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Labor Saving Techniques

Florida Gulf Coast University

Given that a major goal of the course re-design project is to substitute technology "capital" for faculty teaching "labor," in what particular aspects of the course and its delivery are you finding that you are able to do this?

In the original design of the new course, we had intended to develop a buffet approach to learning. While the textbook and the online materials were central components, we also included lectures and labs for those who wanted hands-on work and face-to-face interaction. We intended to key students to the different activities based on their learning style. What we found is that no one attended the lectures or labs (which were also taped and made available in the library – which no one checked out). More importantly, what we discovered is that the lectures and labs were not needed for the level and type of learning we expected. Because of this, we will be able to eliminate the lectures and labs from the redesigned course altogether.

The redesigned course saves labor in three primary ways:

  • Delivering content and building skills: through the online materials, practice exams, and online analysis of sample essays, we have been able transfer what had been happening in traditional lecture format to the web – reducing labor and cost but also greatly enhancing quality.
  • Grading exams and essays and displaying scores: because the course is created using WebCT, most of the course work is immediately graded and displayed so that students can track their performance. The short essays on the exams are scored using the Intelligent Essay Assessor, which reduces the need for human involvement in reading essays.
  • Use of preceptors: rather than having multiple sections of the course taught by full- and part-time faculty, the redesign will allow us to teach all students in one large section. We will use trained undergraduate preceptors to oversee the student interaction and to score two longer essays.

The success of students' using the online materials – without attending the traditional lectures – will allow us to focus our redesign efforts on those aspects of the course that truly save labor and cost. For instance, because we do not have sample essays on the web for the longer essay assignment, the instructor had to spend time responding to questions about this assignment. With sample essays on the web in the fall, we anticipate that these questions will disappear.

December 2002 Update: The two key successes of the fully implemented course were the alternative staffing model, which greatly reduces cost by using personnel in the most appropriate and efficient ways, and the use of WebCT and the Intelligent Essay Assessor, which offloads repetitive tasks to technology.

The course is taught by a single full-time faculty member, which ensures that all students receive a similar learning experience in taking the course. The full-time faculty member is responsible for updating the syllabus and other web materials; for answering students' questions regarding exams and assignments; and for overseeing the preceptors. The faculty member works closely with a full-time course coordinator who is responsible for trouble shooting problems that occur with on-line exams; for entering grades that are not automatically entered by WebCT; for setting up the Peer Learning Exam and assigning them to preceptors; for updating the dates/times for all exams every semester; for creating a grading spreadsheet for the preceptors; for monitoring the pre- and post-tests; and for checking all exams after they have closed to see if all tests have been submitted. The preceptors, most of whom have a B.A. in English, are responsible for overseeing four Web Board discussions and for grading two longer Critical Analysis Essays. The initial plan expected that six preceptors would handle 8 peer learning teams or 48 students each and would be paid $1800 per group. However, based on workload evaluations by the preceptors, during the spring 2003 term, they each will work with 10 peer learning teams or 60 students. (In contrast, the adjuncts who taught the traditional course were paid $2200 per section of 30 students).

In addition to the success of the alternative staffing model, the use of WebCT and the Intelligent Essay Assessor has made the course more efficient and effective. The use of WebCT to create tests banks for the practice tests, which provide the basis for the exams, allows students the opportunity to focus on learning the relevant material. In addition, we have created sample essays that students discuss on Web Boards in preparation for writing their own essays. Finally, the use of the Intelligent Essay Assessor has proven to be a great success in scoring very short essays that respond to a very narrowly prescribed prompt, with increasing inter-rater reliability and a streamlining of the essay grading process. The IEA, which has clear limits, is useful within certain parameters.

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