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Program in Course Redesign

The Ohio State University

The Traditional Course

Ohio State University (OSU) is engaged in a second-generation redesign of Introductory Statistical Concepts, a five-credit course enrolling 2,850 students at the main campus and 400 students at branch campuses each year. Prior to 1990, the course was taught using three lectures and two recitations per week. In 1990, the course was redesigned by replacing the recitations with hands-on experiments, group activities and a greater emphasis on real examples in an active learning laboratory environment.

The current course is offered in two versions: 1) an on-campus version with about 750 students per quarter and 2) a self-paced, distance version with about 150 students per quarter. Students in the latter option, as well as the 400 students at branch campuses, do not have the opportunity to participate in the active learning laboratory at the main campus. (OSU has found that the self-paced students achieve a median score on the final exam that is 7% below that of the students in the on-campus sections.)

The increased learning that resulted from the 1990 redesign was offset by increased costs due to the following inefficiencies:

  • Faculty use their time inefficiently in parallel, duplicative, poorly attended lectures.
  • TA time is allocated in bursts: intensive grading and office hours just prior to an exam, coupled with unused office hours at other times during the quarter.
  • TA training is geared to in-class pedagogy, even though they report greater problems related to "customer service."
  • The course coordinator responds to 150 emails per week, often answering redundant questions.
  • Twenty percent of the students must repeat the course even though most of these students have satisfactorily completed some course units.

Most importantly, students with highly variable learning styles and study skills are inefficiently served by a single "fixed-menu" course delivery strategy.

The Redesigned Course

The redesign will provide choices so that students with different learning preferences can be successful. OSU will implement a "buffet" strategy, offering students a choice of interchangeable paths to learn each course objective in the framework of a four-stage learning model: 1) familiar example, 2) alternate context, 3) general principle, and 4) hands-on practice.

The "buffet" will include lectures, individual discovery laboratories (in-class and Web-based), team/group discovery laboratories, individual and group review (both live and remote), small group study sessions, videos, remedial/pre-requisite/procedure training modules, contacts for study groups, oral and written presentations, active large group problem solving, homework assignments (TA graded or self-graded), and individual and group projects. Thus for a specific objective, students may choose to hear and discuss a familiar vivid example in lecture, view and read about a real example in an annotated video presentation, encounter an example in a group problem-solving session, or generate an example through a group project. Students may choose to practice working with a concept in a data analysis laboratory, in an individual web based activity, in a facilitated study session, or by explaining it to others in a jigsaw formatted review.

The buffet strategy will also allow choice in the sequence in which the four stages of learning are presented. For example, it will match the learning style of students who learn better by starting with the big picture and moving to specific examples as well as students who learn by starting with specifics and moving to the general principle. Because students will work through an online assessment of study skills and learning styles early in the course, they will have the kinds of information and assistance needed to make appropriate personal choices.

The structure of the course will include in-class orientation to both the model and the course content. To promote student commitment to follow-through on their choices and to enable efficient tracking of their progress, students will enter into an online "contract" at the beginning of each unit that captures their choice of learning modes. Students will be given a set of default study options generated by the software to match the assessment results; the defaults can be changed at any time according to student preferences. The finished contract will include a detailed list of assignments linked to both the learning objectives and deadline dates.

The software will monitor student progress on an individualized basis throughout each unit, providing a variety of learning activities and suggesting alternative learning strategies. In addition, OSU will establish a statistics help desk that will operate similarly to other online help desks. It will provide answers to Frequently Asked Questions and will employ a tiered approach, saving highly skilled personnel to respond to the more difficult or complex questions.

To gain an overview of how the buffet approach will work in practice, follow the link to see how Jaqueline, a hypothetical student, will experience the course.

One of the goals for this redesign is the elimination of course repetitions. OSU will modularize course content and allow students to earn from one to five credits based on how far they successfully progress by the close of the quarter. Thus, several hundred students who currently fall behind and feel compelled to withdraw will have the option of continuing in the next quarter without having to repeat the full five credits. Analysis of previous data on drops shows that OSU will be able to eliminate one-fourth of the course repetitions, thereby opening slots for an additional 150 students per year. In addition, by requiring students to demonstrate a passing level proficiency in one unit before proceeding to the next, severe deficiencies will be identified and addressed early, resulting in a lower failure/withdrawal rate.

Teaching styles and capabilities also vary, and Ohio State plans to match the TAs who support the course with the delivery options for which they have a talent or experience. OSU will institute a multi-level certification process for TAs that involves a series of training experiences and demonstration of proficiency in discrete areas. TAs who do well in one-on-one help but have not yet mastered the management of whole-class discussions will facilitate study sessions or provide individual help during problem-solving sessions. TAs who have a talent for facilitating small-group discussions and managing the dynamics of hands-on laboratory experiments will utilize these skills rather than being overburdened with grading duties. The program will reward TAs with cash bonuses and greater choices of assignments as they progress from one level of certification to another. In addition, the team will work with OSU's Office of Human Resources to adapt a successful program in customer-service training for university staff so that faculty and TAs will be better able to handle course-related customer services issues.

