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Lessons Learned

Florida Gulf Coast University

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

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

Low-stakes quizzes with feedback. Students completed practice tests to prepare for the objective questions on the module exams that assessed content knowledge. The practice tests counted 20 points each, for a total of 160 points (total course points = 1000.) Tests could be taken as many times as students wanted to so that they could practice as many of the questions in the test bank as possible. The highest score achieved on the practice test was the score recorded. After students completed a practice test, they could view their results and obtain detailed feedback. If the answer was correct, a statement reinforced their knowledge; if the answer was incorrect, the phrase or word that was chosen was defined and students were pointed to where to find the correct answer in the textbook.

Web board discussions of sample short essays. Students completed web board discussions where they analyzed sample short essays in preparation for producing their own short essays on the module exams. Students worked in peer learning teams of six students each to analyze two short essays corresponding to a prompt similar to the question students would get on the exam. One essay was a strong essay; the other was a weak essay. Students had to determine which was strong and which was weak and explain why. The web board discussions increased interaction among students, created an atmosphere of active learning, and developed students' critical thinking skills.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Alternative staffing model. The greatest cost saving technique was the alternative staffing model. In the traditional course, adjuncts were hired to teach sections of 30 students each. With increasing enrollment, the university needed to staff more sections every semester. In the redesigned course, all students enrolled in one section taught by one full-time faculty with a full-time course coordinator and a number of preceptors. The preceptors, most of whom had or were pursuing a BA in English, oversaw the web board discussions and graded the two longer critical analysis essays for 60-student cohorts.

Course management software. The use of WebCT was one of the greatest techniques for reducing the cost of the course. Rather than teaching 20 or 25 different sections of the course, all students were combined in one section administered through WebCT. The software delivered the Practice Tests and the Module Exams, providing students with instant feedback. In addition, WebCT housed a great deal of other course-related information that students could easily access.

Intelligent Essay Assessor. Computer software was used to score the two short essays that are part of two module exams. In order to program the software, the team entered a digitized version of the textbook and 200 scored essays scored holistically by the design team. The software scores essays based on content and grammar, punctuation, mechanics, and spelling. The primary issue the team faced in using the IEA was demonstrating a high level of inter-rater reliability. For the holistic scoring process, they read a total of 803 essays that were then fed into the IEA for programming; 435 of those essays were given the same score on the first two reads, a 54 percent inter-rater reliability. Of the 803 total essays that were read in the holistic scoring process, 497 were given the same score by the IEA as that given by humans, a 62 percent inter-rater reliability. The team then went back and reread the 309 essays that were given a different score. Of those essays, the team changed 151 scores that brought them in line with the IEA score, producing a final IEA-human inter-rater reliability of 81 percent.

Space savings. Because the course is now entirely online, the course no longer requires any classroom space. That has helped to address Florida Gulf Coast University's space crisis, a result of the fact that its enrollment has grown at a faster pace than its buildings.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Change in course design. Following the course pilot, the team recognized that it did not need to make a buffet of learning opportunities available for students, which was part of the original redesign plan. In the pilot, the team made a series of activities available for students: lectures, videotapes, labs, online tests, etc. Students did not attend any of the lectures or labs and did not view any of the videotapes, yet they were still very successful. The team concluded that, because the course is a foundational course, students did not need more than the textbook and the practice tests in order to learn the material. A second innovative part of the original redesign plan was an emphasis on student learning styles. The team found that it had neither the time nor the resources to implement that part of the plan. Because students were so successful in the course without implementing the learning styles piece, the team concluded that this aspect of the redesign was not needed.

Test bank problems. The team expected to be able to utilize the test banks that came with the course textbook. Unfortunately, there were many errors in the test bank, so the team ended up writing its own. The team is now working with the publisher to produce a better test bank.

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