|The Roadmap to Redesign (R2R)
Georgia State University
Course Title: College Algebra
As part of its plan to improve instruction in lower division courses, Georgia State University will redesign College Algebra, a core curriculum course taken by about half of the entering freshmen. Each year the course enrolls about 1500 students in 41 sections of about 37 students each. The course has traditionally been taught by a diverse group of graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), part-time instructors, visiting instructors, and regular faculty.
The department chooses textbooks, develops course outlines, and writes content standards for these courses. However, there are no consistent efforts to ensure uniformity of content presentation or assessment across all sections. The result is inconsistencies from section to section in both content and assessment, with unsuccessful students (grades of D, W or F) accounting for as much as 45% of the enrollment.
The planned redesign will follow the Replacement Model. Half of class time each week will be replaced by student-centered computer lab tutorials based on the successful experiences at Virginia Tech, the University of Alabama, and the University of Idaho. Their experience has shown that computer tutorials can provide effective instruction that allows students to focus on areas where they need more help. Retained class time will not be used for lecture presentations but rather for using problem-based-learning materials and conducting group activities, both of which are excellent compliments to computer-based tutorials. In the lab, both undergraduate and graduate lab assistants provided with special training by the lab and course coordinators will be available for one-on-one assistance.
In addition to the new computer lab, the department will provide for greater organization of the faculty teaching the courses. A course coordinator and a lab coordinator will be appointed to ensure greater consistency among the sections. All sections will share common syllabi, outlines, schedules, lab assignments, assessment instruments, class activities and a course web site. The common materials and the course coordinators will provide more uniform alignment of the individual sections with established content and assessment standards and ensure sound pedagogical practice in the labs and in the retained classroom time.
During the 2004-2005 academic year, data will be collected from both traditional and pilot sections, including performance on selected assessment items that will be included on all final examinations, attitude surveys, and scores on placement tests. Performance of students in the subsequent precalculus course will be tracked. Randomly selected students will be interviewed at the end of each semester to help redesign faculty get a deeper understanding of the students' feelings, likes, dislikes, and ideas for change as well as serve as a qualitative measure of their learning. Finally, retention data will be collected and compared to five-year averages in the traditional format.
Most of the savings result from substituting interactive tutorial software for a portion of the regular class meetings, thus replacing instructor time previously devoted to in-class instruction. Further reductions will be provided by substituting coordinated planning and development of the whole course for individual planning and development of each section. These changes enable Georgia State to assign two sections rather than one to instructors. The cost of adding lab assistance reduces the net savings, but the redesign project will produce an annual savings of $13,545 as a result of reducing the cost-per-student from $96 to $87.
During fall 2004, Georgia State University conducted a pre-pilot with six sections. The goal of the pre-pilot was to select a common text and mathematical software (previously, each class used a different book and software package.) After careful consideration, the team selected Precalculus by Lial, Hornsby and Schneider and MyMathLab from Addison Wesley.
GSU then focused on training faculty, graduate learning assistants (GLAs) and a student assistant to use MyMathLab and to understand the implications for teaching the redesigned course. The semester began with a workshop for the faculty that would be involved in redesign. Four GLA's and one student assistant were hired to work in the MILE to provide one-on-one assistance for students who come into the MILE with questions. A workshop was held just for the GLA's in order to familiarize them with the lab, the software and their responsibilities in the MILE. Every month a meeting was scheduled for the faculty group to discuss the progress of the semester, the assessment aspects of the course and the progress of the project. A separate meeting for the GLAs and the student assistant was also held to get their feedback on how things are going with the project.
During the spring 2005 term, GSU offered six redesigned sections of College Algebra, plus one online section and two traditional sections. In the redesigned sections, students spent 50 percent of their time in the classroom with the instructor acting as a facilitator for focus groups and 50 percent in the Mathematics Interactive Learning Environment (MILE) working actively on their assignments. The majority of students have had a positive response to the redesign and prefer it to a traditional class.
