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Labor Saving Techniques

University of Southern Maine

Given that a major goal of the course re-design project is to substitute technology "capital" for faculty teaching "labor," in what particular aspects of the course and its delivery are you finding that you are able to do this?

Perhaps the biggest appeal to the faculty has been the ability to grade and record exams and quizzes automatically. Computer-based quizzes reduces the time faculty spend evaluating student progress in that grades can be calculated automatically and entered into a grade book by the machine. This is widely regarded as a way to reduce the time spent by faculty on something that they would rather not do anyway. This has been a telling selling point to faculty, and most decisions to adopt course presentation software have been based on this single feature.

Any faculty timesaving that results from the use of technology is initially offset by the time required to learn to use the presentation software and to put the quizzes on the Web. Thus, it is only in the second use of the system that real time savings are achieved. This is a concern however in that texts are revised every three years in our discipline, and faculty seem to change texts every year or two. Adoption of a new text or revision of an old one requires considerable time to recreate the quizzes, a process that is now being facilitated by the text publishers. In effect, as they learn what a professor wants, some of the substitution of faculty time is coming from the publisher of the text!

We used upper-level undergraduate learning assistants for the first time in fall 2000. Incorporating some of Virginia Tech Math Emporium's approach, assistants were available for four hours a day, six days a week, in the new computer center. We did not find the use of learning assistants to be either time or cost effective. Simply put, students did not seek help from the assistants. We found that only one or two students a week visited them, so this investment in time was wasted. Instead, we found that reducing the time that faculty spent lecturing while increasing the number of hours that these instructors were available to meet with students was very effective. Students who had questions, concerns or in need of advising took advantage of these additional hours. Faculty spend the time that they would have spent in lecture revising test questions, e-mailing students and developing course content. There is some increase in one-on-one interactions as the result of the reduced time spent in class.

As of fall 2001, we have reduced the number of sections from 13 to 11. Faculty are teaching two additional upper-division courses instead. We have increased the section size to 125, but all seats are not yet filled.

The administration continues to be excited about the opportunity to cut seat time in half. Two classes have been scheduled into one traditional time slot (10-11:15 on Tuesday and Thursday) on our Instructional Television System because introductory psychology and a criminology course are to be taught only one day a week instead of the traditional two. Not surprisingly, the administration is talking about adding additional courses and classes to our otherwise completely booked distance education system. In effect, they anticipate twice the revenue when such seat time reductions can be arranged, and administrators are actively encouraging faculty using this system to consider this mode of instruction.

The completely asynchronous course made possible under this grant has found a niche on this campus. Thirty-five students enrolled in it in the first year and the same number of students enrolled in the course in spring 2001. It appears that more than that number will be enrolled in the fall. With a break-even point of about 15 students, this class is clearly making money for the institution. It appears that student satisfaction with this mode of presentation (most of the students enrolled are working adults, though we have had a pair of high school students enroll in the course) is driving this increase, many of the students signing up this year report that they have been encouraged to do so by other students who have taken this course this way. Not surprisingly, the administration is encouraging instructors in other disciplines to adopt this mode of instruction.

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