Program in Course Redesign

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The Traditional Course

Intermediate Spanish Transition, taught every semester, is an intensive review course that combines two semesters of first-year college Spanish into one. Students enroll in the course as a result of placement scores on standardized tests. The course prepares students to enroll in second-year Spanish to fulfill a competency requirement for admission into the University and a general education requirement in four of the undergraduate colleges. The course has experienced phenomenal enrollment growth, from 378 students in 1994 to 1539 students in the 1999-2000 academic year. More than 60% of the 3,900 entering freshman want to take the course. Because of the increased demand coupled with a limited number of instructors, many students are unable to register for the course even though the university annually offers 57 sections of 27 students each.

The course meets 45 hours a week (three one-hour classes). In addition, students attend a one-hour audio lab each week. Adjunct instructors and teaching assistants (TAs) devote a total of 276 hours in each section to the following activities: 45 hours in class, 90 hours preparing for class, 141 hours grading assignments/exams. Instructors need a large amount of grading time to review the workbook pages and audio exercises required for each class period in addition to customizing listening comprehension quizzes and a weekly written assignment.

The most significant academic problem in the traditional course is that about 85% of in-class time is spent explaining and practicing grammar and vocabulary instead of practicing the expressive skills of speaking and writing. Yet theories of foreign language learning and recent research in second language acquisition indicate that learners cannot simply listen to input (i.e., practice grammar and vocabulary). They must be active conversational participants who interact and negotiate the type of input they receive in order to acquire language. The need to change the traditional course structure to allow more time for conversation coupled with large numbers of students makes this course ready for redesign using technology to foster learning.

The Redesigned Course

The course redesign has two main objectives: 1) to shift grammar, vocabulary, and listening to an online environment, thus freeing class time for interactive and collaborative learning experiences focused on information exchange, negotiation of meaning, interpretation, and authentic self-expression, and 2) to serve more students while significantly decreasing labor costs.

The learning goals for the redesigned course include the following:

  • Use technology to support skill practice (e.g., listening comprehension, grammatical competence, vocabulary development, quizzing)
  • Offer two types of learning approaches for students, analytical (online) and global (in class)
  • Increase active learning through class interaction
  • Emphasize active speaking skills and cultural awareness through in-class tasks
  • Provide immediate feedback to students on their progress through online diagnostic homework exercises
  • Increase instructors’ and students’ computer literacy
  • Encourage peer teaching and collaborative learning of students in assigned group activities, both online and in class

Institutional objectives for the redesigned course include:

  • Increase student enrollment by one-third while significantly decreasing labor costs
  • Reduce grading time from 141 to six hours
  • Provide any-place, any-time access to course materials
  • Design a model that can be replicated within other language courses
  • Adhere to instructional and technological standards to allow course materials to be easily shared by other institutions

To achieve these goals, Intermediate Spanish Transition will be redesigned to reduce class time by one hour per week (from three to two), eliminate lab time, and substitute online instruction using the grammar and vocabulary exercises from a commercial text and links to the publisher’s online materials. Faculty will also develop some interactive material. Online exercises will provide practice in grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Students will work through a variety of exercises such as multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions that will be graded by computer. Audio clips will accompany many of the exercises. In-class time will be used to reinforce and expand upon the skills developed through interaction with the online materials.

As a result of the redesign, instructional staff will be responsible for 30 instead of 45 contact hours per section per semester. The redesign will allow each TA to teach one additional section. The university will thus be able to increase the course by 19 sections per year, serving 513 more students. At the same time, institutional costs will decrease by one-third.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 15-week term
    57 sections of ~27 students each (1539 students annually)
    4 contact hours per week: 2 (1-hour) lectures, 1 (1-hour) recitation and 1 (1-hour) audio lab
  • One course coordinator coordinates the course. He or she updates the curriculum, teaches one section annually, which includes preparing and delivering lectures, evaluating student assignments and exams, and holding office hours.
  • Sixteen adjunct instructors and six TAs teach the remaining sections. They prepare and deliver lectures, hold recitation sessions and office hours, and prepare and evaluate student assignments and exams.

Initial Redesigned Course Structure

  • 15-week term
  • 76 sections of ~27 students each (2052 students annually)
  • 2 (1-hour) recitations per week
  • Online exercises in grammar, listening and vocabulary
  • One course coordinator coordinates the course. He or she updates the curriculum as needed; coordinates course personnel, providing training and administration as needed; and teaches one section, including leading weekly recitations, monitoring student online work and responding to students as needed.
  • Twenty-one TAs teach the remaining sections. They lead weekly recitations, monitor student work online, and respond to students as needed.
  • Professional staff provide additional student interaction as needed.

After the redesign pilot, UT modified its redesign by pairing first-semester TAs with experienced instructors as support partners and doubling the number of students in each section from 27 to 54.

Revised Redesigned Course Structure

  • 15 week term
  • 38 sections of ~54 students each (2052 students annually)
  • 2 (1-hour) recitations per week
  • Online exercises in grammar, listening and vocabulary
  • One course coordinator coordinates the course. He or she updates curriculum as needed, coordinates course personnel, and provides training and administration as needed.
  • Four instructors in the fall and nine in the spring teach all sections. They lead weekly recitations, monitor student work online, and respond to students as needed.
  • Eighteen TAs support the primary instructors in two sections each. They attend weekly recitations, work with students in class and online as needed, and grade assignments and exams.
  • Professional staff provide additional student interaction as needed.


In summary, the redesigned course will implement the following changes:

  • Shift grammar, vocabulary, and listening instruction and homework online
  • Use technology to immediately diagnose, respond to, and grade online student work
  • Decrease class time (one hour less in class, eliminate the one-hour weekly labs), allowing students to devote more time to online learning
  • Free in-class time for the expressive communication skills proven to foster foreign and second-language learning
  • Increase the number of students enrolled without increasing the personnel



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