|Program in Course Redesign
Brigham Young University
Brigham Young University (BYU) is redesigning its first-year writing course, which introduces students to the fundamental processes of critical reading and writing, library research and information literacy, and knowledge of academic genres and conventions. The course enrolls ~2950 students annually in about 166 sections of ~18 students each. Meeting three hours a week, the traditional course is taught primarily by graduate instructors in the English department MA program, who have full responsibility for their individual sections.
Teaching numerous sections with graduate instructors presents problems of inconsistency and inefficiency. Few of these instructors have ever taught before, and most have never taken a first-year writing course because of their high Advanced Placement examination scores. Presently, graduate instructors aim to achieve course objectives in a multitude of ways, and the result is inconsistency across sections. The instructors' inexperience also leads them to spend a significant amount of time preparing for classes, duplicating the efforts of other instructors. In addition, MA students teach only two years, and the department cannot benefit much from the experience they gain in the program. Despite the efforts of full-time faculty to train and supervise the graduate instructors, student evaluations reveal a wide range of quality. Finally, first-year writing is also inefficient in meeting scheduling demands of students since the number of sections that can be offered at high demand times is constrained by limited space on campus.
The redesign will enhance course quality by ensuring consistency across sections, increasing the amount of individual attention each student receives and improving efficiency. The amount of time students spend in the classroom will be reduced from three hours to one hour per week. A series of interactive multimedia lessons, more one-on-one time with faculty, and additional peer-to-peer sessions will replace the time students used to spend in class. These lessons will standardize the curriculum across all sections, provide students with a more consistent experience, and reduce the time graduate instructors spend preparing and presenting in the classroom. Because students will receive more feedback on their work in progress, the result will be improved student learning.
BYU's assessment plan centers on matched case studies of three traditional and three redesigned course sections to be conducted over two semesters of parallel implementation. Case study work involves examination of student work, interviews with students and with instructors, and observations of class and tutorials. Five faculty members will independently rate student writing portfolios. Two surveys will also be administered pre- and post in these selected sections. Following students into subsequent writing-related coursework will continue the case studies longitudinally. In addition to the case study analysis, all students and instructors in both versions of the first-year writing course will complete a pre- and post-course questionnaire. The analysis of case study data and questionnaires will provide instructional designers, faculty, and administrators with formative feedback that they will use to improve the quality of the design and implementation of the redesigned course.
The redesigned course will reduce instructional costs by decreasing the total hours each instructor spends teaching the course, increasing class size from 20 to 25, and reducing the hours needed to train and supervise new instructors. As a result, BYU can teach the same number of students with fewer instructors, allowing them to be more selective in hiring new instructors. The redesign will reduce the cost-per-student from $205 to $122, an estimated cost savings of approximately 40%. Savings will be used to offer enough additional sections to meet student demand, to provide a steady source of funding for advanced writing sections and to improve training of part-time faculty.
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