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Lessons Learned

Tallahassee Community College

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Greater course consistency. Students had a more consistent learning experience. A menu of common assignments required critical reading and integrated reading into writing tasks. Having a common menu unified programmatic goals so that all students had the same opportunities to develop as learners. The menu of common writing assignments included ten assignments that integrated reading and writing and, consequently, required higher level thinking skills. Students had to read critically and respond in a thoughtful manner. The menu also provided students with a variety of writing experiences from which to select, allowing for individualized self-pacing and increased learner autonomy. A final common essay assignment unifies program and course standards and provides consistency across sections.

Each faculty member was provided with a course web site for each section that they taught based on a master template. This had some obvious time saving and efficiency consequences, but it also contributed to improved quality by increasing communication between teacher and students, by providing commonality across sections of the course and preventing course drift, by allowing for individualized learning and increased learner time on task, and by fostering a community of learners. Instructors also had access to an online training site. Available to all full-time and adjunct faculty members, the online training site explained the curricular and technical redesign features. In addition to providing 24x7 support for faculty, it prevented course drift and increased the efficiency of the instructor training process.

Increased interaction among students. The web site discussion board allowed 24x7 interaction among learners and reduced class time spent on peer response. Students participated in discussions of readings and writing samples and conducted peer critiques of essays. The faculty was able to post exemplary work for students to read and discuss. Students were also able to post their own work or links to other sites of interest.

Online resources. Easy online access to materials and resources increased learner time on task, allowed for diversity of learning styles, and contributed to improved quality of learning. Students were able to link to grammar review sites including the support site for the New Century Handbook, CLAST online textbook, Cttc.comnet.edu/grammar and Academic.com. The grammar review sites and quizzes provided individualized remediation based on diagnostic information. Students received immediate feedback for all computer-housed review materials. Results of quizzes were posted directly to the online grade book. This increased efficiency, decreased feedback time and increased student engagement and student motivation. Students also had access to textbook companion web site materials that assisted with writing principles, mechanics and reading comprehension.

Access to online library orientation, both through the College library and through the Texas Information Literacy Tutorial (TILT), improved the consistency of library orientations and allowed for assessment of understanding through the quizzes associated with TILT. Because access was 24x7, students could access information when and as often as they needed to do so. Additionally, by conducting learning resource instruction online instead of in class, the amount of class time that could be directed toward the writing process increased. Students also received individualized preparation for the College Level Academic Skills Test (CLAST) based on a diagnostic evaluation of skills. This also freed up class time that could then be devoted to higher-level intellectual activities.

Individualized, on-demand assistance. Outside of class, students were able to submit mid-stage drafts to tutors at SMARTHINKING, a commercial, online tutoring service and/or to TCC e-responders. These 24x7 services provided students with prompt, constructive feedback on writing assignments. The fast feedback and online assistance allowed students to make appropriate changes and improved the quality of student writing. Students were required to attach the comments of the tutor to their papers when they submitted them for final assessment. This encouraged the students to pay careful attention to the responses and subsequent revisions. During class, the labor management aspects of the course web site allowed the faculty to provide individual assistance to students throughout class time, focusing on the needs of each student and supporting a diversity of learning styles: This opportunity for student/faculty interaction was a major contributor to the improved quality of student learning.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Increase in student success. The increase in student success in College Composition and Argument and Persuasion (subsequent course) has resulted in fewer students having to repeat the courses. The increased success, though hoped for, was not calculated into the original estimate of cost savings.

Online access to course materials. Access to the course web site reduced labor costs by decreasing the amount of time faculty spent in diagnostics, preparation of lectures, grammar instruction, monitoring progress, grading, making class announcements, and responding to class issues. Overall, based on faculty logs kept during the spring 2003 semester, preliminary data on faculty time indicated a 33% decrease in time spent on course activities associated with the preceding tasks. This represented a major capital-for-labor cost savings. Online access to instruction in the access and use of library resources reduced costs by improving the efficiency of delivery of material. Library faculty and English faculty did not have to spend class time in library instruction.

Staffing substitutions. The proportion of College Composition sections taught by adjunct faculty has increased from 30% in fall 2001 to 63% in fall 2003, moving the College closer to its goal of 68%. This represents a major labor-for-labor cost savings. The use of SMARTHINKING and TCC e-responders saved faculty time. Not only did faculty members not have to assess mid-stage drafts, but also the improved quality of the papers submitted for final review and assessment reduced the amount of time faculty members spent in grading. An additional cost savings anticipated once initial training has taken place will be a decrease in the time spent working with adjuncts. The training web site will allow adjunct faculty 24x7 access to resources, course materials and training aids.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Student computing capabilities and interests. Learners had sufficient home access to online materials and most had previous computer experience. There was little or no evidence to support the fears of socio-economic exclusion. That will continue to be monitored as all College Composition courses move to an online environment. All students continue to have extensive lab access on campus.

Classroom space with computer access. While this is no longer an issue, it was problematic during the fall 2002 and spring 2003 semesters. Sections taught in traditional classrooms without computer access had difficulties incorporating the technological components of the redesign. This occurred in the small number of sections that had to be offered in traditional classrooms rather than in those with computer workstations.

Full-time faculty ownership of the redesign. While the English faculty agreed to the re-design initially, once it was accomplished there was some opposition from several faculty members. In retrospect, the team needed to do a better job of communication and inclusion and actively involve the other 16 full-time faculty in improving redesign components and course evolution. This was been largely overcome and is not an issue with adjunct faculty.

Online instructor training site. Some traditional instructors had difficulty learning from online training materials. The training materials have been revised this summer to be more user-friendly and a full-time faculty member will be responsible for supporting and mentoring adjuncts.

Grammar review materials. Although a reasonable array of review opportunities are currently available to students, a number of problems existed initially. It was difficult to find materials that provided easy access, sufficient depth of instruction, adequate practice, and a good management system. The current arrangement is much improved but still less than ideal.

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