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Dissemination

University at Buffalo (SUNY)

How would you assess the transferability of the re-design approach you employed to new subject areas or disciplines?

Our course team has already been approached for advice by other course teams for large enrollment freshman courses that would like to use technology to increase learning and decrease costs. While the specific details of our approach do not directly relate to other disciplines, the general experience of having a group of highly motivated faculty think creatively about new ways of improving student learning does translate. Thus we have meet with other groups to discuss our solutions and to help brainstorm about new solutions for their courses.

Our substitute of undergraduate learning assistants for graduate teaching assistants will not transfer to all disciplines. This is because research universities use the TA funding both to recruit good graduate students and to provide instruction. But ours might be an appropriate solution for two types of disciplines. The first type is a discipline like Computer Science and Engineering where all graduate students do not need to be funded. It might work in those disciplines where there are students willing to pay tuition for a graduate degree, and where the quality and number of graduate students will not fall when fewer TAships are offered. The second type of discipline in which this solution might work is one where there is a decrease in the number of graduate students in a program, and where it is difficult to recruit good students even with TAships. If these disciplines are ones where there is an increase in demand for TAs due to an increase in undergraduate course demand, then the switch from GTAs to ULAs could be a useful solution.

How are you disseminating the re-design among your colleagues?

We have presented the preliminary results of our project at:

  • Syllabus Caribbean Conference
  • SUNY-wide Conference on Instructional Technology
  • A local workshop on educational technology
  • EDUCAUSE 2000
  • International Conference on Engineering Education
  • WebNet 2000
  • SIGCSE

The most common reaction we have received is surprise – everyone "knows" that using technology to increase learning will always increase costs. Many faculty fear that administrators believe that technology can be used to decrease costs – by replacing faculty with technology. Our response is to show how our redesigned course is different from the two common types of courses developed by the early adapters. In contrast with the early adapters who spent long hours developing all new materials, we will be using course materials developed by others. In contrast with those who spend long hours communicating on-line with students, our redesign will increase face-to-face interactions between students and learning assistants rather than increasing on-line interactions.

A second reaction from the faculty perspective is that costs are not something that faculty members need to be concerned about; only administrators need to think about costs. Faculty control the curriculum, while administrators manage costs. Overcoming this disconnect can be a major contribution of the Pew Course Redesign Program, as it is only when the same group is thinking about both pedagogy and costs that "out-of-the-box" solutions can emerge.

Another common reaction is suspicion concerning who will benefit from the decrease in costs. If this redesign does in fact lead to faculty needing to spend fewer hours with their teaching, will teaching loads be increased? And what about the cost savings that will be realized in actual dollars? To what extent will the faculty members involved and their departments be able to determine how the saved money is used? Our answer has been that a significant portion of the cost savings needs to be retained within the department and that teaching loads need to continue to be considered in terms of course credits. It is hard to convince faculty of the value of saving the university money if they do not see some benefits to their department.

Most people readily believe that the redesigned course will lead to increased learning, perhaps because the redesign is based on widely held pedagogical values.

Questions about funding are also common. One question concerns the sustainability of the redesigned course once the funding from Pew is gone. Our response is that we believe the course is sustainable, with no more than the normal faculty effort for teaching a course. Since we have predicted a slight savings in faculty time with the redesigned course, there is even an opportunity for faculty to spend more time than predicted on evaluating course materials without there being a net increase in faculty time. Of course it is important for a redesign of this magnitude to have funding available for the initial development, and that's where the second question arises. How can other courses be redesigned without external funding? Our response is to suggest that universities use a portion of their cost savings from redesigned courses to fund the redesign of subsequent courses.

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