GSU also conducted a pre-pilot for Precalculus in six sections. Students who were in the pre-pilot College Algebra during the fall 2004 semester signed up for the spring semester's pre-pilot of Precalculus. Because there was additional space in the in the MILE, GSU also offered two sections of Mathematical Modeling in the same format, which seems to be going well. Overall this project is off to a great start. Full implementation of the College Algebra and Precalculus redesigns will occur in fall 2005.
Georgia State University fully implemented its redesign of College Algebra (19 sections) and Precalculus (15 sections) in fall 2005. The semester began with two workshops for the faculty involved in the project. Five GLAs were hired to work in the Mathematics Interactive Learning Environment (MILE). A workshop was held for them in order to get them familiar with the lab, the software and their responsibilities in the MILE. The GLAs and the Student Assistant provided one-on-one assistance to students that came into the MILE with questions. Instructors provided two hours of office hours each week in the MILE in order to assist students with their mathematical questions. Students were active with in-class discussions and worked together in the MILE. Instructors met once each month to discuss and assess the progress of the project. In addition, another workshop on the MyMathLab software was held for the faculty to discuss issues related to using the software.
In spring 2006, full implementation of the redesigned College Algebra (7 sections) and Precalculus (21 sections) courses continued. In addition, Georgia State piloted one section of Beginning Algebra and two sections of Intermediate Algebra. Faculty continued to meet each month to discuss the meaning of facilitated learning, the MyMathLab software, the creation of homework/quiz/test material and administrative issues of the courses. The team also introduced facilitated lessons in the MILE for students. Another main focus was on student success rates in future math courses. Those students who have taken the redesigned College Algebra and Precalculus have a 48% success rate in Calculus I. The project is progressing nicely, and the cost savings has provided money to hire the GLAs and to provide training and workshops.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
Students in the pilot sections performed significantly better than students in the tradition sections on five common examination questions graded using a standard rubric. This initial impact was not sustained in the full implementation of the redesigned course. The learning results reported by Georgia State for the full implementation are not comparable among the various traditional and redesigned sections, however, since some instructors followed the redesign plan, but others did not and continued to lecture, treating the commonly developed lessons as handouts.
ABC rates increased and DFW rates decreased significantly among completers in the pilot sections of College Algebra. In the full implementation, the course redesign showed no significant difference in course completion rates. The course completion rates reported by Georgia State are not comparable among the various traditional and redesigned sections, however, since some instructors followed the redesign plan, but others did not.
When College Algebra grades are disaggregated by instructor using the team’s subjective judgment on the degree of instructor “buy-in” to the redesigned courses, there are significant positive differences in student success. For example, DFW rates for the positive instructors from both semesters in 2005-06 decreased from 30.8% to 23.5%.
Were costs reduced as planned?
Georgia State carried out its plan to reduce the various kinds of instructional personnel involved in the course and assign the remaining personnel to two sections rather than one. In addition, the team was able to reduce some kinds of personnel even more than they originally anticipated. The redesign project planned to produce an annual savings of $13,545 as a result of reducing the cost-per-student from $96 to $87, a 9% reduction. The actual cost-per-student was reduced to $80, producing a savings of ~$24,000, a reduction of 17%.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Moving from "tell me" to "involve me." Students were with an instructor 50% of the class time and in the MILE, a classroom laboratory environment, the other 50% of the time. Both environments were student-centered rather than instructor-led. By taking advantage of computer technology available on campus, the team was able to provide students with options for the best learning conditions and with opportunities to use learning resources beyond the boundaries of time and space. Also, the use of learning resources such as MyMathLab, a mathematical software package, encouraged active student learning, provided prompt ongoing assessment as well as individualized assistance.
