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Course Development Issues

The University of New Mexico

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

As planned, we have used previously developed materials and resources. The textbook publisher (Thompson Learning, for Sternberg's In Search of the Human Mind, 3rd ed.) provided WebCT quiz files, and the CD-ROM is an ancillary of the text.

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

Although WebCT provided us the means of presenting the redesigned course, a significant amount of time was invested in developing and testing WebCT delivery. Having thousands of quiz items is an advantage, but decisions have to be made in terms of when and how items will be presented, specific item suitability, availability of make-up quizzes, and so on. We knew that a fulltime (i.e., 20 hours per week) graduate TA would be needed to develop and administer the online components of the course. In fact, the graduate administrator spent much more time than originally anticipated. The expectation and hope is that the structure he designed and implemented will significantly reduce the time requirements of future GAs.

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

Although we are sensitive to the perceptions of our students, we also realize that their perceptions may not necessarily reflect their best interests. For example, most students know from experience you should never go back and change an answer on a multiple-choice exam, but the reality is exactly the opposite: most answers on multiple-choice exams which are changed are changed from wrong to correct (we tend to discount such changes in our favor, but painfully remember changing a correct answer to an incorrect one). In order to have a 50-minute studio, we have eliminated one lecture; some students complain about the reduction in lectures while others complain that the lectures have little or nothing to do with the exams. Most complaints regarding reduced lectures probably stem from the design of the initial implementation, when we started out with three lectures and then reduced back to two. In fall 2002 and subsequently, there will be two lectures (plus a 50-minute studio) from the beginning.

Students have provided valuable feedback with respect to the online mastery quizzes. In the pilot we had a 30-minute time-out interval between when a student could retake a particular quiz; the idea was to allow the student time to review questions he or she may have missed before retaking the quiz. Several students pointed out in class that once they began taking quizzes multiple times, the length of the delay became unnecessary and aversive. We now have a 5-minute delay. Although all of the quizzes are open at the beginning of the semester, they are closed after their topic has been covered in class in order to discourage procrastination. One student understood this reason, but wondered whether we could keep another version open for practice (WebCT allows the student to check previously completed quizzes, but not the entire question base, which becomes unavailable once time has expired). We now have "practice quizzes" open at all times; they do not count, but allow students the opportunity to review the questions as many times as they like.

No student has yet complained that there is not enough to do in the course. Many students have protested the number of hours required to complete the quizzes. In the pilot, we required four quizzes per week, which we reduced last semester to three per week. We are now reviewing the 3,000 quiz items (with the assistance of the undergraduate TAs) with the aim of eliminating questions that are only tangentially related to important facts or concepts. We may reduce the question pool down to 2,000 items. The goal is to have students practice various ways of thinking about information by presenting them with different questions, not frustrate them with trivia.

Studios are run by undergraduate TAs who have taken the course previously; undergraduate TAs receive course credit for leading a studio. We meet with the TAs on a weekly basis to discuss their assignments, as well as to listen to their personal experiences with the course and with comments made by students in their sections.

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

We have been fortunate in having the total support of our department chairperson. The faculty as a whole have been supportive. Predating the grant application, the faculty had been reconsidering ways of teaching the introductory course. The pilot results were presented to a large group of faculty and graduate students who listened for an hour and asked questions for another hour. Our new chairperson is committed to discovering and implementing the best ways of providing education to our students, and recognizes the importance and responsibility of our redesign efforts.

The university administration supports efforts designed to improve learning. UNM, like many colleges and universities, is committed to improving retention while continuing to maintain high standards.

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