Improving the Quality of Student Learning
Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
Based on available data about learning outcomes from the course pilot, what were the impacts of re-design on learning and student development?
Early indicators suggest that we are increasing student learning in our redesigned sections. The assessment data reported below are based on our experience during the fall 2000 semester. During that semester, we offered a total of 21 sections of Introduction to Sociology, 11 of which were redesigned and 10 of which were traditional. The redesigned sections enrolled 405 students; 574 students were in traditional sections.
Both "linked" and "non-linked" sections were part of the course redesign. "Linked" sections (N=6) were redesigned sections whose students were simultaneously enrolled in the same section of Elementary Composition. "Non-linked" sections (N=5) were composed of students who were in a redesigned Introduction to Sociology section but who did not share a common section of Elementary Composition. It should be noted that "linked" and "non-linked" sections shared the same sociology instructor and met together at the same time and place.
We carried out two types of assessments, both of which were comparisons between groups of sociology sections. In all cases, we compared traditional sociology sections to redesigned sections and "linked" sections to "non-linked" sections. Comparisons were made in two areas: grades and performance on a set of 25 common, objective questions that measure key sociological concepts that was administered at the end of the semester in all Introduction to Sociology sections.
Grade comparisons focused on "DFW rates"--the percentage of students in a given section who receive a grade of "D" or "F" or who withdraw from the course (and therefore receive no credit) before the semester is over. Students enrolled in "linked" redesigned large sections had a DFW rate of 23%. Students who were part of the "non-linked" redesign sections had a DFW rate of 39%. Students enrolled in the traditional format had a DFW rate of 50%. These results are tentative, but promising.
We also regressed final course grade (using a 4.0 scale, with A=4.0) on the following variables: whether or not the student was in a redesigned course (1=yes; 0=no), student status (full-time=1; part-time=0), total SAT score, race (1=white; 0=all others), gender (1=female; 0=male), whether or not the student was taught by a full-time or part-time faculty member (1=full-time;0=part-time), and whether or not the student was a beginning freshperson (1=beginning freshperson; 0=not). Students in redesigned sections had significantly higher grades, controlling for the other variables. Controlling for the other variables, being a student in a redesigned section added about one-third of a letter grade (.33 on a 4.0 scale) to the student's final grade.
When traditional sections were compared to redesigned sections (whether linked or non-linked) in terms of the number of the 25 common questions answered correctly, a t-test for the difference of means showed that students in redesigned sections scored significantly higher than students in the traditional (control) sections (t=2.70, p=.05). This is very promising. There were no statistically significant differences between linked and non-linked sections in terms of the number of questions answered correctly.
Based on what we know so far, one of the outcomes most positively affected is student research paper writing in Introduction to Sociology. Although writing skill is not a "content area" per se, it appears to us that the redesign has been particularly successful in terms of the writing component of Introduction to Sociology. By definition, students in "linked" sections participate in a section of Elementary Composition (our basic English Composition course), which focuses, in part, on sociological readings and concepts. Impressionistic data, based on conversations with several instructors, indicate their feeling that students in "linked" sections write better in Elementary Composition than students in either traditional, or redesigned, non-linked sections. It should be stressed that these data are impressionistic.
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