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Program in Course Redesign

Drexel University

The Traditional Course

The traditional format at Drexel University includes two separate courses selected by students depending upon their anticipated computer major. 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.

Both courses involved in the redesign are large, introductory courses that cover the same content at different depths and speeds. In the traditional model, the courses each consist of two one-hour lectures and a one-hour lab.

The courses face a number of problems including:

  • The computer science faculty with modest growth (from 9.5 in 1996 to 11 in 2000) cannot keep pace with enrollment growth, due to a national shortage of such faculty.
  • Widely divergent computing experience and skills of incoming students cannot be properly accommodated by the large-lecture format.
  • The DFW rate in excess of 25% increases enrollment as students are unsuccessful and repeat the course.

The Redesigned Course

Drexel is redesigning introductory Computer Programming I and B by combining the two courses and using a Web-based modular approach to individualize instruction that enables students to self-schedule their learning each week.

The goals of the redesign are to improve learning, reduce the number of students who repeat the course, increase the retention rate, and create a more rewarding learning experience while simultaneously reducing costs.

The redesigned course will increase hands-on participatory learning experiences by replacing the lecture format with interactive, Web-based modules. To accommodate different student learning goals, 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 assigned work and reading from the module at a level appropriate to the objectives of the long-term goals of their major, allowing those in different majors to acquire the appropriate skill level of each technique and concept. Thus, information systems majors will need to master one subset of the material; computer engineering majors will need to master additional materials beyond that needed for information systems; and computer science majors will need to master the entire module. Students will be able to access all levels of each module, allowing those in less technical majors to learn additional material if they desire.

The redesigned course modules will be organized according to Bloom's Taxonomy, which delineates levels of subject mastery as follows:

  • First level: Students know the terminology and specific facts about a subject.
  • Second level: Students gain increased comprehension of the material and are able to explain the material and interpret what they have learned.
  • Third level: Students can apply their knowledge in new situations to solve relatively simple problems.
  • Fourth level: Students can analyze problems to discover component parts and interactions.
  • Fifth level: Students have the ability to apply prior knowledge in original ways to produce things that are new and different, and evaluate the methods used.

Each student must complete the level designed for his or her major, including passing the final assessment quiz. Level three is the minimum level of mastery for all students to attain. Both computer science and computer engineering students need to reach the fifth level of mastery to some degree since they will face highly technical problems that will need to be solved in original ways. Because they will need to implement highly technical programming solutions to complex problems, computer science students must develop a deeper knowledge of computing than the other majors, including the top level of Bloom's taxonomy – the ability to judge the methods used – particularly when problems are complex and may not have a single, well-defined solution.

The modules are designed so that three modules include material equivalent to one credit. If a student successfully completes nine modules, it will be the equivalent of completing a traditional three-credit course. Students will receive course credit based on the number of modules they complete and the level within each module that they master. Students who have difficulty with the higher levels will be able to change majors and still receive course credit without having to drop the course and repeat modules already mastered. This aspect of the course design addresses a significant resource problem at Drexel since many students enroll in computer science without understanding the nature of the work. Once in the course, some find other computing majors more appealing. The redesigned course will enable them to change majors without losing the work they have invested in a programming course for their now-abandoned major.

Students will be able to enter the course in one of three groups based on their knowledge and skills-based placement test. The modular approach will allow Drexel to place advanced students more accurately so that they will not need to cover material they already know. 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 new modules are designed to provide a complete instructional program for the student, including online access to digitally recorded lecture presentations; reading materials developed by the instructors or in the assigned textbook; examples and exercises in the student's field of interest; links to other online materials of interest; individual and group laboratory assignments; self-assessments to provide feedback on the skills being learned.

The new organization of the course and the materials and activities will allow for greater flexibility in accommodating diverse learning styles: students can rely on the text, lectures, group work, or individual coaching to master a module. In addition, students will be able to seek help from a variety of different people: the faculty member, graduate TAs, and peer mentors, permitting additional flexibility for interaction with the person who can provide the best help for each particular student problem.

The quality of student learning will be enhanced in many ways. Web-based course management systems will allow more timely 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 features 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 and students will be able to refresh their knowledge, as needed, after completing the 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 proposes 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.