Ohio State's assessment plan will involve both "before-after" comparisons of student mastery of statistics concepts and the investigation of differential outcomes for different "buffet" choices. As a result, it will collect summative data on effectiveness and provide considerable information about the interaction between student characteristics and specific aspects of instructional provision. Because the department has already established and benchmarked learning outcomes for statistics concepts in considerable detail and uses common exercises to operationalize these concepts, the basis of comparison is clear. The course team also plans to follow students to and beyond graduation to examine retention of key statistical concepts.

Traditional Course Structure - Lecture/Recitation Format

  • 10-week term
  • 5 lecture sections of 150 students and 30 lab sections of 25 students per term
  • 5 contact hours per week: 3 (1-hour) lectures and 2 (1-hour) labs
  • One full-time faculty member coordinates the course. The coordinator sets course policies; prepares the syllabus, assignments, labs and exams; maintains and develops the course Web site; ensures continual upgrade of computer labs; supervises classroom and "floater" TAs; conducts review sessions, software training sessions, and special lab exercises; and addresses student complaints.
  • Five full-time faculty each teach one lecture section. They prepare and deliver 3 lectures; hold 2 office hours per week; maintain the component course Web site related to their lecture; work with the coordinator on developing policies, assignments, and exams and on supervising TAs; and attend the weekly staff meetings.
  • Fifteen TAs assist in teaching 5 lecture sections (3 TAs per section) per term. They conduct 4 labs per week (2 meetings for 2 sections of 25 students each), hold 2 office hours per week, proctor and grade exams, grade homework assignments, and attend orientation and staff meetings.
  • One TA assists in teaching the overall course (both lecture/lab and self-paced versions). The TA holds 10 office hours per week, grades exams, attends orientation and staff meetings, and prepares solutions to assignments.

Traditional Course Structure - Self-Paced Format

  • 10-week term
  • 1 section of 150 students each term
  • No formal contact hours, although students are encouraged to attend lectures
  • One full-time faculty member coordinates the course each quarter with the same responsibilities as in the lecture-recitation format other than conducting special lab exercises. The coordinator also responds to student emails (approximately 150 per week).
  • Two TAs assist in teaching the course. They proctor exams 3 hours per week, hold 5 office hours per week, grade exams, and attend orientation and staff meetings.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 10-week term
  • 3 sections of 250-300 students (fall, winter and spring) and 1 section of 150 (summer)
  • 4.5 contact hours per week: 1 (1.5-hours) lecture, 1.5 (1-hour) recitations and 1.5 (1-hour) lab
  • One full-time faculty member coordinates the course. The coordinator prepares the syllabus, assignments, labs and exams; prepares and sets course policies; supervises graders, one-on-one TAs and a part-time programmer; conducts review sessions, software training sessions, and special lab exercises; addresses student complaints; and supervises a team of 3 lab TAs and 1 senior TA responsible for approximately 300 students.
  • Two full-time faculty each teach one "section" of the course. They prepare and deliver 3 lectures per week (e.g. 1 lecture per week to one group of 150 students and 2 lectures per week to a second group of 150), hold 2 office hours per week, and supervise a team of 3 lab TAs and 1 senior TA responsible for 300 students.
  • One and one-half TAs are certified as graders. They grade assignments and exams (14 hours per week), attend orientation and staff meetings, and serve as gatekeepers in the on-line help desk.
  • Two TAs are certified for one-on-one instruction. They grade assignments and exams, attend orientation and staff meetings, hold office hours and facilitate study sessions, and assist senior TAs with problem solving sessions.
  • Nine TAs are certified for laboratory instruction. They grade less than 1 hour per week, conduct 6 labs per week, attend orientation and staff meetings, and hold 2 office hours or facilitate 2 study sessions per week.
  • Three senior TAs are certified for large group instruction. They conduct large group problem solving sessions, hold 2 office hours per week, attend orientation and staff meetings, and grade less than 1 hour per week.
  • One three-eighths time programmer supports online course materials. The programmer maintains Web-based content and course administrative programs.

Summary

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

  • Provide an individualized and customized learning environment for students
  • Establish a process to assess and respond to the range of learning styles and study skills of students in the course
  • Reduce lectures by more than half
  • Offload assignment grading to course software
  • Replace office hours with facilitated group study sessions
  • Provide more timely responses to student queries by using a tech support model for a "statistics help desk"
  • Identify "customer service" issues to improve responses to individual student needs
  • Match TA teaching styles and capabilities to course delivery options
  • Institute a certification process for TAs that rewards them with cash bonuses and more assignment choice as they progress from one level of certification to the next

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