Program in Course Redesign

Florida Gulf Coast University

The Traditional Course

Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is redesigning Understanding the Visual and Performing Arts, a required course in its general education program. This course is designed to allow students to develop a broad-based understanding of a variety of art forms and the critical and creative thinking skills to analyze and participate in these art forms. The traditional course is taught primarily in face-to-face sections of 30 students each. Two 15-student sections of a distance version are also taught each semester. Because of increasing enrollments, the number of sections has grown from 7 sections with 180 students in the 1997-98 academic year to 31 sections with 800 students in 2001-02.

There are several academic problems to be solved:

  • Because the course utilizes a large number of adjuncts (approximately two-thirds of the sections are taught by adjuncts), there is significant course drift yielding uneven learning and coverage of the several topics. The teaching is uncoordinated and some adjuncts do not adhere to the learning goals and objectives; a few do not use the selected text.
  • Many of the adjuncts have a limited background without the depth to teach the wide range of the arts required in the course.
  • Significant increases in enrollments have required growing numbers of small sections, exacerbating the problem.
  • The distance sections, which have essentially bolted on technology in order to deliver the course without requiring seat time, are work-intensive and expensive in that they serve small numbers of students.
  • Resources to offer increasing numbers of sections of this required course are limited.

The Redesigned Course

The learning goals for the redesigned course require students to

  • gain a foundational knowledge in the visual and performing arts;
  • actively engage in a critique of the arts; and
  • develop a willingness to participate in the arts.

The redesigned course will allow FGCU to maintain the most important elements of humanities courses—the active engagement with ideas and the collaborative and experiential learning experience—while reducing seat time. All students will be in a single section, using a common syllabus, textbook, set of assignments and a course Web site. Students will be placed into cohort groups of 48 and, within these groups, Peer Learning Teams of six students each.

The redesigned humanities course will include three modules, one focusing on the Visual Arts (including Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture), one focusing on the Performing Arts (including Drama, Music, and Dance), and one focusing on the historical contexts of interrelated art forms (including the Renaissance through the 20th Century). Faculty experts in the six fields will redesign the course and outside experts will critique the content. The course will be taught by rotating full-time faculty members working with a course coordinator and a group of preceptors. The faculty member will provide intellectual leadership to the course, while the course coordinator will oversee the mechanical aspects of the course. Preceptors will be responsible for interacting with students, monitoring student progress and grading critical analysis essays.

Students will take practice tests on each subject area in the visual and performing arts and on the context areas in order to prepare for the objective portion of the Module Exams, as well as engage in web board discussions in order to prepare for the short essay portion of the Module Exams. Students will also participate in learning experiences in their home communities related to the arts.

A structured buffet of learning experiences tied to each content module will be developed to meet the varying needs of students with different learning styles. These experiences will include live lectures and discussions, labs and other hands on experiences, taped lectures, commercially produced videos, and web based resources. Students will be directed to learning activities most directly suited to their learning styles as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) instrument. (All students at FGCU take a course entitled Styles and Ways of Learning where they assess and learn more about their own learning styles and others.)

Peer learning teams will be created with an awareness of different learning styles, grouping some students with different learning styles and others with similar learning styles. These groupings will be tracked and evaluated also.

Each of the three modules will have the same format with the following elements:

  • Students will complete the Learning Activities including reading the assigned chapters in the text and completing practice tests multiple times (these are low stakes quizzes that will provide students with feedback on their learning in preparation for the module exam).
  • Students will complete the related web board discussion.
  • Students will analyze sample short essays in preparation for the short essay portion of the module exam.
  • Students will complete the preliminary exam.
  • Student will complete the module exam, which includes objective questions and a short essay question.
  • Students will attend two arts activities in the community to get material for their two, longer Critical Analysis Essays.

Students will also demonstrate their learning through a series of structured essays. Students will have the opportunity to discuss sample essays with their Peer Learning Teams before writing their own essay. One student from each team posts a summary of their discussion to the Class Discussion List.

