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Lessons Learned

University of Southern Maine

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

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

Online quizzing. The course structure was altered to incorporate an online quizzing component in addition to the traditional lecture format. By requiring students to complete quizzes before class, the redesign team enabled (some would say forced) students to prepare for classes. Consequently, the role of the instructor shifted from one of introducing basic material to one of reviewing and expanding what students had already mastered. Establishing deadlines in advance of when material was presented in class placed the responsibility for the initial review on the students; they were less dependent on the “sage on the stage” for basic information and so came to class more familiar with the concepts to be explored. Online quizzing does not take time away from other in-class activities.

A mastery approach. Integral to the online quizzing was the notion of mastery of the material. Students were allowed to take quizzes several times, until they received a satisfactory grade or time ran out. Because items on the quizzes were randomized, students focused on the concepts rather than the answers to the questions themselves. Repetition and immediate feedback, tools that have repeatedly been documented to facilitate learning, combined to provide a positive experience for the students and to show them what areas needed additional study. A majority of students in the redesigned class reported that they found the immediacy of feedback both an effective and helpful teaching tool. These tools also reduced anxiety associated with course evaluations (quizzes and exams). Students in the traditionally taught classes reported that they were more anxious when it came to tests than did students in the redesigned course.

Links to review material. Later in the redesign, feedback was included that directed students to the pages of material that they needed to review. The ability to link to the book section that needed additional review was widely regarded as a useful and effective tool. Interestingly, some faculty comments indicated that they found this feature helpful as well, in that they did not always know the answer to some of the questions in the test bank.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Online quizzing and exams. In addition to taking class time, traditional quizzing is time-consuming because of the necessity of grading each quiz by hand and recording marks in a gradebook. The larger the class, the more time and effort are involved. It is therefore not surprising that most USM instructors who teach large-enrollment classes no longer administer quizzes. Online quizzing and exams reduced the time-consuming process of grading and posting results. Data entry was automatic, saving the instructor from hauling exam copies to class, making sure that all came back and were shredded appropriately, carrying answer sheets to be scanned, waiting for the results, and then copying the results into a gradebook.

USM is now in the process of making its standard proficiency tests in both mathematics and English available in WebCT. The opportunity to administer and score multiple forms of these instruments efficiently will result in considerable cost savings to the institution.

Posting changes on the Web. Students were easily notified of changes in course schedules. Instead of responding to phone calls and e-mail, team members posted changes on the Web, resulting in a considerable time savings.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Changes in course-management software. WebCT has worked well in that it is easy for students and faculty to master, is adaptable to any number of demands, and is supported by publishers. Technology, however, is continuously changing and being updated. The need to convert from Bravo! to WebCT and then from to version 2 to version 3 of WebCT did not make the redesign as easy as originally hoped. Just when members of the redesign team became comfortable with one version, they were compelled to change. The repeated changing of software forced team members to conceptualize what they wanted to do and to worry less about the mechanics of how to do it. Thus, significantly less work was required to become familiar with WebCT then was required to master Bravo!, and the conversion of materials from version 2 to version 3 of WebCT was easy and flawless.

Changes in publishers’ materials. USM was committed to using published commercial software, adapting it to meet both faculty members’ and students’ needs, rather than attempting to create its own materials in-house. Members of the redesign team added little to the content that the publishers provided, using Web links, questions, and activities as they became available. However, as USM changes texts, either to different publishers or to new editions, team members find themselves having to spend considerable time changing the linked feedback for students to reflect the new page numbers. The team’s efforts to effect changes in the materials provided by publishing companies has not been as effective as hoped. The redesign team had hoped that these companies would recognize the benefits of adding text references to their WebCT packages in psychology. Although several companies have been willing to make these changes for the introductory course, others have been more reluctant to do so.

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