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Lessons Learned

University of Central Florida

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

An abundance of Web resources. A substantial amount of subject-related information is available on the Web. Students are introduced to relevant Web sites through assignments. Students complete an analysis of the material, by dissecting the argument, by providing questions that lead to a critical analysis or synthesis of the information, or by stimulating a critical discussion of the topic. Short papers also require students to summarize their findings and analysis. Usually, these assignments ask students to link concepts covered in class to concrete examples, and thus the assignments reinforce both concepts and their application. On interactive Web sites, students provide information and receive immediate feedback, for example, in simulations of elections or public opinion quizzes. Similarly, when students take online tests and quizzes, they receive an instant grade, which reinforces the learning process.

Increased interaction among students. Communications software, bulletin boards, or chat rooms provide useful and convenient opportunities to increase discussion between and among students. Discussion forums for the entire class or for subgroups within the class can be created depending on the class size and the nature of the assignments. Discussion groups of approximately 10 students each were established at the beginning of the semester. The membership remained constant throughout the semester; students thus were able to benefit from the informal learning communities that were created. Students in large lecture classes tend to be passive recipients of information, but in discussion forums, students participate actively. According to existing research, feedback from our students, and an evaluation of participation patterns in discussion forums, more students post messages than participate regularly in classroom discussions. Additional research suggests that messaging is fairly evenly distributed among students. Shy students frequently feel less inhibited in computer-mediated discussions. Software allows the instructor to monitor the frequency and the quality of students’ contributions to the discussions more easily and carefully than in a crowded classroom, and thus to assign grades with less difficulty.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Space savings. The more efficient use of classroom space and the resultant reduction in rented classroom space by the university was the cost savings sought by this project. Using the Web as a vehicle for delivering portions of a course as a substitute for face-to-face classroom instruction saves precious classroom space. Two or three sections/courses can be scheduled into the same classroom where only one could be scheduled before.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Course-development issues. Course development is usually accomplished by a single faculty member working on a single course. Even with the extensive faculty and course-development assistance provided for this project, the redesign of a single course by multiple faculty presented unique challenges. Gaining agreement by the department faculty on core course outcomes and the instructional module formats to be used took an unexpectedly long time. Faculty did not agree on where emphasis should be placed for course content and on the instructional methodologies that should be used to deliver the content and engage students. As a result, developed modules have significant variations and tend to be used only by the faculty member who developed them rather than being shared by all faculty assigned to teach the course. Individual faculty readiness, not only departmental or program readiness, should be an integral part of the course-redesign process. This lesson has been very helpful as other departments begin large-enrollment general education course redesign.

Scheduling. Building and publishing the master class schedule so that it provides accurate information about the times, days, or class meeting dates is a challenge with 33%, 50%, and 67% reductions in class meeting time being implemented in different departments. Yet to be resolved in a fully satisfactory way is the scheduling of final exams when two or three different course sections meet in the same classroom time period. UCF’s automated schedule-building program does not handle this situation.

Integrated faculty and course development. The combination of faculty development for teaching mixed-mode online courses and instructional design support for doing the course-conversion activities works very well. It allows faculty to concentrate on teaching and learning in the new classroom environment and to focus on those aspects that will help them and their students to be successful. Also, the provision of sufficient time for faculty to prepare to teach online courses and convert existing courses for online delivery is crucial.

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