Course Development Issues
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
To what extent have you been able to use previously developed materials in your re-design instead of creating new materials?
We are using publisher materials, not just for the PowerPoint slides but also as a database of questions to upload into Mallard. That has proved quite useful as one can get up a lot of questions fairly quickly that way. Even with that economy of effort, there is still a significant amount of work involved in going through those questions and evaluating them in terms of their effectiveness and difficulty. One problem is that they are written for a paper-based environment and often seem off the point. Some questions are discarded after having been uploaded. Nevertheless, this is far easier than directly authoring the content. The questions are good as a way of getting started in that we can get some content online fairly quickly. But ultimately, we will have authored most if not all of the online content.
What kinds of activities took up the most time in your course development effort?
As we correctly anticipated, the most labor-intensive activity is the debugging of quiz material uploaded into Mallard. The debugging is not just on the technology side. One has to test whether the question makes economics and statistics sense and if it is do-able by the students. This requires knowledge both of how to program in Mallard and also of the underlying statistics. That conjunction of skills is limited to a few individuals, and those individuals were heavily burdened in the development activity.
We spent much more trouble-shooting time in the fall 1999 semester than we anticipated. We encountered a series of technical snafus that included:
All of these technical problems were eventually overcome with good cooperation from the campus organization that supports the labs. But they were not anticipated and therefore got the project off to a shaky start. Since there were over 250 students taking the course in the new format (about half the total course population for the fall), the large scale of this trial implementation created a certain tension because the students were frustrated by the technology.
Part of the redesign plan was to give the course a project orientation, emphasizing a conceptual and team-based approach that had been used in a smaller section. The challenge was whether such an approach would scale up, in particular whether the graduate teaching assistants could handle the grading work. Much effort was put into letting Mallard grade the data analysis component of the project, leaving the GTAs to grade only the write up. The recitation section was moved into a computer lab so that the TAs could provide hands on help with Excel and Mallard.
Early planning focused almost exclusively on the design of the asynchronous component of the course. The thought that the lecture could stay intact proved incorrect. The lectures had to be redone to be more instrumental to the projects and to address where the students were having difficulty. Professor Ng has introduced "just-in-time lectures" where surveys about course content would be administered in Mallard. Completion of the survey was optional. Professor Ng then adjusted lecture to help the students work through the difficulties that were evidenced with the surveys. This rewarded those students who participated.
Have students been directly involved in the re-design process?
Students are not being utilized for the redesign. Professor Ng does have a random set of students come talk with him each week so he can get feedback on how the implementation is working. But this dialog is the extent of the student input. We have talked about using undergraduates as graders and to offer additional office hours. So far, we haven't done that. Instead we are relying on graduate students from other units.
What kinds of support for your project have you been receiving from your department or the institution more broadly?
Professors Hendricks and Ng received a campus PITA grant for $15,000 to fund additional technical support for this project. Professor Houlihan received a campus training grant for $2,000 and recently attended a two-day workshop for faculty who are getting started using educational technology. The department is now hiring additional faculty to staff this sequence.
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