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Improving the Quality of Student Learning

The Ohio State University

Based on available data about learning outcomes from the course pilot, what were the impacts of re-design on learning and student development?

The spring 2002 quarter pilot offering was completed in mid-June. The pilot was offered to 300 daytime students who were given a choice between two large group sections and between one of three lab sections.

The students in the pilot had greater success on the common exams than the daytime students in the traditional course and about the same scores as students in the evening class (Table 1). In previous quarters the evening class, which has smaller class sizes and generally older students, has outperformed the daytime class.

Table 1. Grades on common exams in spring 2002 traditional and pilot formats:

Class # of students* Midterm Exam Final Exam


Mean Median %<70 Mean Median %<70
Pilot 297 82.3 84 11.9 78.3 81 23.6
Traditional Daytime 121 76.8 81 22.9 70.0 76 32.8
Evening 93 81.7 83 13.7 78.1 79.5 26.9
Self-paced 121 Not taken 69.9 70 49.2

*Under IRB-approved procedures, 20 students opted to remove their grades from the data base.

Since one goal of the redesign is to reduce the percentage of students who need to retake the course, it was encouraging to see a reduced fraction of pilot students scoring under 70% on exams. These results were not associated with student learning styles or study skills as measured at the start of the quarter. Of course, caution must be taken in the interpretation of these preliminary findings since we are still investigating whether they can be explained by lecture-to-lecture variability, differences in student preparation, or unusual exam questions that might favor the students in the pilot.

Preliminary evidence (Table 2) suggests a high level of student satisfaction with the course design as illustrated by the vast majority of written comments on this topic.

Table 2. Tabulation of written comments in response to: "How did the way in which the course was designed help or hinder your learning? Please provide any other comments you have about the course."

Subject # of positive comments (%) # of negative comments
Having choice/gearing to Learning Styles 40 (100%) 0
Group activities 28 (90%) 3
Material on web 10 (83%) 2
Team teaching aspects 16 (70%) 7
Variety of assignments 24 (86%) 4
Overall course organization 38 (93%) 3
Total 156 (89%) 19
No comments written 30

December 2002 Update: The buffet model was implemented in all sections during the fall 2002 quarter. When compared to the last four quarters before the buffet model was implemented:

  • the percentage of students who withdraw from the course before the end of the quarter has been reduced from 11% to 8%;
  • the percentage failing the course (or receiving a passing grade that does not satisfy a requirement of their major) has been reduced from 7% to 3%;
  • the percentage of students who receive a grade of incomplete has been reduced from 2% to 1%.

Importantly, the buffet model did not appear to leave any type of learning style behind. When all sections were taught under the buffet model beginning in fall 2002, there was almost no section-to-section variation in scores. However, students who missed the orientation and were unable to choose a section matching their learning style did worse (see Tables 3 and 4). A revision of the orientation process now ensures that all students are able to make a choice.

Table 3. Fall Quarter 2002 Average Grades by Small Group Choices

Choice Midterm 1 Midterm 2 Homework & Labs % of Class
Sensor Style 80.5 80.7 147.5 70%
Intuitive Style 79.7 81.1 147.0 21%
No Choice Made 72.4 74.7 118.4 9%

Table 4. Fall Quarter 2002 Average Grades by Large Group Choices

Choice Midterm 1 Midterm 2 Homework & Labs % of Class
Active Style 2 days 81.6 80.1 147.6 8%
Active Style 3 days 79.3 79.7 145.3 28%
Reflective Style 2 days 80.7 81.7 147.6 19%
Reflective Style 3 days 80.6 81.4 149.0 35%
No Choice Made 72.5 74.3 117.5 9%

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