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Labor Saving Techniques

Fairfield University

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?

The re-design of our introductory biology course involved the consolidation of four separate sections into a single large lecture format. This reduced the total number of faculty involved in the lecture portion of the course from four in the fall and three in the spring, to two each semester, reducing the faculty by almost half. The success of this change depended on the successful use of technology to create dynamic learning environments for the students to make up for the larger sized class.

Although the use of computers within the lecture and laboratory itself does not substitute faculty labor in our re-design, it does dramatically enhance the delivery of the course content and reduce faculty labor indirectly. In particular, the use of biology Web sites and relevant software and activities in class is extremely useful in illustrating specific contents that are otherwise difficult to convey, and traditionally necessitate much more one-on-one faculty-student interaction outside of class. We think this environment forces more of the “learning” to take place within the classroom, thereby alleviating some of the burden on faculty in office hours and extra student appointments. In addition, the use of on-line lecture notes and review questions, activities associated with the text CD assigned outside of class, and Web sites designed to complement laboratory exercises greatly assists students in their learning, and are often used by students instead of faculty office hours, further reducing faculty labor.

The incorporation of computers in labs was especially effective at reducing lab costs. During the spring semester, we began using lab computers to connect to national and international Web sites during comparative anatomy labs, reducing costs associated with the purchase of large numbers of dissection organisms. Compared with the previous year, our costs associated with the dissection labs decreased by nearly 73% (from $2470 to $680).

December 2001 Update: During the fall 2001 semester we used computer activities to reduce the number of required laboratories. These activities will continue in the spring 2002 semester, which will further reduce the costs associated with our course. Furthermore, the success of the class computer activities has convinced us to increase the number of student-directed activities in our syllabus. We will also employ online testing in the labs during the spring 2002 semester.

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