|Program in Course Redesign
Iowa State University
Discrete Mathematics is a gateway course for a large number of students at Iowa State University and is required for all business and social sciences majors. Most of these students continue on to take a required introductory statistics course for which parts of Discrete Mathematics are an excellent preparation. In its traditional format, this freshman level course is taught in a typical lecture/recitation format. Enrolling about 1,800 students per year, the course consists of two large lectures (~150 students) taught by faculty and temporary instructors and one recitation section (~30 students) taught by teaching assistants each week.
The traditional course experiences the standard academic problems associated with the multi-section large lecture format: DFW rates of more than 30%; lack of consistency in course objectives, delivery, and testing; low student morale and performance; and insufficient individualized feedback from instructors. In addition, students do not see the connection of the material to subsequent courses and real-world problems. They lack skills in analyzing problems, data presentation, and graphical analytical skills, and they often have substantial gaps in basic algebra skills that are not addressed properly.
The university's redesign plan is modularized and self-paced and includes a varied, integrated, proactive system for student support. A Web-based environment will integrate WebCT for learning management, EDU for online testing and materials by Barnett/Ziegler/Byleen (Prentice-Hall) for content. The university's redesign plan is Web-based and self-paced. The course will be divided into manageable modules with clearly communicated learning objectives. The course software will suggest different homework problems and case studies for students based on their majors or other group indicators. Microsoft EXCEL spreadsheets will be incorporated for instantaneous graphics and simplification of extensive repetitive calculations. The redesigned Web environment will include a test of basic algebra skills early in the course with suggestions for further study, if necessary.
To insure adequate student support, the course will include weekly small recitation sections, additional office hours, availability of a Math Help Room, and a peer-mentoring program. Integrated and proactive support also includes feedback through online tutoring in WebCT chat rooms, a Web-bulletin board for each recitation section, and weekly emails informing students about their progress and, if necessary, suggesting additional materials for study based on their homework, quiz, and exam performance.
Assessment of the course redesign will be conducted by the Research Institute for Studies in Education (RISE) at Iowa State University. The assessment strategy includes a pretest-posttest control group design, student surveys, long-term study of academic success, and measures of student attitudes and reactions to different course modes. Data analysis will be undertaken based on stratified sampling of the student population according to three major lines of demarcation related to differences in student performance and perceptions of course delivery method. Results of student surveys will be combined with student performance data to determine which differences in learning outcomes may be attributable to specific course components. A longer-term study of academic success will track students through subsequent courses where Discrete Mathematics is a prerequisite.
The traditional course uses 12 faculty members and 15 teaching assistants annually to deliver the course at a cost of $129 per student. The redesigned course will be staffed with two faculty, 10 teaching assistants, and a half-time Online Course Manager. The redesign costs $75 per student, resulting in a cost-per-student reduction of 42% and .a projected savings of $97,200 per year. Based on previous experiences with redesigned courses, Iowa State believes the costs savings from reduced staff commitments will be sufficient to fund ongoing development of other courses and to pay for upgrades to hardware and software. In addition, savings will be used to reduce faculty teaching loads which are high in comparison to Iowa State's peer institutions.
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