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Lessons Learned

Brigham Young University

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Because the redesign plan was implemented inconsistently, it is not possible to generalize about which techniques had a positive impact on student learning. The original academic problem identified in the redesign plan was that the traditional course suffered from inconsistency and inefficiency. The instructors, who were almost all Masters degree students, tried to achieve course objectives in a multitude of ways, and their inexperience led them to spend a significant amount of time preparing for classes, duplicating the efforts of others. The plan was to develop a series of interactive multimedia lessons to 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. This plan was not carried out.

After the winter 2002 implementation, the project leadership team discovered that instructors were not using the course materials they had developed. For the fall 2002 implementation, the team built the training of new instructors around the course modules and Blackboard and provided additional training throughout the term. Despite this extra emphasis on training, the team again discovered at semester’s end that instructors were still not using the course materials consistently. They found that instructors were picking and choosing among the online materials that had been developed to bring greater consistency to the course. A few students weren't even aware of the course modules, and many of the rest reported very limited experience with specific tools, such as the thesis machine and the annotation exercises. Only one student said she used the online course rather than the book.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

BYU planned to standardize course materials, thereby reducing the amount of time instructors needed to prepare for the course. Before this standardization, instructors duplicated their efforts in preparing similar materials for each individual section. As part of the redesign, the team took the best ideas from the best instructors and created common course materials, both written and online. Unfortunately as reported above, instructors did not use these materials and continued to develop their own, foregoing the intended labor savings.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Technology problems. During the first round of implementation, the university had just recently adopted the Blackboard course management system. Initial problems with this system that lay beyond the scope of this project influenced students' experiences in the course and were reflected in some student attitudes toward the redesign. Another problem the team encountered was that the interactive exercises were originally packaged as part of an interactive textbook on a CD ROM before the Blackboard CMS was available. Once Blackboard became available, these were delivered in an online environment, but the way they were bundled together made these exercises difficult for some students to use. In addition, students had to follow an external link from Blackboard to the set of exercises. These factors contributed to the lack of use of these exercises in the course. In the final redesign, these exercises will be integrated seamlessly with Blackboard, providing students with easier access to the exercises and quizzes through one electronic portal.

Instructor training. Because of the dramatic nature of the redesign, the team met with some resistance among some instructors, particularly some of the more experienced instructors, and a level of instructor noncompliance. In addition, BYU underestimated the need for rigorous instructor training. Virtually all of the instructors are English graduate students, who have traditionally been afforded a great deal of autonomy and latitude in their teaching. Even though instructor pre-service and in-service training focused intensively on the redesign, changing this instructor culture has proven more difficult than the university anticipated. Finally, because the department has only an MA program, there is continual turnover in the instructor pool. As a result, even the most experienced instructors only have a year or two of experience. This continual turnover required constant training; achieving instructor "buy in" was a recurring battle. On the other hand, this constant turnover also meant that intransigent instructors left the program within a year or two. The training program has been improved and instructors will be provided more flexibility while maintaining the integrity of the redesign model. The team is confident that they have adequately addressed these issues, but before they were resolved, they made full implementation of the redesigned course difficult.

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