Labor Saving Techniques
University of Colorado at Boulder
Given that a major goal of the course re-design project is to substitute technology "capital" for faculty teaching "labor," in what particular aspects of the course and its delivery are you finding that you are able to do this?
In spring 2000, I gave almost no lectures. I did meet with the entire class once a week to conduct a "discussion session." However, many students felt that they needed one lecture a week to help them develop a conceptual framework for the material, so in fall 2000, I presented one lecture each week. Students certainly could and did learn the content by reading the text and the on-line hypertext. That freed up time for students to learn in small interactive groups and to participate in large group discussions.
Compared to the usual experience in a class this size, students received much more personal attention from their undergraduate TAs, and we were able to pay more attention to the needs of individual students than we usually can. The software enabled us to keep much more detailed records of the performance (including attendance) of individual students throughout the course. That was particularly effective in identifying students with problems early enough to take corrective action.
We had a few successful experiences with on-line homework assignment. The assignments taught students unique skills, and the fact that they could be submitted on-line certainly saved time in grading. Developing good on-line assignments requires a greater up-front investment in time than a paper assignment. We are still in the process of developing on-line homework assignments. We have formed a partnership with Professor Greg Bothun of the University of Oregon, who has developed an excellent set of interactive Java applets for teaching astronomy, and we are developing group exercises built around these applets.
Regarding "labor-for-labor" substitutions, we used undergraduate teaching assistants (UGTAs) in lieu of graduate teaching assistants (GTAs). Our assessment data continues to show that this experiment is quite successful. We are having no trouble in recruiting outstanding UGTAs. Their performance ranged from very good to excellent. The students related to them better than they do to graduate TAs. They are better than most grad TAs.
TAs expressed broad support for the learning team teaching strategy. They warmed to the role of coach, and were genuinely concerned to see students benefit from the learning team environment. They indicated a desire to improve on their work and routinely sought advice at team meetings about how best to handle specific challenges that arose in their own learning teams. They were also open in offering their own ideas, and feedback from their students, at the weekly group meetings.
There was some tension between students' apparent acceptance of the more limited coaching role assigned to the TAs on the one hand, and their expressed need for the kind of recitation section teaching and individual (office hour) tutoring that they have come to expect from traditional graduate student TAs. These unmet expectations were the commonest source of student criticisms of the TAs and ways to address these needs are currently under discussion. On balance, however, students overwhelmingly indicated a preference for undergraduate, as opposed to graduate, TAs, citing the following as reasons for their preference:
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