|Program in Course Redesign
Rio Salado College
Rio Salado College, one of the ten community colleges in the Maricopa Community College District, initially planned to redesign only Introductory Algebra, the starter course for students who need to complete College Algebra. The course is third on the district's list of top twenty-five enrollment courses with a district-wide enrollment of about 955 students per semester in both on-site and distance formats. In both formats, the course is taught in individual sections, each enrolling about 35 students per semester, by individual faculty members.
Rio has also been involved in distance education for the last 20 years and doing online education for the last three years (as of 1998). Currently, 80 percent of its general education courses are delivered via technology. Rio begins each of its distance learning courses 26 times a year. This means that students never have to wait more than two weeks to start a class. In addition, although each distance course is advertised as a 14-week class, students are allowed to accelerate or decelerate as needed.
The college is in its third year of using the Internet and interactive CD-ROM technology developed by Academic Systems to deliver its pre-algebra and college algebra courses. Despite the fact that completion rates for the Academic Systems-based math classes showed a modest increase of about 2% over the print/mixed media form of distance delivery, the overall retention rate itself was only 59%. This low completion rate while not unique to Rio Salado but also exhibited by the other Maricopa colleges as well, is a matter of continuing concern.
Because of the robust nature of the Academic Systems software permitting one faculty member to manage large numbers of students, Rio now plans to redesign four math courses to be taught concurrently by one faculty member: Introductory Algebra, Mathematical Concepts/Applications, Intermediate Algebra and College Algebra/Functions. The redesigned model will continue to use interactive software from Academic Systems to deliver content. In its first iteration, the majority of instructor time was spent troubleshooting non-content technology problems (e.g., navigation within the lessons), student movement through the material (e.g., when to take tests), and student advisement (e.g., whether to withdraw) rather than assisting with learning. The redesign will add a course assistant to troubleshoot technology questions, monitor student progress using Academic Systems’ built-in course management system, and alert instructor to student difficulties with the material. A Help Desk system will be developed to support course assistant-instructor-student communication. Instructors can then focus on creating a successful start for students and intervening to provide academic help when needed. With enhanced, proactive support, retention is expected to increase by 20%.
The impact of the redesign model on student learning will be assessed by comparing retention results for the redesigned course with traditional models taught in previous semesters. Student achievement levels will be compared to see if the redesign maintains or increases them. Student focus groups also will be held to discuss features of the "new" vs. the "old" model of the course.
The restructuring will also permit increasing the number of students that can be served in a distance learning format. Significant savings can be achieved by increasing the combined class capacity from 35 to 100 students per instructor, an increase which is possible once non-academic duties are shifted to the course assistant and other kinds of support. Savings will also result from reducing the numbers of students who need to re-take the course. By using technology to its full capacity within the new structure, the redesign will result in a projected cost-per-student reduction of 37% compared to previous distance learning formats at Rio.
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