Southwest Minnesota State University

Course Title: Biology in the Modern World
Redesign Coordinator:
Tony Greenfield

Status: This project originated as part of a collaborative program between NCAT and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, 2005 – 2006. NCAT’s role was to introduce the course redesign methodology to MnSCU institutions and assist them in developing a project plan. NCAT was not involved in project implementation; consequently, the project’s status is unknown. For more information, contact Lynda Milne at or the project contact listed above. The project plan serves as a good example of how to think about redesigning a large-enrollment course.

Project Plan:
Biology in the Modern World is one of three courses that fulfill the life-science requirement for the liberal arts core curriculum at Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU.) This course has the highest enrollment of any course at SMSU, enrolling approximately 400 students annually, more than 10 percent of SMSU’s full-time students. Unlike the other courses that fulfill the life-science requirement, Biology in the Modern World is the only course designed strictly for non-science majors. Therefore, most SMSU students will take this course at some point during their educational experience.

Traditionally, the DFW rate for this lecture-based course class is approximately 37 percent, which leads to a significant number of students who must repeat the course each semester. This problem is compounded when some majors require a greater level of success than simply a passing grade. Approximately 70 percent of the students who take the course are first-year students, and 60 percent are the first generation in the family to attend college. Poor attendance, inadequate study skills, poor note-taking skills, and varied high school backgrounds are responsible for much of the difficulty associated with this course. Large lecture sections and lack of recitation sessions may compound these problems. SMSU’s current approach to the lab portion of the course makes inefficient use of class time, represents a large drain on faculty and prevents the department from meeting increased enrollment demands.

SMSU’s course redesign will remedy many of the current problems. The Tegrity Campus system will be used to capture course content digitally and make it available to students anytime of the day. Online review and assessment opportunities will be offered to students. Peer tutoring will be provided to support at-risk students. Labs will be organized to use lab time more efficiently, allowing SMSU to add lab sections without increasing faculty contact time.

The course redesign will enhance learning in several ways: 1) Tegrity will allow students to review course material which will rectify attendance and note-taking problems; 2) Online assessment opportunities coupled with immediate feedback will motivate students to stay current with material and identify misconceptions and misunderstandings of that material; and 3) Student tutors leading small study groups will provide an opportunity for students to compare notes, discuss topics and work on practice materials together.

The DFW rate for the course has remained constant from year to year, regardless of instructor. Since instructor grading practices and course content will remain the same after the course has been redesigned, improvement in the DFW rate will provide evidence of the redesign’s successful impact.

Much of SMSU’s cost savings will come through restructuring of lab sections. The number of contact hours for these labs will decrease by 30% for each faculty member. Faculty members can use this time to offer more lab sections in order to keep up with increasing enrollments and to meet the demands of science majors, the number of which has dramatically increased without any increase in faculty. The enrollment in Cell Biology, the first biology course for science majors, has nearly doubled within the past two years. In response, SMSU has already added one lab section to one faculty member’s load, and the redesign will make it possible to add another.


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