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Lessons Learned

The University of New Mexico

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

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

Low-stakes mastery quizzes. Students were required to complete three online mastery quizzes per week over the course of the semester. The 3,000 multiple-choice questions, from which the 20-question quizzes were drawn, were taken from the textbook publisher's test-item file, and covered 95% of the textbook material. The questions tested both factual and conceptual knowledge. Students could take the randomly generated quizzes, which were timed (15 minutes) and had weekly deadlines, as many times as desired. Their highest score counted toward their final grade. Their incentive for taking the quizzes multiple times included their knowledge that in-class exams would be comprised of questions drawn from the quiz pool and the fact that their highest quiz score counted toward their course grade. Mastery quiz points counted toward approximately half of their grade with in-class exams counting for the other half.

Structural supports to ensure engagement and progress. Students who scored 75% or less on the first exam, which was administered at the end of the third week, were told that they should attend a weekly 50-minute studio for the remainder of the semester. During studios, students had the opportunity to work on multimedia course material, take quizzes, learn a memorization strategy, and discuss their course performance with undergraduate TAs (who were recruited from students who received As in the course the previous semester). Those students who were advised to attend but who failed to attend any studio typically failed the course. In contrast, the more studios a student attended, the better their course performance.

Greater course consistency. All sections used the same materials (e.g., textbook, quizzes, exams) and required the same amount of work. Instructors presented their own lectures, which would sometimes emphasize different topics. However, since all students were required to complete the same online mastery quizzes regardless of their section, their learning experience was more consistent than in previous semesters. Instructors generally saw the fact that all but the lecture component of the course was prepared and ready to go as an advantage new to the redesigned course.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Consolidating sections. In order to reduce the cost of offering the course, the traditional two separate sections of the course—three 50-minute lectures per week or two 75-minute lectures per week—were consolidated into one course offered three times a week. Lectures were presented on Mondays and Wednesdays; in-class exams or studios were held on Fridays. Although students could choose alternate days in which to attend studios, multiple sections were scheduled for the normal Friday lecture time, the time slot most students elected. By arranging studios in this manner, scheduling conflicts for students and the need for curriculum restructuring were avoided (i.e., the course was still being offered three times a week, although in the redesign, only two of those days were devoted to lectures).

Using existing material. All materials were available from the textbook publisher. The publisher provided the textbook's test-item file in a form that could be uploaded to the university's WebCT server. In order to provide both depth and breath of coverage, at least 150-200 quiz items per chapter were used, which meant that most test items were used; none were edited, but some were omitted.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Changes in the original design. During the pilot implementation, there was considerable and sustained student protest to the announcement that there would be only one lecture per week; instructors also felt one lecture was one too few. In subsequent implementations, two 50-minute lectures (on Mondays and Wednesdays) and one 50-minute studio (on Fridays during scheduled class time and on other days and times throughout the week) were offered.

Originally, all students were required to attend studios; this proved impractical for scheduling reasons (e.g., students had scheduled conflicts with offered studio times). During the second year of full implementation, only students who scored below a C on Exam 1 (administered at the end of Week 3) were required to attend studios; multiple studios (and all in-class exams) were scheduled on the Friday of the usual lecture period (other days and times for studios were scheduled as well). Although qualifying students were told they were required to attend studios, no other steps were taken to compel their studio attendance or anyone's lecture attendance. Consequently, studio and lecture attendance fell over the course of the semester by more than 50%.

Technology issues. The keystone for the success of the redesigned course was the randomly generated mastery quiz. Students would take a quiz, which covered a section of the text, many times in order to achieve a perfect score; often they would continue taking quizzes even after having attained a perfect score. Students discovered that the quizzes were the key to good exam performance; some remarked that lecture attendance and even textbook reading were less important than completing the quizzes multiple times. The ability to offer literally thousands of quiz items per student per week and to provide immediate feedback on performance could not have been achieved without the availability of online quizzing. Psychology, however, was the only course placing this degree of demand on the university's WebCT server. There are now concerns that the server may not be able to continue to meet present demands, let alone future demands if other courses were to implement the multiple quiz design.

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