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Course Development Issues

The University of Alabama

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

We have found there is excellent software commercially available to support the courses presently being taught in the facility. The Intermediate Algebra course is using Intermediate Algebra by Martin-Gay. This software, developed by Prentice-Hall, has an excellent pedagogical base and supports verbal, visual, and discovery-based learning styles. The Remedial Math course is using Beginning Algebra by Lial developed by Addison Wesley Longman. The availability of these excellent software products has allowed us to avoid spending funds on software development and to direct all our resources toward supporting student learning.

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

Hardware and software issues required much more time than we anticipated as we moved into full implementation. This was frustrating because it moved the focus of the effort away from other issues more directly related to student success. Data management also demanded more time than expected. Again, this task required significant amounts of time from instructional personnel. To allow these individuals to focus their efforts on student learning, we have hired an individual to work part time (0.25 FTE) to manage all the data associated with courses in the lab.

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

A team of individuals from the Department of Mathematics and The University of Alabama’s Institute for Social Science Research performed an extensive assessment of the mixed results experienced during the first year of course redesign. This assessment included evaluation of student demographics, student learning styles, student and instructor perceptions of instructional format, student study habits, and student performance in Intermediate Algebra and other courses. The assessment effort involved considerable input from students and included written surveys and student focus groups.

Student perception of the course has been mixed during the first year of implementation. Some students found the approach a great improvement over traditional instruction. Others, however, were uncomfortable with the student-centered nature of the course and were put-off by the increased demands of the computer-based instruction (i.e. the number of problems that they were required to work). Students were frustrated by the frequent server crashes and by having to wait for a computer during testing. They also complained about “not having a teacher” for the course in spite of the fact that instructional assistance is available at all times in the lab.

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

Department of Mathematics faculty have been very supportive of the project. A number of faculty have taught in the MTLC and others have participated in the course assessment effort. Faculty teaching higher-level math courses have been investigating ways the MTLC would support student learning in their courses.

The institution and State of Alabama have provided significant support for the redesign effort. The State provided an earmarked appropriation to support development and initial expansion of the MTLC facility and transfer of the computer-based learning technology to secondary schools in West Alabama. The institution also supported construction of the expanded MTLC facility.

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