Program in Course Redesign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The Traditional Course

Economic Statistics I and II are required core courses for all majors in the College of Business Administration and for economics and finance majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). Annual enrollment is approximately 3,200, with 1,600 students in each course. Historically, the courses have been taught in traditional lecture format with no recitation sessions. Faculty teach 4 sections of about 60 students each, and upper-level teaching assistants (TAs) teach 39 sections of about 35 students each. This structure contributes to the department's TA budget deficit. Faced with lower graduate enrollment due to a soft job market, the department has been looking for ways to reduce their reliance on TA-led sections.

The overall goal at the university is to redesign both courses in the sequence. For a variety of reasons, the redesign will begin in the second course and then move to the first following proof of concept. Economic Statistics II has already initiated a series of changes as part of UIUC's SCALE Efficiency project. The course has begun to use Mallard, an intelligent program (developed at the University of Illinois) for doing automated student assessment on the Web, and WebBoard for queries and discussion. Although students like the quick feedback they receive in the new format, the material is still perceived to be very difficult and too theoretical. Moreover, the innovations have concentrated on homework while leaving the major term project, which is unpopular with both students and TAs, intact.

The continuing redesign of Economics Statistics II intends to address the following academic problems. First, the traditional course does not mirror real-world, contemporary business experience. The course teaches fundamentals by requiring hand calculations. This distances students from real-world calculation that uses computer-based statistical programs. In addition, the computational focus blocks thinking about more fundamental questions: What are the right variables to select for completing a decision analysis? What is the right (simple) model to rationalize the data? What issues can the data address? What questions require more data than is available in the sample? Students need to be able to think in these ways at the completion of the course.

The second problem concerns the students' final projects. Students are asked to select a problem, develop a corresponding economic model, collect data, apply the estimation theory they have learned in class to analyze the data using Excel, and perform statistical and inferential analyses based on their estimated model. In theory, the project is the centerpiece of the course. In practice, students do not take it seriously, and it does not achieve the desired goal of getting them to understand the implications of the data analysis they have performed. Part of this is an issue of timing. The project is due at the end of the semester, and students procrastinate until near the deadline. Another contributing factor is that students do not gain mastery of the underlying statistical concepts and do not see the interconnection between the project and the other parts of the course.

As a result of these two problems, students also do not retain much of the material they have learned in the Economics Statistics sequence. The subject coverage in the sequence is not adequate preparation for the statistics they use in their business courses. The Economics Statistics sequence was originally designed by economists for students of economics. There is now a perceived need to make this sequence more relevant to students in the other business disciplines.

The Redesigned Course

The learning goals for the redesigned course will require the following pedagogic improvements to the course:

  • Make students comfortable with performing real-data analysis and interpretation using computer calculations so that they can focus on interpreting the results
  • Give students a feel for which statistical tests are appropriate to apply in a given situation by matching statistical procedures to the underlying problem to be solved
  • Give students the ability to communicate their interpretation of the results to others (especially to those not trained in statistics); instill in students the importance of making the work intelligible; and help students to understand that communicating effectively is just as important as performing the analysis
  • Deemphasize the statistical theory that is not connected fully to the data analysis, and change the topic coverage for more appropriate sequencing and inclusion of topics that are relevant in other business disciplines; emphasize students' preparation for other business courses that have a statistical emphasis
  • Adopt a uniform presentation of content, and cater to the varied learning styles of students by presenting content in multiple modes; decrease TAs' idiosyncratic presentation of content, and have some redundancy with both face-to-face and online presentation
  • Prepare students for the business world by emphasizing teamwork

To achieve these learning goals, the redesigned course will teach probability and statistics through practical business applications using a team setting and project-oriented approach. Computer-based assessment not only will grade the homework but also will grade the data-analysis components of the projects.

The role of TAs will change from presenters to consultants as students work on these projects. TAs will provide online help for students in all sections and will schedule online time so that nearly 24/7 coverage will be achieved without overloading any individual TA. TAs will receive training to facilitate their move from presenters to consultants/coaches.

Additionally, students will be placed in teams that reflect diversity and will be trained to work in them. Teams will be required to meet at least three different times with TAs to ensure that they are functioning appropriately. Once the teams are formed, all work other than the exams will be assessed on a team basis.

The most difficult component of the redesign will be the development and formulation of projects. The redesign must engage students and TAs in a cooperative learning approach. Quiz and project material will be interwoven so that projects build on prior work. Team projects must have a component that shows that the team really understands the statistical procedures they have used. Substantial weight for the project grade will be placed on an executive summary designed to present results and recommendations in a way that is understandable and convincing to an average business executive. TAs will grade this written element of the project; the remainder of the project will be designed so that results can be collected and graded by computer. By automating as much of the grading as possible in order to shift TA time to consultation on and assessment of team projects, the redesign will allow a writing emphasis that is generally difficult to achieve in a high-enrollment, introductory course.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 15-week term
  • 4 sections (approximately 60 students each) per year taught by 1 faculty member
  • 39 sections (approximately 35 students each) per year taught by 13 TAs
  • 3 contact hours per week (3 lectures)
  • One faculty member teaches four sections per year and delivers lectures, creates exams with TAs, and coordinates TAs.
  • One head TA teaches three sections per year and provides general coordination and assistance to the faculty member and substantial course-management services.
  • 12 TAs teach three sections each per year and deliver lectures, help create exams, and do all nonmachine grading including the end-of-term project.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 15-week term
  • 6 lecture sections (approximately 266 students) per year
  • 2 hours of optional face-to-face lecture per week
  • Online activities substituted for lectures (students can view lectures online as well)
  • One hour of optional lab time per week to facilitate team meetings (teams can meet at other times as well)
  • One faculty course coordinator teaches six sections per year, delivers optional lectures, and coordinates the course and the TAs.
  • One head TA assists the faculty member in coordinating TAs, provides online support for students, and helps create exams.
  • Eight TAs facilitate optional computer lab sessions for six sections per year, grade end-of-term projects, monitor the class WebBoard, and respond to students' e-mail.


In summary, the redesigned course will implement the following changes:

  • Employ large and small teams of students working together on concrete business problems, using computer-based packages for data analysis
  • Shift lecture sessions from presentation of information to demonstrations and explanations of examples
  • Reduce weekly lectures from three to two, which are optional, since information also is available asynchronously, online
  • Stretch project work throughout the semester and integrate it directly with quizzes and other coursework
  • Shift TAs' role from presenters of information to ongoing team consultants for final projects
  • Use computer-based assessment for quizzes, homework, and data analysis of final project work performed in teams
  • Use TAs to grade only the written portion of final projects
  • Set up TA online office hours for nearly 24/7 coverage



Program in Course Redesign Quick Links:

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Lessons Learned:
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