|The Roadmap to Redesign (R2R)
The University of Alabama
University of Alabama plans to redesign three courses that are part of its Introductory Spanish Program: Introductory Spanish I, Introductory Spanish II, and the Intensive Review of Elementary Spanish. During the 2003-2004 academic year, these courses served a total of 1046 students in 45 sections. Each course meets five hours per week. The courses are taught primarily by graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), who are supervised by a Spanish Language Coordinator. Instructional technology assistance is provided by a Language Resource Center.
The university faces an immediate and acute need for more seats in the Introductory Spanish Program; large numbers of students have been unable to enroll in the traditional format. Additionally, the Department of Modern Languages and Classics wishes to continue an enthusiastic shift away from more traditional language teaching and learning to more fully communicative and innovative methodologies. At the same time, the department wants to employ cost-effective strategies to meet increased demand for Spanish instruction.
The redesign of the Introductory Spanish Program will use the Replacement Model to substitute a portion of class time with pedagogically tested and sound instructional technology components. The quality of teaching and learning will improve significantly due to a variety of factors, including adaptation and implementation of materials and ideas already used successfully by the core Spanish associates. Better technology tools will release teachers from mundane tasks both in and outside of the classroom, thereby freeing up valuable time for them to be more creative and effective teachers. Shifting learning responsibilities toward students will enable students to be more active and engaged. Finally, more thorough and consistent feedback to students will enhance their experience by targeting and solving both real and potential problems in a timelier manner.
Consistent, thorough and meaningful assessment of student learning will be accomplished through various methods. Automated feedback and computer grading of vocabulary and grammar exercises, as well as self-tests will show students their progress on a continuing basis. The introduction of standardized oral proficiency testing three times per semester will measure increases in learning achieved through individual practice and one-on-one work with Spanish tutors. All results of student assessment will be compiled and analyzed throughout the implementation process for comparison with traditional learning outcomes. Since full implementation is not scheduled until the fall 2005 semester, the university will have both the time and means to conduct assessments of traditional course learning outcomes for such comparison.
As a result of the replacement of one class hour per week for Introductory Spanish I and II, and of two hours per week for the Intensive Review of Elementary Spanish, the university will be able to accommodate 349 more students in Spanish courses each year without increasing spending, a 33% enrollment increase. These changes, which will significantly reduce the cost-per-student for each course from $245 to $183, are made possible by increasing the student load for a GTA from three to four sections per academic year. Due to the replacement of a portion of class meeting time with online components, the teaching load will increase but the amount of time GTAs must spend on the courses will remain the same. The redesign will enable the university to offer 60 sections of Introductory Spanish courses, an increase of 15 sections over current offerings. The resulting additional sections will meet more of the actual demand. Moreover, the department will be better prepared to accommodate further increases in demand due to the projected increase in the overall student population of 6% per year.
The University of Alabama (UA) has completed three pilot sections of the Introductory Spanish sequence. Three graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) with native or near-native Spanish fluency, several years of teaching experience and first-rate instructional technology skills helped students learn how to use the vast Spanish-language resources on the Internet effectively. The GTAs surpassed UA's already high expectations.
While meetings and discussions have necessarily focused on the online components of the redesigned courses, the team has made a point of stepping back repeatedly to look at the larger picture. They wanted students in the pilot sections to feel fully supported in their Spanish learning experience, from the class sessions, to the online components, and through free tutoring online and in the Language Resource Center . Every aspect of the redesign is being carefully planned to fit seamlessly with the other aspects and the course as a whole. For example, every time a student is assigned a search on the Internet, he or she will incorporate the results into an online portfolio. The portfolio, in turn, will be discussed and evaluated by peers in class, and finally the contents will be used as part of oral interview testing throughout the semester.
After a pilot of one section each of three introductory level Spanish courses (101, 102 and 103) in spring 2005, the fully implemented redesigned program proceeded as planned in fall 2005. The redesign is already paying off with more students and smaller class sizes (from 22 to 30 on average.) The smaller class size conforms to recommended limits and will lead to improved student learning even as more students are being accommodated overall. UA has been able to accommodate about 70 more students than in fall 2004.
The redesigned program features four in-class days and one virtual day for 101 and 102, and three in-class days and two virtual days for 103. Virtual days via WebCT provide information and practice with mechanical/guided activities as well as with more creative, meaningful activities. Self-tests allow students to check their comprehension of the grammar, vocabulary and cultural sections. A positive outcome of the former leads them to the application of that information into the compilation of a portfolio consisting of cyber-journals and Web searches. All of the above activities are integrated in the syllabus such that other in-class tasks build on the work done on virtual days.
The team received an Active and Collaborative Learning Grant given by the University Provost which funded four technology carts equipped with a computer, projector, visual presenter and DVD player. These carts provide mobility and access for every 100-level Spanish course so when no multimedia rooms are available, every course will have the chance to develop in an environment where technology integration is seamless and ubiquitous.
