Course Development Issues

Penn State University

To what extent have you been able to use previously developed materials in your re-design instead of creating new materials?

Prior materials. We had a large source of materials available from prior years that lent themselves to use in the new course. For example, we had about 25 lab activities, a Minitab Quick Reference Guide, and two supplements on "Selecting the Appropriate Statistical Procedure." However, these materials had to be revised (sometimes substantially) in order to be used appropriately in the redesigned course.

Additional lab activities. We needed to develop additional activities for the labs. This was not a major problem, although some were too long or too complex for effective use and had to be modified. Activities needed for the computer labs were drawn from those used in the pilot test and in a second pilot test in another similar course, previously in past courses as well as some newly developed by other instructors in anticipation of the redesigned course. Nearly all of the activities needed to be revised, some very little but others fairly extensively. At the end of the fall 2000 semester we had about 70 useful lab activities revised or newly developed.

What kinds of activities took up the most time in your course development effort?

In addition to revising existing course activities, preparing new ones and formulating weekly plans to link reading assignments, RATs, and lab activities, the following three items were the most time-consuming:

  • Reaching a consensus on sequencing of topics to take advantage of opportunities provided by utilizing technology (but not on the selection of topics themselves).

Our redesign is virgin territory in statistics, and there were many ideas on what we should do. There was general agreement on both the sequencing on a broad scale and the depth of understanding to be sought by students but not on the final details. This was a "good" problem to have in that it led to exciting discussions and efforts to design a course freed of past conventional wisdom and restraints imposed by traditional texts. Thus, while it was time-consuming, it resulted in what we think will be one of the most exciting approaches used in an elementary statistics course. We see no other approach like ours and believe ours will become a model for others to follow.

  • Determining content of the Web site, resolving details about terminology, and interactivity on the part of both students and facility.

We were probably naïve about the extent of effort required to develop an easily navigated Web site. We didn't realize initially how complex a task it would be to set up a Web site that would simultaneously accommodate four instructors and 1000 students with a new set of learning materials and approaches. We clearly had a communication problem with the programmers until recently, but are finally hopeful for a resolution of our difficulties soon. We anticipate that the Web site won't be totally complete until later in the year, but that there will be a workable one in place at the time of full implementation in late August.

  • Developing questions and study guides for the Readiness Assessment Testing (RATs).

Our original course redesign was altered in a big way when we learned of Readiness Assessment Testing. We had anticipated constructing a large bank of exam questions, but this idea was discarded when it was decided, instead, to employ RATs. This was a new idea for us but one that we found very exciting. There are two major components of RATs: individual tests and group tests. We had to develop our RATs from scratch, inasmuch as nothing previously existed. We developed seven RATs and accompanying Study Guides for them. Faculty collaborated in the development of the questions which were designed to assess student understanding of the material. Prototype RATs were prepared in the pilot tests and modified. Simultaneously, additional questions have been written for use in RATs.

The creation and packaging of lab activities to be properly linked to independent learning and the subsequent RATs was also time-consuming. But again this effort has resulted in a mix of activities that is interesting and fulfills our course goals. We also will need to create additional versions of each of our RATs because there are four large classes meeting at times such that there could be substantial opportunities for students to learn what was being asked beforehand. We now have prototype RATs and creating versions of them is a considerably lesser problem than making up the RATs initially.

Have students been directly involved in the re-design process?

Undergraduate students have been involved in focus groups and provided valuable insights from their point of view. For example, we have learned that the linkage between RATs and labs needs to be strengthened, that additional lecture time may prove to be helpful, that the course Web site is valuable as a result of input from students in the focus groups.

Reports from the Innovation and Quality (IQ) Teams have also proven to be valuable. From this data we have learned that 94% of students see a need for adding regularly scheduled recitation sessions to go over homework and concepts prior to the RATs, a consequence of our failure to implement tutorial sessions. We have also learned some particular terms and concepts students feel comfortable teaching someone else, as well as terms students feel they have not mastered adequately or at a satisfactory level.

At least one graduate student has been integrally involved in the redesign at all times.

What kinds of support for your project have you been receiving from your department or the institution more broadly?

We have received strong financial and other support from the department, college and university administration. The University Administration provided $100,000 towards building a priority-use computer lab designed specifically for our use. We have also received computer support from the department of statistics and from the Center for Academic Computing. The latter has been invaluable, with development and assistance in constructing the Web site, programming support, and advice on technological issues and software.

The Schreyer Institute for Innovation in Learning has provided $5000 in summer funds for three consecutive years. The department and the Eberly College of Science Dean's Office matched this grant. The Institute has also provided a lot of advice and guidance on many aspects of the project, including such things as how to conduct RATs, collaborative learning through group work, managing groups and how to diagnose and correct problems involving them, availability of technology and its applicability to our project, and many good suggestions on instructional issues.



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