Course coordination. The redesign improved the quality of instruction and equity of assessment across all sections of two core courses by closely coordinating all sections. The course coordinator supervised the other instructors teaching the course; coordinated class scheduling; oversaw the development and sharing of common course materials such as problems, handouts, projects, etc.; and, scheduled instructor training. The coordinator initiated informal dialogs with other faculty members about the course and the course's learning outcomes assessments. The course coordinator was also able to serve as an informal mentor to new faculty, monitor coverage of the prescribed course topics and ensure that appropriate assessments were used.
Rethinking faculty teaching. The redesign forced faculty to think about their teaching style/methodology and how to develop lessons that would engage students in their work. Faculty had to communicate with one another and work together to create common tests and exams. Faculty also had to communicate with students by answering students’ email as well as during office hours.
Required attendance. Students were required to come to campus and attend class as well as to attend the MILE class. Although the software allowed them to do work at home, students had lessons to be completed in the MILE classroom. They resisted coming into the MILE to do assignments on top of their assigned homework and quizzes. Requiring students to go to the MILE provided them with the opportunity to do their work, interact with fellow students and receive individual attention from one of the GTAs working in the MILE. Requiring students to do activities pertinent to their understanding of the lessons and requiring them to start their homework when they completed their MILE assignment most likely contributed to their success in their course. Students seemed to be more confident when they were working; thus, they stayed in the course, did not withdraw and most passed the course.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Each redesign section meets only half as much as a traditional section. Thus, each instructor can be assigned two redesigned sections in place of one traditional section, which increases the instructor's student load with no increase in workload. Resources are shared, preparation time is cut in half, and using the interactive mathematical software eliminates most grading. Finally, having a course coordinator to assume most course administration tasks also offsets the increased student load.
What implementation issues were most important?
Departmental buy-in. Some of the faculty were upset that a major project to restructure the undergraduate curriculum was developed without their being aware of it. They did not realize that several faculty members had been working on the project for more than a year. In addition, they were upset about the Provost’s securing space and funding for an 85-station computer lab for this course redesign project. Every faculty member must teach the two courses during the academic year. Some are traditional mathematicians who do not believe in using technology to enhance teaching and learning. Teaching in the new way requires effort, and they are not interested in doing more work to improve teaching and learning for undergraduate students. They are more interested in mathematical research than in research on teaching and learning. Two factors have helped to overcome this negativity: 1) the Provost is strongly supportive of the project and 2) success does not require complete buy-in from every faculty member in the department.
Collaboration between instructors. This was one of the greatest benefits. Collaboration was a challenge at first because of the extra time each faculty had to devote to the creation of the lessons and tests. But sharing ideas has been beneficial to everyone involved. Also, collaboration between the instructors has facilitated the task of developing a common, consistent assessment approach, which was a big issue in the department.
Technology issues. Determining what mathematical software to use for the redesign required the faculty to meet with vendors and put in extra time both to explore the software and to use the software in the classroom. During the MILE meeting times, whenever the server went down or the software crashed, especially during test time, the faculty as well as the students were frustrated.
Faculty training. Faculty teaching the courses had to give up their time to be trained to use MyMathLab, the mathematical software.
Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?
The sustainability of the redesign is not in jeopardy. Implementation of the redesign for College Algebra is being refined for 2006-07. A tenure-track faculty member has been assigned as course coordinator for each course instead of the non-tenure track director of the MILE. Undergraduate student assistants are being utilized as well as graduate assistants in the MILE. The department is now embracing the redesigned courses and taking ownership for them instead of this being a project of a few individuals.
Will you apply the redesign methodology to other courses and programs on campus?
Georgia State has also redesigned its Precalculus course with similar results to that of College Algebra. The redesign project is also expanding to the Calculus course sequence. The mathematical software is now being used in the Calculus sequence. Also, Calculus instructors are meeting on a regular basis with a course coordinator to insure uniformity and consistency within the course. This redesign effort has fostered an interest in the active learning approach in an effort to improve student learning.