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Program in Course Redesign

Northern Arizona University

Project Abstract

Northern Arizona University (NAU) is redesigning all sections of College Algebra, which has an average annual enrollment of over 900 students, making it one of the institution's ten largest classes. In the traditional course, 25 sections each meet three hours per week for 15 weeks and are taught in a standard lecture format by full-time faculty (25%) and GTAs (75%). Business majors, students satisfying NAU's liberal studies requirements, and students needing to refresh their algebra skills mainly populate the course.

The lecture format does not promote active and collaborative learning. In addition, it does not address the diverse range of student learning styles. Furthermore, students who could progress at an accelerated pace are locked into attending the entire 15-week course. Coordination among the numerous sections is difficult, leading to inconsistent student outcomes across sections. From 30% to 40% of students receive Ds and Fs or withdraw from the course. Furthermore, around 47% of these DFW students withdraw from NAU. Even those students who receive a grade of C or better often do not retain certain skills or recall relevant algebraic concepts in subsequent courses.

The redesigned College Algebra will promote active and collaborative learning, address the diverse range of student learning styles and permit acceleration. It will use ALEKS, a comprehensive instructional software and course management system that individualizes assessment and learning. ALEKS is Web-based, allowing students to access course materials at anytime from anyplace, and can be customized to meet student and course needs. As a supplement to ALEKS, NAU will also use Thinkwell, a video-based mathematics software program that uses highlighted worked examples and video lectures for students who learn better in this mode.

The use of ALEKS will allow students to work at their own pace, access the course anytime on or off campus, and receive frequent and immediate feedback. Students will also be able to go to a newly created Algebra Computer Laboratory whenever they wish, either to access course materials or receive individual assistance and tutoring. They will also have the option of learning independently or in peer learning teams. Comprehensive, continuous data collection will allow faculty, GTAs, and tutors to give individualized help as the course proceeds.

NAU will assess student learning, and student and faculty satisfaction using focus groups, interviews, and Web-based surveys. During a pilot semester the team will run parallel sections of College Algebra in both the traditional and redesigned formats to gather comparison data. Other measures to be collected and examined include course success rates and university retention and graduation rates.

The course redesign will result in annual savings of approximately $60,000. The savings are primarily a result of substituting technology for labor, thereby reducing faculty and GTA time by around 2,000 hours (56%). The cost per student decreases 47%, from $138 for the traditional classes to $73 for the redesigned format. A portion of those savings will be reinvested back into the Algebra Computer Laboratory to upgrade computer hardware and software as needed. Additionally, some savings will be used to redesign other departmental courses, with Precalculus the next likely target. The university anticipates additional savings by improving student success rates, which will positively impact overall university retention.

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