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Labor Saving Techniques

The University of New Mexico

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?

The required mastery quizzes appear to be the factor most responsible for student improvement. We encourage students to take them as many times as necessary in order for them to receive a high score and to gain a sense of mastery over the material; students who receive grades of C or better take the quizzes on average four to six times. In order to deliver and grade quizzes on a 24/7 schedule, WebCT, or an equivalent application, is essential. Students appreciated being able to check on their cumulated point-totals for quizzes and exams, and getting feedback on in-class exam performance soon after completing the tests.

The online quizzes were the most frequently cited beneficial aspect of the course (they also reported that the quizzes took too much time). Students sometimes commented favorably on how the quizzes helped them to prepare for in-class exams; some students in the section where online quizzes were optional commented that taking the quizzes should have been mandatory.

A two-disc CD-ROM, which contained interactive activities, simulations, and movies, was used to review and augment text material; students who commented on the CD-ROM (on anonymous course evaluations) were unanimous in support of its use and effectiveness, often citing it as one of the most beneficial aspects of the course. Students commented that the material on the CD-ROMs assisted them in better understanding the material.

Despite the general appreciation of the technological features of the course, some students believed that lectures were as important or more important than time spent with the computer. These students were opposed to reducing the number of lectures from three to two per week.

E-mail allowed us to respond to thousands of student problems, which at the beginning of the semester usually focused on technology-related issues (e.g., can't login, can't save quiz data). It was uncommon for students to e-mail us regarding content issues. So, while we were able to assist many students by using e-mail, their need for assistance was usually tied to technological problems. The amount of time required to respond to student e-mail was much more than anticipated. This was heartening in the sense that it revealed student interest in succeeding, but its volume was somewhat daunting. In following semesters, most e-mail will be answered by TAs; greater emphasis will be placed on FAQ listings; e-mail office hours will be established to focus expectations around set time periods. The nature of the e-mail changed as the semester progressed. Most students were able to master the basic technological requirements within a few weeks, but this reduction in volume was replaced by students requesting make-up quizzes and the like.

Although the studios provided an opportunity for student interaction, studio TAs reported limited success in fostering much interaction. Students sometimes commented that they could have spent their time more profitably by working with the CD-ROM at home. In order to offer studios at varying times throughout the week, most studio TAs were undergraduates who had completed the course in a previous semester.

December 2002 Update: Most e-mail is now answered by TAs, and greater emphasis is placed on FAQ listings.

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