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Improving the Quality of Student Learning

Portland 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?

Portland State completed its first pilot redesign during the spring 2002 quarter Student learning outcomes, student responses and instructor responses are presently being analyzed. This report reflects our current findings that student learning and satisfaction in the pilot course are generally satisfactory and in some cases improved despite some pedagogical and technical problems that have been revealed.

On average, the final exam scores in speaking, reading and listening were higher for the redesign group than those of students in the traditional sections. Writing exam scores were only slightly lower. These results are surprising as both the course coordinator and the students report an increased emphasis on writing in the redesign. We have made considerable training efforts in the area of assessment with all of our instructors throughout the year and will continue to monitor these differences in learning outcomes to guard against assessment drift. Men’s and women’s scores on the final exams were very close, with women scoring slightly higher than men on the reading comprehension component and men slightly higher on the writing component.

Student Satisfaction

Student responses to the redesigned course have been mixed. The pilot group itself was small: 38 students, or about 15% of the course enrollment for that quarter. Of those, only 29 consented to their data being used in research and only 21 of them responded to the required student survey. A group this size does not allow for statistically valid disaggregation. The only noticeable differential among students was gender. Of the 21, 14 were women, and their differing responses to the student survey and their exam scores may be indicative of trends that we will encounter next year. According to anonymous course evaluations, overall satisfaction with the pilot course was higher than with the traditional sections.

Responses regarding reduced seat time were mixed, as were responses to the online materials. In the open response section of our student survey, none of the seven men complained specifically about reduced seat time, compared with nine of the 14 women. Women reported being slightly dissatisfied with the use of WebCT in the course, and men reported being slightly satisfied. In their open responses, however, 4 of 7 men made positive comments regarding WebCT compared to only 3 out of 14 women. Most of the negative comments were related to technical issues and content errors. In next year's implementation the coordinator will teach redesigned sections and will be able to prevent and remediate technical and content errors more quickly.

The observations made by the women in the pilot course included the need for more contact with the instructor and with classmates, noting a lack of community among the learners and a higher level of stress in the remaining class time. In their responses to the survey, men generally were more comfortable expressing themselves with their instructor and other students than women. They also felt more connected with other students in the class than women.

It appears that students miss much of the creativity that instructors previously employed in activity design. In our distribution of the remaining seat time, we have eliminated most of those additional activities and focused on the textbook activities we considered essential. We will need to revisit our use of the class time. A sense of community could easily be fostered through group projects. Poster sessions would allow simultaneous presentations and would not greatly impinge upon class time. More interview activities would also help form a sense of community. The instructor reported that the classroom itself, with fixed tables in rows, impeded the types of activities that would help foster a sense of community.

December 2002 Update:

Improving the Quality of Student Learning

In fall 2002, the redesigned course was offered to six sections consisting of approximately 140 students. The full redesign project actually consists of three courses that make up the entire first-year Spanish curriculum, and no significant change in proficiency would be expected in one quarter. Student proficiency at the end of the fall 2002 quarter will be evaluated on Benchmarks and achievement based on OPI standards and should provide an initial indication once analysis is completed. OPI assessment will not be able to be fully compared and measured until the end of the 2002-2003 academic year.

Student Satisfaction

Initial student satisfaction responses indicate greater satisfaction with the redesigned sections than the traditional ones. At the end of the fall 2002 term, students completed an evaluation survey that looked at student perceptions of the online learning experience in relation to technology use, course content, perceptions of instructor and peer interactions. When students were asked to compare their experience of online learning to that of a traditional face-to-face course, students consistently reported a better or richer learning experience in all categories, including receiving individualized attention and more timely feedback from the instructor; spending more time studying and reviewing; interacting with fellow students on course-related work; being able to communicate a complaint or suggestion to the instructor, to learn and master course material and to keep up with the required work; and feeling more connected with the instructor and with other students.

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Program in Course Redesign Quick Links:

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Lessons Learned:
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