|Program in Course Redesign
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville plans to redesign Intermediate Spanish Transition, an introductory language course in which over 60 percent of approximately 3900 entering freshmen are placed based on scores on the university's standardized Spanish Placement Test. The course has experienced phenomenal growth in enrollment. In 1994, 378 students enrolled for the course. In the 1999-2000 academic year, 1539 students registered for the course in the 57 sections offered. Because of this increased demand, many students are unable to register for the course until their junior or senior years. Consequently, Intermediate Spanish Transition experiences large enrollments and is always oversubscribed.
The most significant academic problem in this course is that approximately 85 percent of in-class time consists of faculty explaining and students practicing grammar and vocabulary instead of devoting an equal or increased amount of time to practicing the expressive skills of speaking and writing. Current theories of and recent research in second language acquisition indicate that learners cannot simply listen to input (i.e., practicing grammar and vocabulary). They must be active conversational participants who interact and negotiate the type of input they receive in order to acquire language. Also, in the current structure, instructors spend an inordinate amount of time grading homework exercises, quizzes and examinations. Other problems posed by the current course structure include an insufficient number of sections to satisfy enrollment demand due to a limited number of qualified instructors to staff additional sections.
The redesigned course will include two types of learning approaches for students: analytical (online) and global (in class). One in-class period per week will be eliminated and replaced by online diagnostic homework exercises (grammar, vocabulary, and graded workbook assignments). Immediate feedback on all graded assignments will be given via online assessments. Students will be able to concentrate on listening and reading—important skills to develop in acquiring a foreign language.
The redesign will enhance quality by providing more active learning in the classroom. Students will use class time to interact with one other. Rather than dealing with skill-based practice in class, instructors will have more time to emphasize active speaking skills and cultural awareness. Any-time access to course materials and immediate feedback on progress will greatly assist students in self-paced work and understanding of their deficiencies. In addition, student peer teaching and collaborative learning in assigned group activities (both online and in-class) will be encouraged.
The university will assess the impact of the redesign on learning by conducting a pilot study of the redesigned course in spring semester 2001 using four to eight sections. Student performance in both traditional and redesigned sections will be compared on midterm and final grades, pre and post-test scores on UT’s Spanish Placement Test and ABLE (the Adult Basic Learning Examination). The team will administer student satisfaction questionnaires and conduct oral interviews with a sample of students from each course environment. Students will also take a learning styles inventory, such as the SILL (Strategies Inventory of Language Learning), in order to determine if there are relationships between learning styles and language outcomes in the traditional and online course formats.
The redesign will produce cost savings by offering one-third more sections of the course with significantly reduced labor costs. The cost-per-student will be reduced from $109 to $28. Labor costs will decrease as a result of graduate assistants assuming teaching responsibility for more sections and the elimination of one in-class meeting per week for each section. The university will be able to serve 513 additional students in this model while saving approximately $110,236 annually.
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