|Program in Course Redesign
University at Buffalo (SUNY)
The University at Buffalo plans to redesign Computer Literacy, a freshman-level course for non-majors. The course is taught in traditional lecture-lab format. Sections meet three hours a week for lectures and two hours a week for formal labs. There are also two hours of open lab time per week. The course enrolls about 1,000 students a year. Three large lecture sections of about 200 students are taught by two faculty per semester, and lab sections are taught by Graduate Teaching Assistants, who also help staff the lab during open lab hours. Course enrollment may increase dramatically in the next two years if the College of Arts and Sciences decides to use the course to satisfy a General Education requirement. Additionally, the University now requires all freshmen to have computer access, which is expected to lead to increased enrollment in the course. Redesign has the potential for affecting large numbers of students.
The academic problems in the current course lie in its structure. The lecture format does not promote active and collaborative learning. It especially does not provide enough student support at the beginning of the semester when most students, who are not sufficiently comfortable with technology, need proportionately more individualized, face-to-face contact. Many of the GTAs who provide the direct lab contact are not native speakers of English and often find it difficult to communicate with beginning-level students. Undergraduate Teaching Assistants have been effective in the past but have been unable to completely replace GTAs because they are not allowed to grade tests. Advanced technical staff are also not fully effective, as their expertise does not necessarily match student need.
The redesigned course will reduce the number of lectures per week from three to two and replace that time with Web-based tutorials, diagnostic quizzes, short mini-lectures, and Web- and lab-based group activities designed to support collaborative learning. Lab hours will be re-structured so that more formal lab hours occur at the start of the semester, and more open lab hours occur at the end, to match student need. UGTAs will increase the individualized assistance available in labs. Technical support will shift to staff with more appropriate expertise.
The redesigned course will enhance quality by offering a more flexible learning environment that better supports student needs. The redesign allows self-motivated students to advance at their own pace through the course while providing a highly structured learning experience for students who require clearly spelled-out expectations to be met at regular intervals. The redesign also provides multiple means for achieving learning outcomes. Lectures will be de-emphasized and proportionally replaced by Web-based learning activities; short individual projects will be supplemented with multi-group projects that incorporate collaborative learning, In addition, online testing will facilitate learning.
The impact of the course redesign on student learning will be assessed by comparing student performance on exams and quizzes common to both the traditional and redesigned sections. Questionnaires, work samples, and observations of select situations also will used to assess the impact of the redesign on student learning. Focus groups and interviews will be conducted with a random sampling of students.
As part of this project, the University at Buffalo will test two redesign strategies, one resulting in a 54% cost reduction ($134 less per student) where enrollment stays the same, the other resulting in a 60% cost reduction ($149 less per student) where enrollment increases.
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