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Program in Course Redesign

Brigham Young University

The Traditional Course

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 traditional course enrolls ~2950 students annually in about 166 sections of about 18 students each. The course meets three hours a week with most instructors also holding two writing conferences for each student each term. Students also spend three class periods during the term at the library, receiving instruction from librarians on conducting library research. During a typical class period, instructors devote some time to lecturing, class discussion and group work. Students write four major papers and several small papers. The instructor reads and evaluates first and final drafts of each of these papers. The course provides preparation for the advanced writing course students take during their junior or senior year.

Staffing this course presents problems. The 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. This lack of experience requires the university to commit significant resources to training TAs and requires the instructors to spend significant amounts of time preparing for classes, duplicating the efforts of other instructors. Presently, graduate instructors aim to achieve course objectives in a multitude of ways, and the result is inconsistency across sections. In addition, MA students teach only two years, and the department cannot benefit much from the experience these instructors 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 Redesigned Course

The goals of the redesign are to:

  • enhance course quality by ensuring consistency across sections;
  • increase the amount of student learning;
  • increase the amount of individual attention each student receives;
  • reduce the preparation time by capturing the best practices of many teachers in multi-media course materials and sharing these;
  • encourage students to be more independent learners;
  • provide more flexibility to students and faculty regarding when they interact;
  • free up classroom space; and
  • reduce the cost of the course.

In the redesigned course, the amount of time students spend in the classroom will be reduced from three hours to one hour per week or a per term reduction of 42 hours to 10. The classroom time will be used primarily to enhance learning through group activities and to coordinate peer-learning groups. The number of student conferences between students and faculty will be increased from two per to four each term.

A series of interactive multimedia 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. The lessons will include computer-based diagnostics for grammar, usage, punctuation and style. Course administration and automatic feedback and follow-up will be managed through Blackboard.

Students will be required to meet with a group of 3-5 peers several times – at least once for each of the four required essays. Students will review each others papers, talk about the feedback they received and include the suggestions of their classmates in the portfolios they will amass over the term. Because students will receive more feedback from both peers and instructors on their works in progress, BYU anticipates improved student learning.

BYU's assessment plan centers on matched case studies of three traditional and three re-designed 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.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 15-week term
  • 166 sections (~18 students) per year
  • 3 contact hours per week: 3 (1-hour) lectures
  • Four full-time faculty, four part-time faculty and 75 graduate instructors each teach one section in each semester. Instructors prepare for and conduct three class meetings each week; hold two office hours each week; create assignments and class activities; read, respond to, and evaluate student writing; and meet twice with each student in a writing conference.
  • 25 peer tutors in the reading and writing centers assist in teaching the course. They hold three 30-minute tutorials for each student each semester, review students' writing in progress and teach principles of writing and help improve students' writing processes.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 15-week term
  • 136 sections (~25 students) per year
  • 1 contact hour per week: (1-hour) lecture
  • Four full-time faculty, four part-time faculty and 60 graduate instructors each teach one section of the course in one semester. Instructors prepare for and conduct one class meeting each week; hold two office hours each week; read, respond to, and evaluate student writing; and meet four times with each student in a writing conference.
  • 62 peer tutors in the reading and writing centers hold eight 30-minute tutorials for each student each semester. They review students' writing in progress and teach principles of writing and help improve students' writing processes.

Summary

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

  • Increase consistency of content in the course
  • Include more one-on-one time with faculty
  • Provide opportunities for online diagnostics and practice
  • Increase feedback on student work
  • Increase interaction among peers
  • Increase slightly class sizes
  • Reduce lecture preparation and delivery time
  • Reduce training needs

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