University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Use of Mallard for weekly quizzes and homework. The redesign relied on Mallard for administering homework assignments as well as for assessing the numerical parts of the team-based projects. With regard to the homework, Mallard encourages a “do it till you get it right” approach, something that both students and instructors value. The technology gets high marks for the complexity of what can be assessed, the instantaneous feedback, and the way the technology encourages students to spend more time on task. With regard to the projects, repeated tries were not allowed. Mallard was used to instantaneously score the data analysis, letting the groups know if they got it right or, if not, where they went astray. It was also used to provide the instructors and TAs with assurance that there was no cheating on the data analysis, by allowing random data sets with results specific to the particular realization.
Team-based projects. Aimed at changing the nature of the students’ work, the team-based projects were the crux of the redesign. Economic Statistics I now has three projects: the first to teach students how to describe data; the latter two to help students learn to interpret basic statistics from a given data set. In the traditional approach there were no projects in this course. Economic Statistics II now has two projects. The first uses personnel-screening data from a real company to get students to think through the firm’s hiring decision. The second is a finance application that relies on regression analysis. The projects let the students think of statistics as part of doing real-world decision-making, not as an add-on to the theory.
Recitation sections in computer lab. Recitations were held in a computer lab so that students could consult with TAs about their projects. Labs are also used to provide training in Excel and to provide ancillary tech support for students. In addition, labs are used to review Mallard quizzes specifically designed for that lab section. In other words, the face-to-face meeting time is used to support the online learning. In the traditional approach, this third hour of in-class meeting was used for the presentation of new content. That use of class time has been entirely abandoned in the redesign.
Cost Savings Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Mallard. In a high-enrollment course like this, sophisticated automatic assessment is a win-win. Students like it. They feel they learn something from doing the work. They appreciate the rapid feedback without the human judgment. Instructors obviously appreciate that the students are doing something of consequence outside of class with respect to their learning, without this work imposing additional effort on the part of the instructor.
What implementation issues were most important?
Need for more computer facilities. Computer facilities for the recitation sections have become a core issue as the project has ramped up. Currently lab space is scarce, and section sizes are too large for the existing lab space. Undoubtedly the long-term solution is wireless, with students bringing laptops into otherwise traditional classrooms. An intermediate solution may be to use lab facilities in campus housing sites traditionally used only by residents. Following a decline in demand for the traditional use, these facilities may be opened to the campus community for classroom purposes.
Textbook selection. Deciding on a textbook and getting consensus for the approach when there are more instructors in the mix are important issues. A different book has replaced the textbook that was adopted at the outset of the project. The two courses are much more intertwined than they were in the traditional approach, and that necessitates more cross-course coordination.
Pedagogical approaches. At the outset of the project, there was too much concern about technical issues and not nearly enough about the teaching approach. What makes a good project? How should projects be assessed? What are the main points that students should take away from this part of the course? Instructors are not used to talking about those issues, and they need time to work through them.
Program in Course Redesign Quick Links: