Program in Course Redesign

California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona)

The Traditional Course

Taught every quarter, General Psychology is a high-enrollment course that fulfills a general education requirement. Approximately 36% of Cal Poly Pomona students take the course, and one-sixth of those students retake the course at least once. The course, taught in traditional lecture format, previously served 1500 students per year in 30 sections of 50 students. At least 750 more students were not able to take the course because of classroom space limitations.

During the 1995-96 academic year, the traditional course was redesigned. One redesigned, mediated section of the course, serving 120 students, has been offered each quarter with the rest of the sections taught in the traditional format. This first mediated version of the course consists of 18 video modules, each 55 minutes long, available through streaming video and broadcast television. Course materials include a guidebook and a custom text. The use of mediated materials reduced 33 hours of lecture time to two hours with an additional ten hours redirected into tutorials, resulting in a net cost savings of 21 hours. Faculty reinvested that time in tutorials, with one faculty and one teaching assistant (TA) managing two tutorials per quarter, and in interaction with students during office hours and via e-mail.

While faculty reduced their preparation time significantly in the first redesigned version of General Psychology, their instruction time remained constant and their evaluation time increased. Total faculty time increased by 12 hours per section, while the number of students served increased by a factor of 2.4. The tutorials, chatrooms, and e-mail have been labor-intensive for faculty, and the technology-mediated course, as first redesigned, did not result in optimum cost savings.

The most significant problem for faculty is the labor-intensiveness and increased time required from the tutorial, chatroom, and e-mail support structures. The most significant problem for students is that the course is still not wholly student-directed. And the most significant problem for the institution is that this first iteration of technology-assisted General Psychology still does not meet the need to serve the anticipated 40% increase in the number of students entering the California State University system. More specifically, Cal Poly Pomona has only seven rooms that accommodate more than 100 students, limiting its ability to offer large sections of introductory courses such as General Psychology. Cal Poly Pomona needs to cope with larger numbers of students in a high-demand introductory course while at the same time enhancing student success and reducing costs.

The Redesigned Course

The prime objective in course redesign is to use technology to increase the number of students served to 2250 per year by improving on the 1995-96 pilot redesign model and increasing the number of students per section from 120 to 450. General Psychology, in its second redesign, will use technology to create greater engagement with students. The faculty believes that self-paced learning is superior to instructor-directed learning in that it facilitates success for different types of learners, enhances student retention, and gives students the ability to apply their knowledge to other disciplines and situations. To succeed in the course, students must take responsibility for their own learning outcomes.

The learning goals for the redesigned course will require students to

  • understand and apply basic concepts of psychology (e.g., theories of memory and learning, including Freud and Skinner; topics such as depression and group pressure);
  • design a research proposal and identify the variables in the project; and
  • gain experience with computers and feel more confident with their use.

The goals of the redesigned course are to

  • use self-paced learning rather than instructor-directed learning to cater to different types of learners, improve student retention, and enable students to apply their knowledge to other disciplines and situations;
  • use interactive web-based and CD technologies to enable larger numbers of students to learn course materials without the constraints of time and place;
  • use computer-based testing to encourage students to take control of their own learning and achievement levels; and
  • be more time-efficient for faculty and more cost-efficient for the institution.

To achieve these goals, the redesign of General Psychology will focus on three major areas—content modules, CD, and tests—all of which involve using asynchronous technology to meet student learning needs, reduce costs, and serve greater numbers of students.

Approximately one-quarter of the existing content modules will be re-edited and some segments re-shot to improve production values and incorporate updated material. The content modules will be available asynchronously, through video and audio streaming, allowing students to access them as needed.

Faculty will design an interactive CD to replace the 20 hours of tutorial time and cover key topics in the course: experimental design, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, cognitive tasks, social influence, personality disorders, depression. An interactive animated character will guide students through modules in the CD, and graphic elements will illustrate key concepts. The CD will link directly to the course web site, with updates and links to other resources including electronic textbooks. The problem-centered tutorials on the CD will offer self-paced learning opportunities for students and provide a capital for labor substitution.

Cal Poly Pomona is negotiating with Wadsworth to develop a data bank to store publisher and faculty test questions in order to offer Internet-based, individually-generated, randomly-assigned testing. Using this testing system, students receive immediate feedback on problem areas based on their performance. Faculty in General Psychology have observed that when students have the opportunity to set their own goals and re-test to their own criteria, they spend more time on task and achieve better quality learning. TAs will supervise tests in computer labs, resulting in an additional saving of six faculty hours for test proctoring.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 10-week term
  • 30 sections of approximately 50 students each (1500 annually)
  • 4 contact hours per week: 2 (2-hour) lectures
  • Fifteen to twenty full-time faculty members and adjuncts teach one or two sections of the course. They select course materials; develop and deliver lectures; prepare and evaluate the pre-test of entering competencies, writing assignments and evaluations; proctor exams; hold office hours; and respond to electronic mail.

Pilot Redesign Course Structure

  • 10-week term
  • 1 section of 120 students per term (equates to 1800 annually)
  • 18 internet-streamed and televised video content modules (each 55 minutes long) supplemented by a guidebook, a custom text and tutorial sessions
  • One faculty member teaches each section of the course. He or she provides one two-hour orientation at the start of the course, supervises one teaching assistant, responds to electronic mail, holds office hours, delivers tutorials on course content and monitors student progress.
  • One TA per section proctors and grades examinations, grades writing assignments and delivers tutorials on course content.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 10-week term
  • 5 sections of 450 students each (2250 annually)
  • 18 internet-streamed and televised video content modules (each 55 minutes long) supplemented by a guidebook, a custom text and tutorial sessions
  • Interactive CD-ROM technology substitutes for tutorials
  • Traditional testing is replaced by computer-based testing
  • One faculty member teaches each section. He or she coordinates course activities, trains TAs, provides initial orientation, holds office hours, spot checks writing assignments evaluated by TAs, responds to electronic mail, monitors student progress and updates course materials as needed.
  • Eight TAs assist in teaching each section. They supervise lab experiences, proctor tests, grade assignments and tests, hold office hours, respond to electronic mail and monitor student progress.


In summary, the redesigned course will implement the following changes:

  • Update content modules available asynchronously through video and audio streaming
  • Increase the number of students in the course
  • Increase the consistency among sections
  • Move the entire course to an online, active learning environment
  • Develop an interactive CD to guide students through key course concepts and offer problem-centered tutorials to take the place of TA- and faculty-led tutorials
  • Reduce the number of faculty involved
  • Use interactive computer-based testing that evaluates outcomes immediately and provides an analysis of student problem areas based on performance



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