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Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)

Coppin State University

Course Title: Technology Fluency
Contact: Lidan Ha

Status: This project was part of Round III of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2009 – 20010. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2009. 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.

Project Abstract
Progress Report (as of 3/1/10)

Project Abstract

Coppin State University (CSU) plans to redesign Technology Fluency. This course introduces students to the Windows-based operating system as well as Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint software. The course is required for graduation for all undergraduate students at CSU. In its traditional format, the course is offered in both face-to-face and online sections and serves on average ~510 students annually.

The traditional course faces four academic challenges. First, the course has a low success rate. From fall 2006 to fall 2008, 28.5% of the students received a grade of D, F or W; an additional 10.7% of the grades were missing. Since the course is required for all majors, the low success rate adds to overall retention and graduation issues at CSU. Second, student demand cannot be accommodated due to the limited number of sections and faculty. This affects students’ time to graduation. Third, students’ computer skills and learning styles vary. The traditional online and face-to-face formats do not satisfy all students’ needs, which, in turn, affect student success. Fourth, some students fall behind because they cannot afford the required course materials. Textbook and other materials costs become another roadblock to student success.

CSU’s course redesign will use a modified Buffet Model to customize the learning paths for students whenever possible. More specifically, a new “hybrid” course delivery format will be added to the current face-to-face and online options. Students will be allowed to switch among the three different course delivery formats whenever necessary without restrictions. All course content will be modularized, and students may test out of parts of the course that they have already mastered. MyITLab will be used to customize study plans to address individual student skill levels and provide in-depth project tasks. All assignments and exams will be conducted in and automatically graded by MyITLab. MyITLab also has sophisticated progress tracking capabilities. Undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) will monitor students’ progress and answer their general course-related questions.

The student-centered learning environment created by the redesigned course will enhance the quality of the course and improve learning outcomes. The increase in section size will accommodate more students. Adding hybrid sections and allowing students to switch among the delivery formats as needed will serve the wide range of students’ computer skills and learning styles. By using the same structure, assignments and exams for all sections, consistency across sections will be ensured and duplication of effort will be eliminated. MyITLab, a more interactive, high-quality learning resource that has been used previously, will engage students at reduced costs. The team will take advantage of both software capabilities and ULAs to monitor student performance and progress and will identify potential problems at early stages and intervene appropriately.

Student learning will be assessed by comparing performance on four common exams (Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint.) In the fall 2009 pilot, three redesigned sections of ~50 students each (one online, one face-to-face and one hybrid) will be compared with six traditional sections of ~23 students each. Students’ final grades and completion rates will be also compared.

Once the redesign is fully implemented, the cost of instruction will be reduced by decreasing the number of sections from 24 to 12 and increasing section size from ~20 to ~50 students each. At the same time, overall course enrollment will increase to ~600 as the university grows. The number of sections taught by adjuncts annually will be reduced from four to two. These actions will decrease the cost-per-student from $225 to $80, a 64% reduction. The savings will be used by the department to increase course offerings or to develop new programs.

Progress Report (as of 3/1/10)

There were no statistically significant differences in students' performance between the traditional and redesigned sections. Students’ overall score averaged 54% in the traditional course and 53% in the redesigned one. In both the traditional and redesigned courses, students’ average score for each module was quite high (72-88 out of 100) without considering a large number of “0” grades received for missed exams and other deliverables.

Compared with the course materials used in the past, the redesigned materials were more comprehensive with more in-depth skill training. The fact that those students who completed the required course work performed well on average supports the positive effects of the redesigned course on student learning. 

DFW rates were 55.86% in the traditional course and 65.28% in the redesigned one. These rates are much higher than a historical DFW rate of 28.46% (fall 2006 to fall 2008 five semester average). This appears to be due to the fact that an extremely high percentage of students did not take the exams. For each module, about 45% of the students in the traditional course and about 48% in the redesigned course did not take the exam. In addition, 17% of the students did not do any required coursework in both the traditional and redesigned courses.

Despite these challenges, the continuation of the redesign is not in question; the team moved to full implementation in spring 2010.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Interactive instructional software. Instructional software (myitlab by Pearson) was used. All the tutorials, assignments and exams were conducted in and automatically graded by myitlab. Myitlab offered tutorials that could be customized to an individual student’s skill level, provided more in-depth project-like tasks (compared with mainly point-and-click type of tasks in the past), and had more sophisticated progress-tracking capabilities. These features provided students an interactive way of learning with immediate feedback. With given milestones and learning goals, students were able to control their own learning pace in an active 24X7 learning environment and finish the course early if they chose to do so.

