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Lessons Learned

The University of Alabama

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Commercially available software. The team has been very pleased with the pedagogical quality of the commercial software available for Intermediate Algebra. The software is versatile and supports verbal, visual, and discovery-based learning styles. The availability of this software has allowed the university to avoid spending funds on software development and to direct all their resources toward supporting student learning. The majority of the students were able to adapt to computer-based instruction; more than 70% of the students surveyed felt the MTLC was a good learning environment.

Flexible attendance policy. The MTLC is now open 70 hours per week. This allows students to do math at times most convenient to them and when they are most prepared. While students were required to spend a minimum of 3.5 hours per week in the MTLC, they could use this time to move on to future topics or spend additional time covering material that they found difficult.

Thirty-minute weekly class sessions. All students were required to attend a thirty-minute class session each week. The class session focused on student problems and allowed instructors to follow up in areas where testing identified student weakness. It also helped build community among students and instructors.

Semi-automated e-mail system. A semi-automated email system was established to allow instructors to maintain easy contact with students. The system allowed instructors to remind students of upcoming deadlines, to clarify topics that have been problematical, to reward students for exceptional performance, and to provide encouragement when needed.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Substituting undergraduate tutors for graduate students. The initial plan was to staff the MTLC primarily with instructors and to use graduate students and upper-level, undergraduate students for tutorial support. In the first semester of implementation, it became apparent that the undergraduate students were as effective as the graduate students in providing tutorial support, making it possible to replace the graduate students with lower cost undergraduates.

Optimizing staffing levels. By using data on student use collected during the first semester of operation and refined on a semester-by-semester basis, the team was able to reduce the number of instructors and undergraduate tutors assigned to the MTLC by matching staffing levels to trends in student use

Semi-automated e-mail system. A semi-automated email system was established to allow instructors to maintain easy contact with students. The system allowed instructors to remind students of upcoming deadlines, to clarify topics that have been problematical, to reward students for exceptional performance, and to provide encouragement when needed.

Economies of scale. The greatest overall cost savings were generated by adding other classes to the MTLC. Instructional person-power could be shared among courses, significantly reducing the cost of teaching additional courses.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

The "No Teacher" Syndrome. The radical change in instructional style associated with the course redesign produced some unique issues not typically associated with the traditional course structure. During the first year of implementation, students were very concerned about the lack of a formal teacher for their course even though they had one-on-one instructional support available at all times. In an effort to develop a personal relationship between students and instructors, weekly 30-minute "class" sessions were scheduled, an automated e-mail system was developed to allow instructors to contact their students on a weekly basis, and the time instructors spent in the lab was fixed and publicized to allow students to come to the lab at specific times and deal with the same instructional staff.

Keeping students engaged in the course. The instructional freedom provided by the redesign format was a problem for those students who were not self motivated and well organized. During the first year of implementation, considerable effort was devoted to analyzing student time-on-task. As might be expected, there was a strong correlation between student performance and time-on-task. Eliminating the requirement that students spend a certain number of hours each week in the MTLC during the spring 2001 semester was accompanied by a significant decline in student success and student learning. Reinstatement of required attendance for fall 2001 was accompanied by a measurable increase in success. In spite of attendance requirements, students sometimes do not spend enough time in the lab to meet learning objectives. To ensure that students invested adequate time in the course, students hours in the MTLC were tabulated weekly and the automated e-mail system was used to reward students who were meeting requirements and to encourage those who were falling behind.

Instructor training. Training instructors, graduate teaching assistants, and undergraduate tutors to "teach" in the lab has been a major challenge. The one-on-one assistance the computer-based format requires was very different from the teaching format the instructors had used and/or experienced in the past. The university has expanded training for instructors each semester to better equip them to provide assistance to students in the MTLC.

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Program in Course Redesign Quick Links:

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