Short essays in the module exams will be evaluated using the Intelligent Essay Assessor (IEA), a computer program designed to grade well structured essays. The Intelligent Essay Assessor, once programmed, will assess student essays that are between 100 and 500 words based on their content and their grammar, mechanics, etc. In order to program the IEA, FGCU must do two things: 1) input a digitized version of the textbook into the program so that it knows the vocabulary and 2) input graded samples of essays that respond to the prompt. Once programmed, the software will be able to grade the short essay questions and provide a score; FGCU will have sample student essays on the web that will offer guidance to the students who get low scores. The preceptors, based on pre-established rubrics, will grade the longer essays.

Eliminating course drift and offering all students the same set of course experiences will improve quality for all, whether students are studying on or off campus. All students registering for the course will receive the same content information and have the same assessment experiences, allowing FGCU to be certain that students meet the learning goals and objectives developed for the course. FGCU's goal is to increase the number of students receiving A's and B's and decrease the DWF rate. The objective is to create a structured, consistent but flexible learning environment that accommodates individual learning styles through the use of technology.

To assess the impact of the redesign on student learning, FGCU will rely on a "before-after" design, utilizing a considerable past library of student exams and essays as a baseline for comparing student outcomes. For essays, a common scoring rubric will be used. These measures will first be tested in the traditional course environment in order to provide an additional baseline. Monitoring DWF rates and student surveys complete the impact-assessment design. A range of implementation measures including focus groups and surveys of attitudes toward technology, as well as focused looks at particular aspects of the design such as how the Peer Learning Teams are functioning, will also be conducted.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 15-week term
  • 10-11 face-to-face sections each term of 30 students (4 sections in the summer)
  • 3 contact hours per week: 2 (1-hour) lectures and 1 (1-hour) recitation
  • 2 online sections of 15 students each term
  • Three full-time faculty teach a total of five sections per year and six part-time faculty teach 20 sections per year. They develop course syllabi and materials including acquiring materials from the arts for class work, prepare and deliver two lectures per week, prepare and oversee active learning activities in class, create and grade assignments and exams, and hold two office hours per week per course.
  • The Humanities Chair oversees six sections of the distance version per year, oversees the development of course syllabi and materials, leads orientations and staff meetings, interacts with students via email, and oversees grading of assignments.
  • One TA assists in teaching 2 sections of a distance version per semester, updates the course syllabi and materials on the Web, creates list of arts events available for students, acquires and develops materials and software for the course, interacts with students via email, monitors student progress, comments on assignment drafts and grades assignments.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 15-week term
  • 1 online section each term
  • One full-time faculty member teaches one section per semester. The faculty member works with the course coordinator in the acquisition and development of materials for the course; works with other full-time humanities faculty to review information gathered from assessment activities; reviews and refines, on a continuing basis, the syllabus and all learning activities and assignments after discussion of information gathered from assessments; leads orientations and staff meetings; oversees and evaluates the course coordinator and the preceptors; and works with preceptors and students on questions regarding grades or course assignments.
  • One course coordinator coordinates course activities. The coordinator works with the faculty member in the acquisition and development of materials for the course, creates a list of all arts events available for students, works with Instructional Technology staff to develop all web based materials, collects and summarizes information from assessments of the course, participates in orientations and staff meetings, and provides preceptors with guidance for the course materials.
  • Preceptors oversee 48-student cohorts. They monitor and lead Web Board discussions, grade Critical Analysis Essays, review portfolios for evidence of attending arts activities, determine participation grades, interact with students via email, track grades to make certain they are posted, and participate in training and orientations.


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

  • Combine all enrolled students into one section
  • Increase student learning
  • Establish consistency in the learning environment through the use of a common syllabus, textbook, set of assignments and web site
  • Provide a buffet of learning experiences from which students will select those which interest them and which match their identified learning styles
  • Eliminate course drift through increasing consistency and use of faculty experts to design the online learning materials
  • Eliminate the need for recruiting and hiring adjuncts as course enrollments continue to grow



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