|Program in Course Redesign
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Introductory Biology is the first course in the biological sciences for incoming students from 11 majors at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The course is designed to provide a foundation for all further study in the Life Sciences by providing students with both a solid conceptual foundation in biology and an enthusiasm for the subject matter to motivate advanced study in the field. It serves approximately 700 students each fall semester, representing about 20 percent of the freshman class. The desire to redesign this course is driven by formal departmental Learning Goals that were adopted in 1998.
Interactive classroom technology (ClassTalk) has recently been introduced into one of two large lecture sections. Introducing this technology has promoted increased student active learning but has also placed increased demands on the teaching of this course. The academic problems include increased course costs, reduced coverage of course content, student success levels below departmental goals, and the need for technology-proficient faculty.
The course redesign has five components: 1) online, class preparation pages will guide students through learning objectives, key concepts, reading assignments and selected activities prior to class; 2) online quizzes will motivate students to utilize preparation pages prior to class and help students assess their own learning; 3) the active classroom environment will be expanded through the use of interactive classroom technology to enhance the students’ opportunities for problem solving and concept manipulation; 4) supplemental instruction and peer tutoring will provide support for at-risk students; and 5) an instructor apprenticeship program will prepare new instructors to efficiently use the online and interactive technologies.
The course redesign is intended to enhance student preparation prior to class. This is necessary to allow in-class activities to focus on problem solving and concept manipulation while still maintaining adequate content coverage. Students will be provided with diverse opportunities to develop strategies for identifying deficits in their knowledge, to acquire study skills, and to assess their learning progress. The online quiz results will provide the instructor with frequent data on student performance that can be used to structure class time and identify at-risk students and common misconceptions.
Assessment will include an examination of student success at the aggregate course section level as well as analysis of the characteristics and behaviors that affect individual student success. The university will also follow students after their Introductory Biology enrollment to track their future successes. In addition to quantitative measures, the team will pursue qualitative methods, including analysis of the video taping of students’ in-class interactions and student and faculty interviews.
Cost savings will result primarily from a reduction in the number of instructors in the course from four to two, a reduction in the number of class meetings per week from three to two, a reduction in the number of exams from four to three and the use of online resources to replace direct training of teaching assistants. Active learning approaches, recently adopted in the course, have increased the cost of the course from $174 to $199 per student. The redesigned course will reduce the cost-per-student to $117 while enhancing the active learning environment, producing a savings of 41 percent.
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