Spring 2006 is the second semester of full implementation for 27 sections of Introductory Spanish. Most technology wrinkles were worked on during fall 2005 so the spring semester is progressing much more smoothly. As others experienced in course redesign have said, the first semester is always the hardest. This proved to be the case, even though UA had run a pilot in spring 2005. Gladly, all the challenges present in fall 2005 have been surmounted, as evidenced by the negligible number of emails sent by students to the special e-mail account set up to address any queries on the online component. This is in part due to the fixing of glitches and in part to the compilation of a FAQ sheet for students and instructors. Training of instructors has also been ongoing throughout the year.
Assessment based on common rubrics took place for every section. By the end of the spring semester, all assessment data for AY 2005-2006 will have been collected and compiled for the final full report.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
A comparison of common final exam scores between the traditional courses (spring 2005) and redesigned courses (spring 2006) indicated that scores in all three of the redesigned courses improved compared to the traditional courses.
None of these differences were statistically significant, but they are nonetheless encouraging and indicative of a successful first year of full implementation of the redesigned format.
There was a significant increase in the number of students receiving a final grade of A in the redesigned Spanish 101 and 102 courses. Less than 12% of students in the traditional sections of Spanish 101 obtained a final grade of A compared with nearly 40% in the redesigned sections. A similar improvement was noted in redesigned sections of Spanish 102 in which 41% of students obtained a final grade of A compared to 19% of students in traditional 102 sections. This pattern did not hold for Spanish 103.
The percentage of students who successfully completed ( obtaining a final grade of C or better) the redesigned courses was comparable to the percentage of those who did so in the traditional courses with slight improvements in the redesigned Spanish 101 and 102 courses. Approximately 82% of students successfully completed the redesigned sections of Spanish 101 compared to 75% in the traditional sections. In the redesigned sections of Spanish 102, about 92% successfully completed the course compared to 90% in the traditional 102 sections. In the redesigned Spanish 103 sections, about 79% successfully completed compared to 81% in the traditional sections. There was no significant difference in the successful completion rates between the traditional courses and the redesigned courses.
Other Impacts on Students
A web-based, anonymous survey was used to get a general idea of the students' attitudes toward the redesigned course. Significantly, 84% of students reported that the online components assisted them in improving their reading skills at least somewhat. 82% indicated the same about their writing skills and 63% their listening skills. Only 28% of students reported that the technology helped them with their speaking skills. This figure was not discouraging however, as improvements in speaking skills are primarily achieved in the classroom through various communicative activities.
Were costs reduced as planned?
The redesigned course was implemented as planned, and the actual cost savings matched the anticipated savings in the original plan, reducing the cost-per-student for each course from $245 to $183, a savings of 25%.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Online grammar exercises. Putting grammar exercises online allowed more time in class for communicative activities. Students came to class having already studied and completed various mechanical and self-grading exercises. This preparation allowed instructors to focus on directing various interactive activities instead of teaching grammar.
Online videos. All of the videos that accompany the elementary Spanish textbook were placed online, allowing students to watch the videos as part of their virtual day activities. Not having to show the videos in class was another important improvement over the traditional courses. In the redesigned course, the students had already watched the video before coming to class, thus allowing more time to discuss the videos during the class.
Integration of online components with specific assignments. In addition to the grammar exercises, web searches and cyber-journals were also important components of the online "virtual days." These activities related to students’ own interests and were used in preparation for oral interviews and compositions.
Cost Savings Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Implementing the replacement model. As a result of replacing one class hour per week for Introductory Spanish I and Introductory Spanish II, and two class hours per week for the Intensive Review of Elementary Spanish, the team was able to significantly reduce the cost-per-student for each course. With the savings the university was able to accommodate many more students in Spanish courses during the 2005-2006 academic year without an increase in spending.
What implementation issues were most important?
Making students comfortable with technology. The team wanted the students to be as comfortable as possible with the new technology. A list of FAQs was added to the course home page, anticipating the questions students may have about technology. This greatly reduced the number of problems students experienced. Very few messages were sent to the special email account set up to answer student questions about technology. Future plans include requiring students to complete an online tutorial about the technological components of the course and to answer questions from the tutorial. This should further help students to feel more comfortable with the technology used in the courses. In addition, the team will add vocabulary quizzes as a new component to the virtual part of the courses.
Will the redesign be sustained now that the R2R program has concluded?
The team is confident of the redesign’s sustainability. Several minor but important changes are being planned for the next academic year to improve student attitudes toward the redesigned format and to reduce even further the amount of time instructors spend on grading. Instructors will have more time to develop communicative activities and take maximum advantage of time spent in the classroom.
Will you apply the redesign methodology to other courses and programs on campus?
Based on the encouraging results from the full implementation of the redesign in Spanish, the university is currently studying the possibility of redesigning introductory French courses as well.