the redesigned course, one of which is the coordinator.

The team’s success is most evident in that other groups within the Department of Natural Sciences plan to follow their example and redesign their freshman gatekeeper courses.

Other benefits for faculty and students will accrue when the department incorporates the redesigned courses into its curricula. These benefits include offering advanced courses, increased grantsmanship, increased time for research and increased service to the university and the community.



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