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Course Development Issues

University of Southern Maine

To what extent have you been able to use previously developed materials in your re-design instead of creating new materials?

We had intended to use a software product called Bravo to increase student involvement in the classroom, but Bravo no longer exists. We have allied ourselves with WebCT, in part because the company that created Bravo purchased WebCT and then changed their name. We spent much of the last year learning to use WebCT effectively and adjusting our plans accordingly. We now report that it has been possible to use WebCT to recreate much of the functionality that was in Bravo. Working with Pearson Education (Prentice Hall) and with Worth Publishing, we created Web-based materials that link the test/quiz questions to an on-line version of the text and to provide access to activities that reinforce important concepts not necessarily covered well either in lecture or in the print version of the text.

We had anticipated using Perception, a product developed by Question Mark for our quizzing but found this product to be totally inadequate– it took upwards of a minute to present 10 questions. The beta version was fantastic, but minor changes made before marketing version 2 of this software made this product totally unworkable.

What kinds of activities took up the most time in your course development effort?

For us, the most time consuming element of course redesign was mastering WebCT and getting course materials into this format, including converting our question bank into a format that WebCT could read.

We also convinced Prentice Hall to put one of their introductory texts on the web in a format similar to that found in Bravo! Once this is completed, we will devote a lot of time to linking quizzes with specific pages and providing additional activities that will enable students to have fun learning the basics of psychology.

Interestingly, and as we had hoped, publishing companies are now developing the types of activities that we had anticipated working on. For example, John Wiley and Company has asked us to beta test a product that will enable students to actively learn the concepts covered in all of the chapters we cover in our course, even though we are not going to be using their text. What they hope to have is software that is more or less text independent that will engage students more than simply reading the text.

Have students been directly involved in the re-design process?

We continue to invite students to participate in what we are up to. Suggestions and comments are strongly encouraged (rewarded with course credit). For example, finding errors in the question bank, not all of which were placed there deliberately, is rewarded with extra credit, as are suggestions about where active learning exercises might work well. We have had a great deal of student feedback about what works and what does not, and continue to take this into consideration as we continue the course redesign process. We have a data base of their comments, which we share freely with the publishers.

What kinds of support for your project have you been receiving from your department or the institution more broadly?

There has been little formal expression of support for what we are doing, except that the president, provost and dean have all been personally complimentary. Each has encouraged other faculty to talk to me, and we continue to discuss things as time permits. Many faculty see what we are doing as a way to facilitate distance education courses, not what they are doing on campus. Our attempts to deal with this misconception by having faculty not involved in off-campus courses talk about their experience with various elements of what we are doing worked. This change in focus had an effect in that WebCT is no longer seen as a way to help only distance students.

Faculty development and support has not been a problem on this campus. The Center for Teaching continues to encourage and provide support for faculty interested in creating computer-based components for their courses. We continue to be available to help those with questions or problems. Institutional and departmental understanding and support has never been a problem. In fact, we find an increasing number of faculty joining the idea of reinventing what they are doing. Students are raving about what we do, asking other faculty to join the bandwagon. In fact, it has been rather educational for the faculty and the students, watching them teach us what to do and how to do it as they learn the course material.

Support from within the psychology department, from other psychology departments within the University of Maine System, and from other disciplines on campus has been impressive. About 70% of the upper-level courses taught by our department now incorporate at least some Web-based materials. The availability of a technician, made possible by the grant, has played a significant role in this increase in the use of technology, as have student comments and encouragement. Colleagues outside the department,having heard of our efforts and success, are incorporating Web-based components as well. Their constructive criticism has been very helpful as we think and rethink about this course.

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