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Program in Course Redesign

University of Southern Maine

Project Abstract

The University of Southern Maine plans to redesign Introductory Psychology which enrolls about 875 students a year. The course is taught every semester, at least twice during the summer, and occasionally during the three-week winter session. It fulfills one of the core education requirements for nursing, psychology, sociology, and other social science majors. Thirteen sections of the course are offered annually, using 2.17 full-time faculty positions (out of a total of nine in the Psychology Department). Faculty lecture for three hours per week to sections of about 75 students.

The course has several academic problems. About 30% of the students do not pass the course. Many students fail to retain the material for future use. The large lecture sections and absence of recitation sections do not support individualized instruction. Because of the way in which test answers are scanned, students receive only the total score and do not receive feedback about which material was incorrect or where to learn the correct information. Students have no resources to support learning other than the large lecture, as there are no teaching assistants and only a few student tutors. Finally, the course in its present lecture format is not fully accessible to all students (e.g., disabled students, students who cannot attend on a regular basis.)

The redesigned course will replace 50% of the lecture time with interactive Web-based learning activities, including multiple modules for each chapter of the text. Several activities will incorporate data from the responses of students, which provides a connection with peer learners. Students will answer questions within the module, get immediate feedback, and have the chance to re-do modules until they fully comprehend their concepts. Testing will move online as well. Direct student contact with instruction will be increased as teaching assistants are added online.

The redesigned course will enhance quality by treating multiple sections as one course that draws from common online material. Multiple modules per chapter will allow students to choose modules that match their learning styles, needs, and interests. Computer-based testing will provide students with immediate feedback on their mistakes, help them review course concepts, and provide multiple opportunities to master the material. The redesign fosters active learning and student interaction with the material, each other, and instructors. The Web-based environment will enable both students and instructors to monitor student progress. The largely asynchronous nature of the redesign also allows more segments of the student population to access the course.

The impact of the course redesign on student learning will be assessed by tracking final grades and the number of students who retake the course because of failing grades or failure to complete. A test will be developed to compare student learning outcomes for traditional and redesigned sections. Student experiences and attitudes will be compared through the university’s standard student course evaluation.

The redesign will increase the number of students per section from 75 to 125, freeing up instructor time to develop a distance learning course sequence to serve additional university students. The result will be a 49% cost-per-student reduction from $113 to $58.

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