Software tracking features. In addition, instructors were able to see student grades; lists of students who did not submit work, idle students, late submissions and how many students failed; how long a student took to finish an assignment or a task within an assignment; actions a student took for a task and what the correct actions should be; and so on. With these detailed progress reports, instructors and ULAs were able to better monitor and assist students with their needs.

Greater consistency. The modules, course requirements and assessment standards were standardized across different sections. Course drift was minimized; students had consistent learning experiences across all sections no matter who their instructor was.

Online communication with course management software. In addition to myitlab, Blackboard’s course management software was used to provide students with 24-hour access to the course syllabus, weekly to-do lists, current grades and explanations about course deliverables. Students were presented with the same information, reminders and updates no matter which format (online, F2F, or hybrid) they chose. This communication portal has been used in the past and will continue to enhance the online and out-of-classroom learning experience of students.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Shared resources. Myitlab’s course templates allowed multiple copies of the course to be easily made by the project coordinator, ensuring that all the sections had the same course content and settings. In this way, duplication of effort among faculty was eliminated. The faculty were able to focus their efforts on students’ learning and teach more students at the same or less cost.

Increasing section size. The team reduced the number of sections and increased section size from about 20 to 40-50. Prior to the redesign, the course was taught by five faculty (three full-time and two adjuncts). In the spring 2010 full implementation of redesign, the total number of faculty was reduced to four (three full-time and one adjunct.) The three full-time faculty are teaching six large sections corresponding to 10-12 traditional sections, and the adjunct faculty member is teaching two sections of traditional size on weekends. Three undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) were hired in spring 2010 to help monitor and track students’ progress, upload students’ grades, remind students about the deadlines, and help students with the use of myitlab, which further reduced the faculty hours spent on the administrative issues.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Utilization of publisher-provided course materials. The team started with an existing textbook and software (myitlab) provided by the publisher. With the readily available help from the publisher, the team was able to customize the textbook by eliminating unwanted chapters, which reduced the cost for students. The content of myitlab was also checked and customized by the project coordinator. Even though it was time-consuming initially to go through all the questions to decide which ones to use, once a template was created, it was easily duplicated.

Student buy in vs. student retention. Students liked the new approach of modularization and the flexibility of finishing the course with different self-paced learning paths. During the pilot phase, those students who chose to do the required work following a given course structure did well on average. However, in both the traditional and redesigned courses, about half of the students (45% in the traditional course and 48% in the redesigned course) did not complete a module exam. In the future, more emphasis will be put on training in using myitlab at the start of a semester, and students’ progress will be monitored more closely by the faculty and the ULAs.

Simplifying course requirements. During the pilot phase, there were 11 assignments, 11 study plans, 15 tutorials, and four exams in myitlab. Students were required to do the assignments, study plans and exams, and the tutorials were optional. Since the questions used in the study plans and the tutorials are from the same settings, some students got confused about what was required and what was not and thus missed the required work. For the full implementation in spring 2010, the situation was simplified by eliminating all the study plans in myitlab. Now students are required to do pretty much everything in myitlab if they do not test out of any modules.

Resource restrictions. In the full implementation of the redesign, students will be free to choose their desired learning environment (F2F, hybrid, or online) at any time during a semester based on their test-out results and skill levels with the approval of the instructor. In spring 2010, all sections were set up as F2F to secure a classroom for each section. Then within each section, students had the option of going online or going to F2F classes as needed. There were, however, some issues with this solution. First, the course requires computer labs, and a computer lab can accommodate 30 students at maximum. For those sections with 50 students, at least half of the students were expected to go online as soon as they understood the course requirements, but the space was an issue for at least the first two weeks of the semester. In spring 2010, this issue was dealt with by squeezing in more chairs or borrowing a lab close by. This is not a long term solution, and the team needs to find a better solution. Second, even though students were given the option to go online after consulting the instructor, on the record they were in a F2F course and were not allowed to register for another course during the same time slot. This caused schedule conflict issues, especially for some graduating students. The team is working on different possibilities for the future.

University buy in. The redesign project enjoyed strong support of the department chair and the dean from the very beginning, which gave the team the freedom to implement the changes. However, since the full redesign involves and affects other related personnel or divisions on campus, the team should have shared the redesign plan more with the whole campus and secured university buy in, especially during such a time of budget restrictions.


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