Traditional Course Structure - Computer Programming I

  • 11-week quarters
  • 16 sections (~50 students each)
  • 3 contact hours per week: 2 (1 hour) lectures and 1 (1 hour) lab
  • One full-time, tenure track faculty serves as overall coordinator for the course and teaches one section per year. The coordinator prepares the syllabus and learning materials for the course, coordinates teaching schedules of auxiliary faculty, recruits and schedules TAs and hourly student assistants, prepares and delivers 2 lectures per week, trains and supervises TAs and hourly students in 12 lab sections, creates assignments and exams, oversees grading of exams and assignments and holds 3 office hours per week.
  • Two full-time, auxiliary (non-tenure track) faculty share in teaching 5 sections per year. They revise the syllabus and learning materials for the course if needed, prepare and deliver 2 lectures per week, train and supervise TAs and hourly students in up to 4 lab sections in a term, revise assignments and exams, oversee grading of exams and assignments and hold 3 office hours per week.
  • Five part-time faculty each teach 1-2 sections per year for a total of 10 sections, primarily for evening students. They revise the syllabus and learning materials for the course if needed, prepare and deliver 2 lectures and 1 lab per week, revise and grade assignments and exams, and hold office hours before class.
  • One to two TAs assist in teaching a total of 9 lab sections per year. They conduct 3-4 labs per week, proctor and grade exams, grade assignments, hold 3 office hours per week and attend orientation and staff meetings.
  • Eleven hourly students assist in teaching lab sections. They conduct 1 lab per week, help proctor exams under faculty/TA supervision, and attend orientation and staff meetings.

Traditional Course Structure - Computer Programming B

  • 11-week terms
  • 7 sections per year (~45 students each)
  • 3 contact hours per week: 2 (1-hour) lectures and 1 (1-hour) lab
  • One full-time, auxiliary (non-tenure track) faculty serves as overall coordinator for the course and teaches two sections per year. The coordinator prepares the syllabus and learning materials for the course; recruits and schedules TAs and hourly student assistants, prepares and delivers 2 lectures per week, trains and supervises hourly students in 4 lab sections, creates assignments and exams, oversees grading of exams and assignments, and holds 3 office hours per week.
  • One full-time, auxiliary (non-tenure track) faculty teaches two sections per year. The faculty member revises the syllabus and learning materials for the course if needed, prepares and delivers 2 lectures per week, trains and supervises TAs and hourly students in up to 3 lab sections in a term, revises assignments and exams, oversees grading of exams and assignments and holds 3 office hours per week.
  • One to two part-time faculty teach 4 or 5 sections over the year, primarily for evening students. They revise the syllabus and learning materials for the course if needed, prepare and deliver 2 lectures and 1 lab per week, revise and grade assignments and exams, and hold office hours before class.
  • One to two TAs assist in teaching 5 sections per year. They conduct 3-4 labs per week, proctor and grade exams, grade assignments, hold 3 office hours per week, and attend orientation and staff meetings.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 11-week terms
  • 4 sections per year (ranging from 165 to 450 students each)
  • 2 required contact hours per week: 2 (1-hour) labs (1 for group activities, 1 for individual activities) and1 optional (1-hour) lecture
  • One full-time, tenure track faculty serves as overall coordinator for the course and teaches one section of the course per year. The coordinator prepares the syllabus and learning materials, recruits and schedules TAs and hourly student assistants, prepares and delivers 1 lecture per week, supervises TAs and hourly students in 20 lab sections, creates assignments and oversees grading of exams and assignments, and coaches students individually in the lab.
  • One full-time, auxiliary (non-tenure track) faculty teaches three sections per year. The faculty member revises the syllabus and learning materials for the course if needed, supervises TAs and hourly students in up to 8 lab sections per term, prepares and delivers 1 lecture per week, revises assignments and exams, oversees grading of exams and assignments, and coaches students individually in the lab.
  • Two to three TAs assist in teaching each term. They conduct 6 lab sessions per week (2 lab sessions for each of 3 cohorts), proctor and grade exams, grade assignments, coach students individually in the lab, and attend orientation and staff meetings.
  • Ten hourly students assist in teaching each section. They conduct 4 lab sessions per week (2 lab sessions for each of 2 cohorts), coach students individually in the lab, monitor and assess student progress, help proctor exams under faculty/TA supervision, and attend orientation and staff meetings.

Summary

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

  • Combine two courses on introductory computer programming into one
  • Develop self-study learning modules to deliver consistent content
  • Provide a sequential system of level of difficulty in the modules based on Bloom's taxonomy
  • Permit students to study to the depth needed for their anticipated major
  • Allow students to change majors without needing to repeat this course
  • Provide a range of learning methods and resources allowing students to individualize their study
  • Permit student flexibility and self-scheduling within the weekly set of expectations
  • Implement a consistent, well-considered, scalable delivery format
  • Provide highly automated course management
  • Reduce lectures from two lectures to one optional lecture
  • Reduce the number of full-time faculty involved
  • Release faculty resources to staff upper division courses

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