|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
St. Cloud State University
Course Title: Preparatory Chemistry
Status: This project was part of Round I of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2007 – 2008. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2007. In the C2R program, NCAT’s role was to introduce the course redesign methodology to participating institutions, assist them in developing project plans and work with them through the pilot period. NCAT was not involved in full implementation; consequently, the project’s status beyond the pilot period is unknown. For more information, contact the project contact listed above.
St. Cloud State University (SCSU) plans to redesign Preparatory Chemistry, a course enrolling the largest number of chemistry students and consuming the majority, 25%, of the department's faculty resources. Enrollment has increased from ~400 in 2000-2001 to ~800 in 2005-2006. During this same period, the number of chemistry department faculty has decreased from 15.3 to 13. The course is taught every semester, including summer, offering 28 sections a year with ~24 students each. It acts as the gateway to further chemistry courses for science majors, and also serves as a natural sciences general education course under the SCSU and MnSCU transfer curriculum.
The student population in Preparatory Chemistry is very diverse and effectively reaching any one sub-group has its unique challenges. An added complication, due to 5 years of increasing demand and decreasing instructor resources, is a significant increase in class size. It has been raised from ~48 to ~100 students. This increase in class size has reduced student-instructor contact time and makes it difficult to provide in-class active learning/small group activities. For most students enrolled in this course, it is the first chemistry course they encounter and may have an affect on their decision to major in science. Up to 5 different instructors teach the course each semester, with up to 7 instructors over the course of a year, including fixed-term faculty. During the past 5 years, 26.1% of students have received a grade of D or F, or have withdrawn from the course. This is of special concern because students must receive a C or better to proceed to the successive chemistry course. Unfortunately, these trends will most likely continue and the dissatisfaction level with the preparatory chemistry course is expected to increase.
SCSU plans to use the Supplemental Model in the redesigned course. Students will meet in class once a week for active learning activities with the instructor and undergraduate assistants (UGAs). They will meet outside of class with their group one hour a week and will be required to work at least one additional hour on their own on planned online activities. It is anticipated that students will work several additional hours per week on their own with online homework and quizzes. Faculty will teach collaboratively in the redesign rather than the current mode of teaching sections independently.
The quality of the students' learning experiences and their satisfaction with the course will increase with the redesign. They will have more opportunity to interact with the material through the on-line materials and resources. The active learning opportunities will result in higher-quality interactions. Students' higher-level thinking will also be activated through well-scaffolded in-class and on-line activities.
The impact of the redesign on student learning will be measured by student success on a common final exam, a positive change in the DWF rate, and increased student satisfaction with the course. Qualitative measures in the evaluation will include student interviews and student focus groups.
The traditional course uses 7 full-time faculty annually, delivering the course in 28 sections. The redesigned course, staffed with 4 full-time faculty assisted by UGAs, will offer 4 sections with 200 students each. As a result, the cost-per-student will decrease from $337 to $185, a reduction of 45%. The department will use the savings to offer upper level elective courses.
During fall 2007, a pilot was conducted in a large section (~72 students) taught by a faculty member who has previously taught the course several times. The final exam average was 60.5% compared to an average of 55.7% in the traditional format. Student mean scores on the first course exam in spring 2008 was a full 5 points higher than in previous semesters. In fall 2008, the redesign will be implemented in a 150-person section, which will produce the cost savings that are planned.
The faculty in the chemistry department are cautious about offering large lecture sections of chemistry courses. In the past, students have not been successful in these courses, and so the department had made a policy that courses would never enroll over 100 students. The willingness of the department to consider having a large lecture course is dependent on ongoing positive student achievement. The administration, including the new president, is very interested in pursuing redesign projects, so there is support available to do so.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Incorporating the ALEKS online tutorial system. ALEKS, an online introductory chemistry tutorial system, was incorporated into the course as an out-of-class learning tool. ALEKS uses adaptive questioning to determine what students are ready to learn and what they have mastered. The tutorials are tied to chapters in the student textbook. This program allows students to have an interactive experience with the content outside of class, improving their understanding of the material.
Using Undergraduate Learning Assistants (ULAs). ULAs were used to support the inquiry-based and active learning activities in the classroom and in the pre-laboratory section. ULAs are undergraduate students who have successfully completed an introductory chemistry course. An application and interview process was used to select the ULAs. ULAs are required to take a pedagogy course and to meet for an hour each week to work through the activities they will be facilitating. The pedagogy class gave them the theoretical background to be a good facilitator and to understand the constructivist view of teaching and learning. Having the ULAs complete the activities prior to facilitating them allowed them to learn firsthand where students struggle with content and reinforced their own understanding of the material. The ULA program is modeled after a redesign project at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Incorporating active/inquiry learning activities in the classroom. Both inquiry-based and active-learning activities have been incorporated into the lecture portion of the course. Students engaged in one to two activities for approximately 15-20 minutes per 50-minute session working in groups of two to four, actively engaging the material. These activities were facilitated by the ULAs.
Incorporating active/inquiry learning activities outside of the classroom. During the first 25 minutes of laboratory time, students engaged in in-depth inquiry-based and active-learning activities led by ULAs working in groups of two to three students. Initially, the team planned for the ULAs to work with students for an hour independent of class and lab time. Since an additional hour was not included in the schedule when students registered for the course, this plan became a logistical nightmare. The team will explore changing the schedule to include another hour in the future.
What implementation issues were most important?
Technology issues. Implementing ALEKS did not go smoothly. SCSU was a test site for an early version of the software, and there were bugs in the program that had to be worked through. In addition, the software required a plug-in to be installed. The team did not anticipate that students would not be able to download this plug-in on campus computers or that the technology staff would refuse to install the plug–in on campus computers unless requested to do so six weeks prior to the start of the semester. Some students were unable to use ALEKS for the first five to six weeks of the semester until a small computer lab with limited hours installed the plug-in as a compromise. Another problem was that the ALEKS content was not tied to the textbook. In spring 2008, these issues have been addressed and use of ALEKS has been progressing smoothly. Students will be surveyed and participate in a focus group at the end of the semester regarding their attitudes toward ALEKS.
Student buy-in. During fall 2007, one faculty member taught the redesigned section. A second faculty member who was directing the redesign implementation sat in on the redesigned section. Whenever any aspect of the redesign was utilized, it was prefaced with “this is Dr. So and So’s project.” This caused students to view the redesign, especially the use of ALEKS, as “extra work” that they were being forced to do rather than as an integral part of the course. In addition, the faculty had not specifically addressed the redesign aspects of the course in the syllabus so students were unsure of how their participation affected their grade. In spring 2008, a member of the redesign team is teaching the course. All aspects of the redesign were discussed on the first day of class as well as incorporated in the point values in the syllabus. Student buy-in has been much more successful in the spring 2008 semester.