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Implementation Issues

Rio Salado College

Looking back on the course pilot itself, what worked best?

The pilot project laid the groundwork for what worked well during Phase II. The pilot saw the construction of the shared database (between the faculty member and the assistant) and the clear identification of responsibilities for the assistant.

The assistant function worked very well during Phase II of Implementation of the re-design project. The assistant worked an average of 5 hours per week from August 21, 2000 through January 14, 2001 (the duration of Phase II). The assistant: saw advantages in the student progress reports: letting students know that someone "out there" was watching them, realizing that they were doing their work and providing a motivational boost. However, the progress reports may not have provided the anticipated positive reinforcement to the students since only two students referred to them in their follow-up interviews.

What worked least well?

We originally thought that someone who had been a math tutor would be the best choice for the course assistant during the course pilot. However, because none of the duties delegated to the assistant involved direct math instruction, we decided that a math tutor was not the most efficient choice as the assistant.

Based on the pilot project, we anticipated that the primary challenges in Phase II would be dealing with student attitudes and having the instructor and assistant in separate locations (being truly remote). In actuality, the challenge turned out to be having an instructor who found it extremely difficult to adjust to having an assistant at all, to say nothing of having 100 students in a single section. The adjunct faculty member who was assigned to Phase II had had experience with Academic Systems and had been (and continues to be) an excellent adjunct faculty member in the old model.

We learned a great deal about the kind of adjunct faculty member who is best suited for this kind of effort:

  • While the instructor had experience with the Academic Systems software, his experience was only with one course, the nursing prerequisite; therefore, his reaction to the number withdrawals was out of sync with what is typical in the other math classes. He was dealing with an entirely different, and less motivated, population than what he had been used to.
  • The instructor did not use the assistant for all that she could do. He had always spent more time with his students than most adjuncts and continued to do the same in Phase II of the re-design.
  • Students have consistently found this faculty member to be very nurturing. Having an assistant available to respond to student inquiries seemed to be contrary to his nature and philosophy of teaching. The instructor estimated that only 6% of the student communications required a math instructor's response and another 16% required an instructor's response (although not necessarily a math instructor), yet he could not let go of on-going, non-instructional related communications.

The assistant observed that students had information given to them directly from the instructor that they could have easily found for themselves. She commented that he never forwarded e-mails to her for a response and that his e-mails to students were very detailed. There was one major advantage: the class seemed more personal to the students, but this behavior obviated the purpose of the project.

The lesson learned is that regardless of what is done with technology and "models," people, and the role(s) they play, have to be a major consideration.

What are the biggest challenges you face in moving from the course pilot to the project's second phase?

The greatest challenge as the project moved into its second phase had to do with student attitudes and reactions: the managing of expectations since student and faculty will likely never meet in person. The pilot project evaluation pointed to a disconnect between the level of communication students received compared to their perception of what they received. While communication between student and instructor was considered exceptional with most responses being same day or next day, 25% of the students surveyed indicated some level of dissatisfaction with the communication. We plan to address the unanticipated consequence of students not recognizing the level of communication they received. We will need to talk with students to understand what they look for as far with regard to good/effective communication. Additionally, the project team may need to "define" good instruction pointing out that it is not founded only in direct communication with the faculty member. Therefore, an additional goal for the project had been established: to reduce the dissatisfaction rate related to communication.

Survey results from the second phase indicated a high level of student satisfaction regarding communication with the instructor (8.25 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the highest). However, the method used to achieve this rating was not the intended model as we discussed above. Therefore, the greatest challenge as the project moves forward will be to address student attitudes and reactions and to determine best match between instructor and the re-design format.

A secondary challenge relates to technology. As the database grows, it will become unwieldy over a phone line.

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