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Course Development Issues

Portland State University

To what extent have you been able to use previously developed materials in your re-design instead of creating new materials?

There is a good amount of language proficiency training materials and services for instructors available from ACTFL. The goal of our sponsorship of the MOPI Workshop is to effect a change in teaching and assessment culture. We have been preparing for this change for many years now and we believe the workshop has affected a critical mass for pedagogical change. ACTFL also offers other, inexpensive materials for instructor training. We will use some of these training materials in our fall instructor orientation, and they could be required texts for methodology courses for our instructors.

What kinds of activities took up the most time in your course development effort?

The course management software, WebCT, has been relatively effective and easy to implement. Most of our difficulties have resulted from error and from ignorance of its abilities and limitations. Students also reported difficulties initially. In response to their needs our instructors staffed computer labs seven hours a week. Most students never came to these help hours, although women reported a slightly higher attendance.

Our course redesign includes converting the course text, ¿Cómo?, to a WebCT format. The time and effort, as well as the cost, is estimated at around 15-20% of the grant award. This is a bit higher than anticipated. Some of the difficulty has originated in the adaptation, to the electronic environment, of activities that allowed for creative student responses. In some cases, the activities maintain all of their original flexibility, but this conversion does not result in labor savings. In other activities student opportunities for creativity have been limited and there is a considerable number of activities whose conversion puts them in a blended category, requiring students to show knowledge of sentence-level grammar but allowing for variations. These have been the most difficult to convert, but we think that they are some of the most important. The three types of online interaction (creative, structural and discrete response) provide a variety of flexible and rigorous activities.

December 2002 Update: We experienced some problems related to proofing prior to implementation because no one went through the complete course to test the materials. In the materials implemented in fall 2002, there was one content error, one typo, and the grading option was set to "exact match" instead of "contains" on about three exercises. The remaining problems, about 75%, were due to failure to anticipate all possible student responses. Our testing will never anticipate all of the responses that we will get when 350 students use the software. Our implementation in fall 2002 was very good. Pre-testing with students is a good idea that we will explore.

One area of strong student complaint was the rigidity of the quizzes and the lack of partial credit. It is difficult to tell if the problem is with the content of the quizzes, the technology associated with taking the quizzes, or students' natural dislike of objective testing. We are working now to provide partial credit for partially correct responses in the quizzing courseware. We also need to pay particular attention to the design and implementation of online quizzes or exams and their actual efficacy for helping students learn.

Have students been directly involved in the re-design process?

Students have not been directly involved in the redesign process. A noted difference between this project and others is the number of dimensions it encompasses and its complexity: instructor training, learner training, articulation with proficiency standards for assessment and curriculum and with K-12 assessment standards, redesign of three sequential courses over the year. We will be meeting with student and instructor focus groups during next year's implementation. These groups and our surveys are probably the best methods of informing the project of student needs and desires without complicating or derailing the redesign process.

What kinds of support for your project have you been receiving from your department or the institution more broadly?

Support for this project comes from many different members of the institution. We are receiving support from members of the Foreign Language faculty, its chair and instructors; from the Office of Information Technology and the Office of Institutional Research and Planning; from the Vice Provosts of Academic Affairs and of Curriculum and Undergraduate Studies; from representatives of Portland Public Schools; and from Applied Linguistics and its graduate students.

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