|Program in Course Redesign
University of Iowa
The University of Iowa plans to redesign the first semester of its two-semester General Chemistry course that enrolls approximately 1300 students each academic year. The current course has a traditional organization of three hours of lectures in two sections of 250-400 students each and one one-hour discussion sessions of 25 students each led by a teaching assistant. The course serves students from the College of Engineering, pre-professional students with career goals in pharmacy, medicine, and dentistry, and a variety of science majors from the College of Liberal Arts.
In spite of placement of entering students in the course based on their mathematics achievement, General Chemistry has historically had large numbers of unsuccessful students: 30 percent receive grades of D, F, or W. A recent Ph.D. dissertation by a science education student suggests as a cause the passive behavior of students in lecture and discussion sections based on observations and interviews. Recently, the College of Engineering has expressed concerns about the value of the present course in the curriculum and has requested a new course specifically designed to meet their needs. A similar request is anticipated from the College of Pharmacy. These programs represent about 35 percent of the 1300 students in General Chemistry.
The planned redesign will decrease the number of large lectures and change the presentation style to optimize student participation. Content will be modularized; each module will include a demonstration, concept questions which students discuss in pairs, and the use of response devices to aggregate answers. Discussion sections will meet in a computer classroom where students work on assignments in pairs and teaching assistants address questions in small groups in addition to those of general interest to the whole class. The laboratory will be reintegrated and converted to a discovery-based methodology. Computer-aided instruction will provide tutorial help with math and word problems, while problem-solving skills are developed using Web-based homework.
The redesigned course will improve quality by promoting active learning. From the new lecture/presentations in which the students answer questions after small-group discussion to inquiry-based experiments that use electronic data collection, the focus is on participation. Concepts are coupled with their macroscopic manifestations to enable the students to relate the idea to a real-world view. Contact time with the instructors includes varied activities, enabling success for students with different learning styles.
Knowledge of chemistry will be assessed using Web-based pre- and post-tests and an exam developed by the American Chemical Society Exam Institute. Quantitative outcome assessment will track the DFW rate and success of students in the second semester of general chemistry. Observations and interviews will be used as qualitative measures of student attitudes and to ascertain the impact on teaching assistants and instructors.
Cost savings will be realized by substituting two instructors for three. The Web-based homework will enable automated grading of over 16,000 assignments per semester and eliminate menial tasks for teaching assistants. Incorporating these changes will reduce the cost-per-student from $277 to $223, a 20% savings, which translates into an annual savings of about $70,000. The use of electronic data collection devices will make computers the equivalent of instruments at a much lower cost. A reduction of the DFW rate will decrease the number of students who repeat the course, thus further increasing the savings.
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