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Course Development Issues

Virginia Tech

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

We are not aware of competitive software on the market that can handle this course. Software development has been the main startup cost. The desire to continue upgrading the system presents us with a cost question for the future. It would appear that some kind of external marketing, directly by us or in collaboration with commercial developers, might be needed if we are to make substantial upgrades over the longer term.

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

Over the first three years of the program, student opinion has led to important changes in the materials and procedures. Students have been quick to report program bugs or text errors in the software, and these are quickly conveyed to the designers via e-mail or indirectly through the Emporium peer tutors. In another direction, during the first year of the redesigned course (1997 – 1998), the weekly online quizzes were given for student self-assessment, with no grade credit; students wanted credit for this work, and the "quicktest" format was introduced. In addition, the program of lectures was retained, because of strong preferences indicated by some students, after the weekly section meetings of the pilot year were phased out. Finally, strong student reaction to hardware and software breakdowns early on showed that improvements had to have high priority.

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

Across the university, administrative support for these initiatives has been strong from the beginning, but faculty colleagues in other departments have been more skeptical. In 1999, the university recognized the Math Emporium generally with its XCaliber Award for excellence by a team of faculty and staff in transforming a broad academic program. The department head has made a point of taking opportunities to explain the program to faculty audiences around the university.

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