Course Development Issues
University of Massachusetts Amherst
To what extent have you been able to use previously developed materials in your re-design instead of creating new materials?
We have been successful in using previously developed materials in our redesign. The existing Duck on-line quizzing program written by Steve Brewer adapted well for use in the redesign. Steve has recently incorporated some new features based on instructor feedback. The Web site of the textbook publisher has also been a source of activities on the student preparation page. We have become aware however that access to the Web site requires purchase of a new textbook and limits the use of used books in the course.
December 2001 Update: One of the challenges of our redesign has been the use of the active learning environment in the large classroom for Introductory Biology. The design of questions and problems to pose to students during class time for problem-solving activities is very limited. At the present time, there are only five universities employing this approach and designing questions for this use. We have recently joined with these other institutions to develop a set of shared resources.
Our web site preparation pages have included an “Activities” section where students are directed to other web sites. For example, we directed students to the Nobel Prize Committee site when our topic turned to the regulation of the cell cycle and cancer. The researchers who initiated the analysis of this topic won this year’s prize in physiology and medicine. The availability of excellent search engines such as Google has greatly facilitated the identification of sites appropriate for this use.
A problem with this approach is the reliance on the diverse array of web browser software components on student computers. Our own course web site was designed to function properly on even the most basic versions of common web browsers. However, the sites we link to often require a complex array of plug-ins and considerable computer memory to be viewed correctly. As a result many students complain that the links “didn’t work” and that they consequently couldn’t complete the activity. We suspect that with a combination of judicious selection of web sites to be used as links and the progressive improvement of computers owned by students that this problem will take care of itself.
What kinds of activities took up the most time in your course development effort?
The instructors of the ClassTalk and redesign sections spent considerable time working during the summer of 2000 designing the course curriculum and activities and questions to be used during the semester. Once the course began, the redesign instructor invested a lot of time to assemble the objectives, reading assignments and activities for each preparation page and the questions for the daily Duck quizzes. ClassTalk questions were also developed for each class by the ClassTalk and redesign instructors. Previous experience with active learning format had prepared the instructors for this time investment. Use of the technology itself took time as the instructor was responsible for inserting text of class objectives, announcements and questions into the preparation page, Duck quiz and ClassTalk software. This time though was considerably less than that spent developing the objectives and various questions.
December 2001 Update: Most of the time spent for course development has been the refinement of course content and the creation of questions for assessment of particular skills. The redesign and collaboration between instructors allowed significant revision of course content, and much of the revision was done to properly fit with the learning assessment and problem-solving challenges given to students. This process has been very much a “backwards design” of curriculum advocated by the Carnegie Turning Points group and others. The course learning goals are agreed upon, then the assessments of learning are designed. Finally, the classroom activities are designed with the goal of matching those activities with the assessments. In the second year of the redesign we spent considerable time both refining the assessments to match the learning goals for particular content areas, as well as adjusting the classroom “lectures” and activities to match those assessments.
Have students been directly involved in the re-design process?
This course was a redesign of previous redesign efforts made to change the class setting from a traditional format to one that incorporates active learning. Throughout the initial redesign effort, which spanned 4 semesters, student opinion and suggestions had been elicited with mid-semester reviews and teaching evaluation forms. We routinely incorporated pertinent suggestions of the students and sought to solve any problems that they raised.
During this most recent redesign, we assessed student attitudes and reactions using mid-semester reviews, teaching evaluations, surveys and interviews. During both the fall 2000 and spring 2001 semesters, we made changes to the course as it progressed to resolve problems and issues raised by students. Student comments have frequently been very insight and we have taken them seriously. Here too class attendance has played a role; we are hearing from the whole student population, those who are succeeding and those who are not.
December 2001 Update: In one of the sections, there was some employment of peer tutoring where successful students were matched with students who asked for help. This was successful and the efforts will be expanded and used in both sections in future semesters.
What kinds of support for your project have you been receiving from your department or the institution more broadly?
We have received significant recognition from the Vice Chancellor for Technology, the Center for Teaching, and an on campus NSF-funded science initiative (STEMTEC) in the form of invitations to make presentations. Our department has been vocally supportive and has enjoyed recognition from the administration for our efforts. This has been a significant achievement for our department and a real step forward in building more conversations about teaching and more recognition of the need and opportunity for change. We still however encounter impediments to expanding the use of active learning in the large classroom setting in terms of the scheduling of the wired classrooms. On the brighter side, we, with members of the Physics Education Group, were included in discussion around designing new lecture space. Our suggestions that the space be designed to accommodate both technology of active learning and enhanced student interaction were well received and current building designs meet our goals.
Program in Course Redesign Quick Links: