|Program in Course Redesign
Drexel University is redesigning introductory Computer Programming by combining two courses and using a Web-based modular approach to individualized instruction that enables students to self-schedule learning each week. Computer Programming I is the primary entry point to Drexel's computer science major; competency in this course is a prerequisite for all higher level computer science courses. Computer Programming B is a less technical version. Taken together, the two courses are required for 33% of all freshmen. During 2000-2001, some 1,024 students enrolled in Computer Programming I or B, up from 936 in 1999-2000. Information science, computer science, and computer engineering all expect substantial increases in the number of majors, leading to anticipated enrollments in the two courses exceeding 1,300.
The courses face a number of problems including 1) a computer science faculty whose modest growth cannot keep pace with enrollment growth, due to a national shortage of such faculty; 2) incoming students whose widely divergent computing experience and skills cannot be properly accommodated by the large-lecture format, and 3) a DFW rate in excess of 25%.
The redesigned course will increase hands-on participatory learning experiences by replacing the lecture format with interactive, Web-based modules. Each module will cover a particular aspect of computer programming at different levels of knowledge, enabling students in different majors to acquire the appropriate skill level. Students will be able to enter the course in one of three groups based on their knowledge and skills-based placement test: students with little or no programming experience will enter at module 1 and can earn three credits for successfully completing all nine modules; students with some skills and knowledge will enter at module 4 and can earn two credits for successfully completing the remaining six modules; students with moderate skills and knowledge will enter at module 7 and can earn one credit for successfully completing the remaining three modules.
The quality of student learning will be enhanced in many ways. Web-based course management systems will allow timelier tracking of student achievement. Web-based interactive exercises and tutorials will allow instructors to respond to student instructional needs in ways other than large, "one-size-fits-all" lectures or assignments. These techniques will give students a realistic assessment of their abilities. Advanced freshmen and transfer students will be able to address deficiencies in Computer Programming I skills without being required to take the entire course. The format permits differences in learning styles among students to be addressed by providing a variety of instructional materials. Peer mentors will provide assistance online or in person as needed, following the Virginia Tech Math Emporium model.
The assessment plan includes both an "ongoing" assessment approach within the re-designed course—consisting of on-line quizzes and questionnaires—and a quasi-experimental impact analysis to gather data about the differences between the re-designed and traditional course environments. Online questionnaires will ask students what concepts they had difficulty with or did not understand. In addition, Drexel intends to interview faculty in later courses to determine whether and how the re-design is achieving its objectives. Student surveys will also be administered to both assess attitudes toward the course and to look at implementation issues.
The Drexel team estimates that the redesigned course will reduce per-student costs by 36% compared to the present Computer Programming I (from $156 per student to $100) and 52% for Computer Programming B (from $208 to $100). Savings will result from increased faculty productivity, allowing enrollment growth with the same staffing, and by reducing repetitions required of students who withdraw, fail or change majors when taking the traditional courses. Savings will be used to handle anticipated increases in enrollment and to shift faculty to upper level courses where enrollment is also increasing.
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