|Program in Course Redesign
University of Colorado at Boulder
The University of Colorado at Boulder plans to redesign a two-semester sequence in Introductory Astronomy taken primarily by non-science majors to fulfill a natural science core requirement. The course enrolls 1,080 students per semester (or 2,080 students per year) in two different section configurations: four large lectures (220 students) and two moderate (80 students). Each section entails three lectures per week taught by a single professor. Two graduate teaching assistants are assigned to each large section; one GTA is assigned to each moderate section. Faculty and GTAs hold office hours as well. In addition, Colorado offers a few small sections enrolling about 30 students each.
Colorado faces the traditional trade-off between cost and quality. The traditional lecture format is ineffective in engaging students. Only a small fraction of students use the office hours. Most students simply study the text, turn in their homework, and take quizzes and exams. Attendance at large lecture sections averages approximately 50%. In contrast, attendance in moderate-sized sections is better than 75%, and median performance on standard tests is higher. The experience with small sections is best of all, but, due to resource constraints, only about 15% of the students have the opportunity to enroll in sections of 80 or less.
The intention of the course redesign is to reproduce the positive aspects of a small class environment in the large lecture sections through the use of technology and learning teams. The course will be redesigned so that all students, no matter what their section size, will work in small "learning teams." Learning will be structured around web-based course materials that allow for peer interaction and asynchronous learning. Lectures will be reduced from three to one per week and changed to question-and-dialogue format. Each learning team will be coached by an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant and will meet with its coach in a dedicated computer classroom for two hours per week. They will explore the hypertext "text" of the course, discuss posted questions, help each other with homework problems, and prepare "challenge questions" for the other teams. GTAs will be available in an e-mail chat room to answer questions on evenings and weekends.
The redesigned course will enhance quality by making many avenues of learning available to students. Students will be able to learn individually by using the hypertext materials and doing the exercises, collaboratively in small peer groups (learning teams) with a coach, through direct e-mail communications with the GTA, and from other learning teams and the course faculty in the lecture. Web-based tools enable prompt asynchronous communication, addressing student needs as they occur. The redesign creates a structure that engages students in inquiry-based learning through a high level of interactivity with peers and teachers; it thus reproduces the small class experience.
The impact of the course redesign on student learning will be assessed by comparing exam results, classroom attendance, and retention for traditional and redesigned sections. Students and teaching assistants will be asked assess their attitudes and perceptions of learning via focus groups. Student decisions to continue in the sciences will also be tracked.
The University will apply this redesign to the two different enrollment utilized in Introductory Astronomy. The cost per student in the large sections (~220) goes from $146 to $125, a 14% savings (reflecting the fact that the large lecture model is relatively inexpensive.) The cost per student in the moderate sections (~80) goes from $304 to $199, a 35% savings. Taking the two configurations as a whole, the cost per student for the semester goes from $171 to $137, a 20% savings.
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