|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
The University of North Carolina Charlotte
Course Title: Elementary Spanish I
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.
University of North Carolina Charlotte plans to redesign Elementary Spanish I, an entry-level, four-credit course enrolling ~800 students in 28 sections each fall term. It is the first course of a two-semester sequence, traditionally meeting twice a week for 75 minutes with an online workbook component. An online textbook system, Centro, provides diverse types of interactive learning activities as well as presentations of grammar and vocabulary. Instructors use some of the online materials in class sessions and give online homework assignments, which is 10% of the grade. A mix of instructors, typically one full-time faculty member, nine adjuncts and four graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) teach the course each semester.
The course faces a number of academic challenges. Instructors say they do not have enough time in the class session to engage students in activities that require speaking Spanish. A lot of class time is used to present grammatical information and discuss assignments and tests and other class management issues. The course also lacks consistency across sections. Although all students have the same syllabus and textbook, their learning experiences and grades vary depending on the instructor teaching the class. In addition, the department struggles to secure sufficient part-time instructor funding and enough classroom space to meet the annually increasing student demand.
UNC Charlotte will redesign Spanish using the Replacement Model. One of the two classroom sessions will be replaced with online assignments. Instructors will provide individual assistance to students through e-mail feedback and counseling meetings with those students who are not keeping up with assignments. Classroom time will focus on facilitating proficiency-oriented communicative learning activities such as role plays, dialogs and writing assignments. Students will be able to practice every skill area of language proficiency. Assignments, exams and class announcements will be handled electronically. All students will have the same course materials and lesson plans. Instructors will be required to participate in ongoing orientation and training sessions on how to deliver the course in a consistent way.
The redesigned course will enhance the students’ learning experience, focusing on proficiency-oriented communicative language skills and making the course more meaningful and interactive. They will become active and independent learners, taking ownership of their learning as they work through online assignments on their own and actively participate in class activities. Automating assignments and exams will enable instructors to spend more time offering students individualized assistance, further increasing the degree of interaction between the instructor and students. Standardizing instruction and assessment across all sections will provide students with similar learning experiences regardless of the instructor teaching the class.
UNC Charlotte plans to assess student learning outcomes by piloting the redesigned course with ~220 students in six sections taught by two instructors. Student performance on a common final exam in two of these sections will be compared with that of two sections of the traditional course taught by the same instructor. A mid-term survey will be administered to gather students’ demographic information as well.
The team plans to reduce the cost of instruction by increasing section size from 30 to 60 students and reducing the number of sections from 54 to 27 annually. The annual number of part-time faculty teaching the course will decrease from 19 to five while the number of GTAs will increase from seven to 15. Enrollment is expected to increase slightly. These actions will decrease the cost-per-student from $79 to $59, a 25% reduction. The savings will be invested in opening an online placement test for students to take for free, offering more Spanish courses and investing in other language programs in the department.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte piloted a redesigned first-semester Spanish course in fall 2009 and a redesigned second-semester Spanish course in spring 2010. The fall 2009 pilot redesign represents stage three of five stages that need to be completed before the redesign will be fully implemented, which will occur in AY 2010-2011. The redesign of the first two semesters of Spanish will ultimately affect about 3,000 students a year.
Student learning outcomes were compared using a common final exam. The average percentage of As, Bs, Cs, and Fs in both traditional and redesigned sections was comparable. The pilot has produced results that indicate that the redesigned course has potential for scalability and sustainability.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Elimination of lecture. The lesson plans for the face-to-face sessions were designed around activities that promoted communicative activities in the four language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Lecturing in general and lecturing about grammar in particular has been removed from these sessions.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Increasing section size and reducing the number of sections. The team’s plan was to reduce the cost of instruction by increasing section size from 30 to 60 students and reducing the number of sections from 54 to 27 annually. During the fall 2009 pilot term, the enrollment of two redesigned sections was capped at 50 due to a lack of classrooms that could sit more than 30 students. These 50-student sections were split in two groups of 25 for the weekly face-to-face session. This alone produced a savings because the use of physical space was reduced by 50%. The remaining four redesigned courses enrolled 30 students who met with the instructor once a week. The full implementation planned for fall 2010 will be taught entirely in 15 redesigned sections, each enrolling 60 students that will be split in groups of 30 for the weekly face-to-face session.
Reduced grading time. Since the electronic materials included a wealth of machine-graded activities, instructors only needed to grade two compositions, a midterm exam, an oral exam and 25% of the final exam.
Reduced preparation time. Class preparation time was reduced by providing a common lesson plan for each of the 14 face-to-face sessions.
What implementation issues were most important?
Materials problems. Glitches in the electronic materials caused confusion, time loss and some level of frustration in both students and instructors.
Efficient communication. Drafting sample messages that could be used by any instructor for efficient communication with students whether via email or electronic board worked well.
Optional tutoring. Students did not make the most of the 12 hours a week of tutoring that were available to them. Only 11% of students in the redesigned course used the tutoring services.