|Arizona Board of Regents: Learner-Centered Education Course Redesign Initiative
Arizona State University
Course Title: Introduction to Geology
The Tempe campus of Arizona State University (ASU) plans to redesign Introduction to Geology in the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE). This course is currently taught in a traditional lecture mode, three hours per week, in five sections of 220 students each semester, for a total enrollment of 2200 students annually. The course serves mostly general studies students and a small number of geoscience majors.
Currently a full-time lecturer teaches two of the five sections, and three faculty members teach the remaining sections. Each section is taught independently, with minimal communication and sharing of resources among individual instructors. The current arrangement causes inconsistencies in subject matter, consumes a significant amount of faculty time in materials development and presentation, and produces a large variability in effectiveness.
The planned course redesign will use the Replacement Model. The team will bring the course under a common syllabus and mastery-based assessment plan, organize content and activities into modules, and use synchronous and asynchronous instructional technologies to enable faculty to teach a greater number of students effectively. The cornerstone of the redesign is a new and innovative textbook authored by two SESE faculty members and designed based on cognitive and educational research. This figure-based and media-rich textbook is specifically designed to allow students to learn much of the content outside of the classroom. Half of the lecture time will be replaced with technologically enhanced delivery of vibrant web content, using online mastery exams synchronized to class attendance, and enhanced support and feedback for students. Class time will be very interactive to provide students with personal experience with the course materials prior to reading the textbook and accessing the web content out of class. Class time will also be used to enrich, enliven, and extend the basic concepts introduced through the textbook and web material.
The redesign will enhance quality by creating a uniform knowledge framework across all sections and providing rich interactive web content and a more meaningful and directed faculty-student dialogue. A primary objective of the redesign is to infuse SESE’s emphasis on the integration of disciplines, technological innovation and exploration as a paradigm for learning and research.
The effectiveness of the redesigned course will be assessed during the pilot phase by comparing responses on common test questions in parallel traditional and redesigned sections. These pilot assessments will be compared with the implementation phase assessments. Published, valid, and reliable concept inventories such as the Geoscience Concept Inventory will be used to create instruments to evaluate the effectiveness of the instructional innovations. In the course of their ongoing research on teaching and learning, SESE faculty involved in science-education research will direct the development, validation, and reliability testing of quantitative and qualitative assessment instruments for the redesigned course.
The redesigned course will decrease instructional costs by changing the mix of personnel teaching the course and decreasing total faculty effort by half. Interactive online learning activities will replace 1.5 hours of course meetings. Time required for curriculum and materials development will also be saved. The redesign will reduce the cost-per-student from $92 to $68, a 26% decrease. The savings will be used to expand student opportunities by offering additional sections, to increase course enrollment in other SESE courses and to increase faculty research activity.
The final class averages were 74.3 percent for the traditional course and 73.4 percent for the redesigned course, an insignificant difference. The team considers such comparisons to have limited validity because of the major changes in how the course was taught.
The redesign changed the kind of knowledge that students gained compared to the traditional course. Previously this course used multiple-choice questions during exams to assess a thin veneer of factual knowledge spread across many aspects of geology. In contrast, the redesigned course used 1) online quizzes to assess a breadth of knowledge, 2) concept sketches on exams to assess deep conceptual knowledge in 40 or so of the most important geologic topics, and 3) online investigations that allowed students to solve an authentic scientific problem.
The fruits of this approach were clearly visible in the excellent concept sketches produced by students during exams designed to demonstrate student mastery of conceptual knowledge. Scores averaged better than 80 percent on nearly every exam. The team considers these concept sketches to be the best indication of how well students understand geological concepts and systems.
Student success rate (C or higher in the course) was 85 percent in the spring 2008 traditional sections compared to 86.3 percent in the redesigned full implementation in fall 2008. This improvement accompanied an increase in student workload from the traditional to the redesigned course.
The traditional course was taught three times a week (MWF) for a total of 150 minutes per week, whereas the redesigned course was taught two days a week (MW) or once a week (T) for an average of 94 minutes per week.
The team estimates that each instructor and teaching assistant saved significant amounts of in-class time in the fully redesigned course, but that these were partially offset by time required to administer online activities. Savings of in-class time, as a result of the elimination of one class meeting per week, were 37.5 percent for both the instructors and teaching assistants, compared to the traditional course.
Several additional hours of faculty time were saved each week by eliminating some class preparation. Additional time savings, averaging several hours per week, resulted from reductions in development and grading of exams, preparation and grading of investigations, and grade management. The grade-management savings were largely achieved by moving quizzes and investigations online where Blackboard could administer and grade the activities and incorporate scores directly into the grade book.
For the teaching assistants, the time savings were reductions in time in class, class preparation, grading investigations and quizzes, and grade management. These times savings were partially offset by increased time spent doing online office hours and chats.
Overall, the team estimates that the redesign effort resulted in a time savings of 30 percent for each instructor and 35 percent for each teaching assistant.
As a result of lessons learned during deployment of the fully redesigned course, the amount of time spent by instructors and teaching assistants during the spring 2009 semester has been much less, and so the final time savings for instructors and teaching assistants will be higher than these estimates.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
Cost Savings Techniques
The redesign is being used in all large Introduction to Geology sections. The results of the redesign effort have resulted in improved student understanding of geologic concepts as assessed with concept sketches and improved rates of student success. The time and cost savings are significant and are consistent with those originally estimated.
The efforts of the Introduction to Geology redesign project will be sustained for the foreseeable future. Since the start of the redesign project, all instructors have used the same textbook, PowerPoints, online quizzes, online investigations, online movies and other materials. Instructors are largely pleased with the new approach, which has now been adopted by seven faculty members and includes every instructor who has taught a large Introduction to Geology section since the start of the redesign project. The team anticipates that implementation of the redesign project will last until there is a dramatic change in educational technology.