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Labor Saving Techniques

Portland State University

Given that a major goal of the course re-design project is to substitute technology "capital" for faculty teaching "labor," in what particular aspects of the course and its delivery are you finding that you are able to do this?

Our most effective methods of saving labor have been substitution of proficiency oriented training and assessment for detailed correction of the assignments (which allow students to complete tasks creatively) and automated grading of assignments that require students to demonstrate grammar skills. The only negative student comments in this respect have concerned technical errors (typos) and the stringent nature of the automated grading. This is, however, the nature of grammar itself. Our combination allows us to maintain our focus on proficiency and real student interaction while automating menial instructor tasks. The presentation of reading materials and reading comprehension activities online also appears to be successful.

Next year's redesign will include sections with and without reduced seat time. Both types of section produce a labor and cost savings for the university. This combination of approaches is expected to allow for a higher level of satisfaction among students while serving more students and maintaining or improving learning outcomes. We expect to serve 13% more students while spending 19% less. These cost savings do not include the value of room space, which is very high because Portland State University is located in downtown Portland.

December 2002 Update: The fall 2002 implementation included sections with and sections without reduced seat time. Both types of section produce a labor and cost savings for the university:

  • TA's work with more students per week but in smaller groups
  • Reduced TA time for presentation, mechanical grading and some testing
  • Diversion of some testing to on-line delivery and management
  • Increased retention (increased revenue)

These cost savings do not include the value of room space, which is very high because Portland State University is located in downtown Portland.

Based on the experience of the fall 2002 term, the team has decided that the section size will stay the same, but the number of sections will be increased in the fully implemented redesign (AY 2003-2004). Cost savings will be the following:

  • Number of sections offered increased = 100% (from 30 to 61)
  • Increase in number of students served = 85% (from 690 to 1276)
  • Decrease in cost-per-student = 29%

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