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Program in Course Redesign

The University of New Mexico

The Traditional Course

With an undergraduate minority student population of approximately 46.4% (31.3% Hispanic, 5.5% Native American and 9.6% other), the University of New Mexico (UNM) leads the nation's research universities in student diversity. UNM also has one of the lowest student retention rates among public research universities. The students are primarily commuters who also work 30 or more hours per week.

Fulfilling the social and behavioral sciences requirement for the undergraduate core curriculum, General Psychology is the largest and most popular undergraduate 'killer' course. A total of 2,250 students enroll in the nine sections of General Psychology offered each year. In the spring and fall, two sections each term enroll a total of 950 students. The course is currently taught in a traditional lecture format with no recitation sections. Four full-time tenure track faculty teach the large sections assisted by one graduate assistant per section.

UNM's course redesign will directly address the extraordinarily high failure rate for General Psychology, currently 30%. The DWF rate is even higher at 42%. Institutional research data confirm that a disproportionate number of minority students fail this course. High failure rates in core curriculum courses such as General Psychology are known to have a strong negative impact on UNM's low overall retention and graduation rates.

The Redesigned Course

The learning goals for the redesigned course require students to

  • learn factual knowledge and develop a conceptual understanding of important behavior principles, theories, and applications;
  • understand principles of scientific and critical thinking; and
  • benefit from using this information as a frame of reference in their own lives.

The course redesign has four primary goals:

  • Increase student success through greater understanding and retention of course content through learner-centered, technology-based learning opportunities
  • Decrease course failure rates
  • Reduce costs associated with teaching this course
  • Increase institutional student retention rates by increasing student success

In the redesigned course, the two large sections will be combined into one large section of 750. The smaller sections offered in the evening and weekends will be expanded from 75 students to 200 per section. Thus two full-time faculty will be released each term from teaching this course.

The course will be redesigned to incorporate one 50-minute lecture and one 50-minute computer lab section led by undergraduate teaching assistants (UGTAs) per week, supplemented by interactive hybrid Internet/CD-ROM activities, quizzes, and programmed self-instruction offered on a 24/7 schedule. UGTAs will be drawn from students who have shown a 90% or better mastery of the material in previous sections of General Psychology or who are upper-division honors students. They will receive weekly training on the topics for that week.

Students will take repeatable quizzes each week that require a C level mastery of the material and will be able to track their learning proficiency. They will be able to interact online with other students and review concepts based on individual need and self-scheduled pacing. The online components will utilize commercially available software including Multimedia Psychology available from Prentice Hall, Interactive Psychology and PowerPsych published by Harcourt, Inc. The asynchronous learning environment will also include PSI, a learning technique that provides the individual student a self-paced method of learning new information. Using a branching sequence of interconnected questions, PSI includes repetition, examples, illustrations, and anecdotes to convey important psychology concepts. Graduate teaching assistants will monitor quiz performance and will contact and counsel students who fail to achieve a C level of performance as to how to improve.

The impact of the redesign on learning will be based on a standard general psychology assessment examination administered pre- and post- in both traditional and redesigned sections. Survey data looks at changes in attitude on a post-hoc basis and a pre-survey looks at a number of expectations items plus readiness to use technology. All of these standard data are individually-identifiable, enabling a range of analyses of differential impact to be undertaken using an established cohort tracking database; this capacity is especially salient given UNM's distinctive student population.

The University of New Mexico plans to use the redesign of General Psychology as a model for the redesign of other high-demand, large-enrollment, undergraduate core courses such as Introductory Spanish and General Biology.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 16-week term
  • 4 large sections (450-500 students each ) per year
  • 5 small sections (50-100 students each) per year
  • 3 contact hours per week: 3 (1-hour) lectures per week (or the equivalent)
  • Four tenure-track faculty each teach one section of the course per year. They prepare and deliver lectures, supervise course TAs, create assignments and exams, and hold at least three office hours per week.
  • Four teaching assistants (TAs) assist faculty in teaching the course. They attend all lectures, proctor and grade exams, and attend orientation and staff meetings.
  • Five graduate student instructors (GAs) teach five additional sections (25-150 students) of the course per year in the evenings, on weekends, and in the summer. They prepare and deliver weekly lectures, create assignments and exams, and hold at least three office hours per week.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 16-week term
  • 2 large sections (650-750 students each) per year
  • 5 smaller sections (100-200 students each) per year
  • 2 contact hours per week: 1 (1-hour) lecture and 1 (1-hour) computer lab per week
  • Interactive hybrid Internet/CD-ROM activities, quizzes, and programmed self-instruction offered on a 24/7 schedule
  • One tenure-track faculty teaches one large section each term. He prepares and delivers one lecture per week, supervises two TAs per section, reviews/modifies/creates assignments and exams as needed, and holds three office hours per week.
  • One full-time General Psychology graduate supervisor (GS) coordinates the activities of the course TAs. The graduate supervisor prepares weekly instructions for undergraduate studio assistants, meets for one hour each week with the undergraduate studio assistants to assist them in preparing for the next week's studio assignment, meets for two hours each week with the course TAs to coordinate recording of grades from online quizzes and studios and coordinates activities designed to notify students of poor progress and what is necessary to improve performance, oversees and monitors TAs' contact with students regarding course performance and efforts designed to improve performance and provides feedback to TAs as necessary, facilitates preparation of course syllabi for faculty (insures cross-section consistency by working closely with course TAs and faculty), works with course TAs to prepare in-class exams for all sections (a midterm and a final), and oversee course TAs' proctoring and grading of exams.
  • Two half-time TAs assist in teaching each large section and one half-time TA assists with each small section. TAs assisting with large sections attend one lecture per week; TAs assisting with small sections do not attend lectures. They all meet for two hours each week with the General Psychology GS to coordinate recording of grades from online quizzes and studios; assist faculty and GA instructors in teaching preparation (e.g., set up class projectors); work with the General Psychology GS to prepare in-class exams for all sections (a midterm and a final); proctor and grade exams; attend orientation and staff meetings; hold weekly sessions to assist students in the use of better learning methods; hold office hours as necessary to assist students achieve a "C" mastery of the course; monitor Internet quiz performance, and, as necessary, contact students and notify appropriate course staff (i.e., undergraduate TAs, GS, faculty, GAs); and coordinate student progress with GS, undergraduate studio supervisors, and course faculty.
  • Three graduate student instructors (GAs) teach five additional sections per year in the evenings and on weekends (100-200 per section). They prepare and deliver one lecture per week, review/modify/create assignments and exams as needed, hold office hours as necessary to assist students achieve a "C" mastery of the course, and coordinate with large-section course TAs for monitoring of student quiz performance.
  • Twenty undergraduate teaching assistants staff the studio session (each responsible for two sections). They attend training and preparation sessions, prepare a 5-10 minute introduction for each studio session, conduct one-hour studio sections (20 students), respond to student email and assist TAs and GAs in helping students improve performance.

Summary

In summary, the redesigned course will implement the following changes:

  • Reduce the number of sections
  • Provide consistency across sections using online resources
  • Foster greater peer interaction and work within teams
  • Provide frequent feedback to the students and instructors
  • Increase student contact with upper level peer leaders to facilitate learning
  • Employ an active intervention strategy to monitor ongoing student progress
  • Assess learning outcomes

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