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Course Development Issues

The University of Southern Mississippi

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

The faculty collaborated to develop a new syllabus of readings, many of which turned out, as expected, to be drawn from older syllabi. The challenge was less in choosing readings than in identifying quality Web and audiovisual materials to complement the readings. For some areas, such as drama, there was a wealth of material. (And it is not surprising that many student surveys commented particularly on the value of the audiovisual materials that accompanied the dramatic readings.) Other areas, such as lyric poetry, proved more difficult to find suitable Web-based materials to further student learning. At present the faculty is pleased with about 80% of the complementary material and the search continues for better Web sites and films for the rest.

December 2002 Update: At present the faculty is pleased with about 90% of the complementary material and the search continues for better Web sites and films for the rest.

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

The new syllabus, even if developed from many older versions, nonetheless required many conversations to finalize. Although there were several face-to-face meetings, the faculty tended to conduct the majority of the discussion by email, where positions could be clearly articulated in a way that table-talk rarely permits. Email was also the primary means of communication as faculty developed the many quizzes, exams, and essay topics for the course. Although initially it appeared that the textbook publisher could supply test materials, the faculty ultimately chose to develop their own.

The course coordinator participated in the faculty discussions and also spent much of fall 2001 making certain that all the technological pieces would be in place by spring. There were weekly meetings with various technology subgroups, learning how to use the hardware and software that would be used to record and distribute the instructors' presentations, and--in an unexpected turn of events in spring 2002--a series of meetings with faculty outside the department who wanted to slow the implementation of the redesigned course.

December 2002 Update: Fall 2002, the first term of full implementation, brought new challenges, primarily on the public relations front. Although prospective students who might register for the redesigned course were contacted last spring through "feeder" courses such as English composition, through their academic advisers, through news in print media and on the Web, and finally through direct mail to each student who actually did enroll for fall, there was still confusion about the hybrid nature of the course as the fall term began. The course coordinator and faculty team spent considerable time explaining to student and administrative groups the mechanics of the course.

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

Students were not involved in the original design process. We are, however, retooling certain aspects of the course for fall on the basis of feedback received from student surveys and focus group interviews.

December 2002 Update: Students became much more actively involved in fall 2002 during the first term of full implementation. The course coordinator and faculty met with students at a student government sponsored forum, then had follow-up meetings with a student government representative to assure that all viewpoints were being considered. Surveys were also administered again in fall 2002 to gather a wide variety of information on student response to the redesign. Several changes for spring 2003 have been introduced to respond to student comments.

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

The course coordinator is also the department chair, so from one perspective, departmental support is complete. This statement does not mean, however, that every faculty member supports the plan. Some remain skeptical, awaiting reports, such as this one, to prove that the redesign model works. Institutional support, especially from the technical side, has been excellent. Support from the university's data analysis office has been minimal, owing largely to campuswide difficulties with extracting meaningful data from its PeopleSoft system. Consequently, the course coordinator has used department staff to gather data for analysis.

Institutional support remains strong. The university is now entering its third consecutive year of budget cuts, so it is difficult to argue with a plan that significantly reduces the need for instructors. Key players in the technology infrastructure and instructional media units also remain supportive, ready to help when questions and problems arise. The department at large, faced with the prospect of increased course loads for tenured faculty to cope with budget shortfalls, has likewise developed new respect for the business aspect of the redesign model. Some remain skeptical about academic outcomes, yet as they learn, through reports such as the present one, that the hybrid course is in most respects at least as good as what it replaces and in some key areas surpasses the traditional model, they are converted.

December 2002 Update: A completely new university administration (president, provost, associate provosts, vice presidents, etc.) was installed in May 2002. The change required the course coordinator to spend considerable time bringing everyone up to speed. Nonetheless, institutional support remains strong, at least in part because the university is now in its third consecutive year of budget cuts, so it is difficult to argue with a plan that significantly reduces the need for adjuncts. Key players in the technology infrastructure and instructional media units also remain supportive, ready to help when questions and problems arise. The department at large, faced with the prospect of increased course loads for tenured faculty to cope with budget shortfalls, has likewise developed new respect for the business aspect of the redesign model. Some remain skeptical about academic outcomes, yet as they learn that the hybrid course is in most respects at least as good as what it replaces and in some key areas surpasses the traditional model, they are converted.

Support from the university's data analysis office has improved as the PeopleSoft staff has become more proficient in extracting meaningful data from PeopleSoft.

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