Missouri Course Redesign Initiative
Course Title: Basic English
Lincoln University (LU) students with low English ACT (EACT) scores must complete Basic English, a four-credit course, with a grade of C or better. Previously, Basic English has been required for students who scored 15 or less on the EACT. Effective fall 2011 semester, the Basic English placement score range changed to an EACT of 13 or less. In the past three years, enrollment averaged 430 students annually, with a fall semester average of 232 students and a spring semester average of 198. Based on the last three years’ EACT scores, implementing the new placement score cut-off will mean that an average of 161 students will place into Basic English in the fall and 118 in the spring semester.
Using the Replacement Model, the redesign will address the following problems that characterize the traditional course: 1) Course drift: assignments and assessments are not consistent among instructors. 2) Lack of student engagement: high absenteeism, frequent failure to complete assignments, low quiz scores, little involvement in class discussion characterize student participation resulting in an average failure rate of 48%. 3) Outmoded pedagogy: the traditional model of teaching consists entirely of group instruction, yet writing is a highly individualized activity. 4) Paper grading: though labor intensive, this traditional approach has not been shown by research to have any positive effect on student writing and limits the number of students assigned to each section.
In the redesign, course drift will be eliminated by creating a common course curriculum for all sections and enforcing common exit standards. Interactive software, with automated scoring and immediate feedback, will encourage active learning and individualize instruction, increasing the likelihood of student engagement. Clickers, teaching tools which increase student engagement, will be employed in the lecture/discussion portion of the class. Course assistants and computer lab assistants will be added. Course assistants will use common rubrics to respond to weekly paragraph assignments, providing more specific feedback at the early draft phase of writing. Students will be required to meet with a tutor twice monthly to identify the common error patterns in their writing. Students and teachers will meet in one-on-one conferences at the third, seventh, eleventh, and fifteenth weeks.
In order to assess the impact of the redesign on student learning, all sections of the traditional and redesigned Basic English course will be given a pre-test and post-test in two parts: a locally designed reading and writing test scored with a rubric, and the computerized diagnostic grammar, mechanics, and reading comprehension pre-tests and post-tests included with MySkillsLab. The team will also gather longitudinal data on the retention rates, overall GPAs and college-level English course grades for students in both the traditional and redesigned formats.
Savings will accrue from increasing class size from 20 students to 26 per section. The increase in class size will be made possible by using computer-graded software, adding course assistants to share grading/course management duties and having computer lab assistants help answer student questions and troubleshoot problems in the lab portion of the course. The cost-per-student will decline from $433 to $345, a 20% reduction. The redesign will permit the university to respond more effectively to budget cuts.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
Were costs reduced as planned?
Lincoln’s cost savings plan was to increase section size from 17 to 25. The increase in class size was made possible by using computer-graded software, adding course assistants to share grading/course management duties and having computer classroom assistants help answer student questions and troubleshoot problems in the lab portion of the course. In the traditional sections, 414 students were divided into 25 sections, 14 taught by full-time faculty and 11 by adjuncts. In the redesign, 300 students were to be divided into 12 sections, 10 taught by non-tenure track instructors and two by adjuncts. The cost-per-student was projected to decline from $433 to $345, a 20% reduction.
Lincoln followed the essence of their cost reduction plan. However, during full implementation, the actual enrollment was 247 students, which required 10 sections of 25 rather than 12. Nine of the redesigned sections were taught by non-tenure track instructors and one was taught by an adjunct. Undergraduate learning assistants provided help in the computer classroom; no course assistants were needed. Overall, the cost-per-student declined from $433 in the traditional format to $296 in the redesign, a reduction of 32%.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs). Most of the students’ improvement should be attributed to the undergraduate learning assistants. They were used to conference individually with students in class as well as help provide written feedback to student drafts. ULAs provided the instructors with the opportunity to assign and respond to more writing samples than previously.
Standardization. In the past, instructors were given a short list of objectives and asked to create a syllabus. Most of these instructors were adjuncts. Since class size was increased, Lincoln utilized fewer adjuncts; this allowed the course to be taught by only two full-time instructors and one adjunct. In the redesign, instructors were given a syllabus, complete with assignments and standardized rubrics. These assignments and rubrics were created by a team of English instructors. Students who failed the class in fall 2012 are doing well in spring 2013 as they know what is expected of them. Although they did not master the subject material before, they retained a lot of information.
Online homework. Utilizing an online program for homework was vital in the redesign. Grammar skills are essential to assign in a developmental English class, but grading these assignments can become overwhelming. Utilizing the online program allowed students to work at their own pace and freed instructors from manually grading grammar and mechanics homework. Although comparative performance on the online diagnostic showed no significant difference between the traditional and redesigned sections, the in-house rubric had a grammar and mechanics portion, and redesign students outscored the traditional ones. The increase in rubric scores indicated that the online homework was important and that it did a good job of teaching grammar.
Online writing assignment submissions. Instructors required that students use Lincoln University’s online management system to upload assignments. Instructors and ULAs used this system to provide feedback to students, which allowed students to write more and get faster feedback (sometimes within hours)—as opposed to handing in papers and waiting until the next class period, which could be up to five days.
Computer classroom. In the past, students were taken to and from a computer classroom whenever an instructor found it necessary. By creating a space specifically for this course, students, as well as instructors were able to utilize computers whenever necessary. Allowing students to write assignments in class facilitated dialogue between instructors (and sometimes ULAs) and students. This gave students more personal attention at a time when they needed it most.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Increasing section size. Lincoln increased section size from 17 to 25. The increase in class size was made possible by using computer-graded software and adding undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) to help answer student questions and troubleshoot problems in the lab portion of the course.
Changes in personnel. In the traditional sections, 25 sections were offered, 14 taught by full-time faculty and 11 by adjuncts. In the redesign, 10 sections were offered, nine taught by non-tenure track instructors and one by an adjunct with the help of the ULAs.
What implementation issues were most important?
Financial aid issues. Though using an online homework program allowed instructors more time for feedback on written assignments, getting students enrolled online was problematic. In order to enroll, students had to purchase a textbook with an access code. Most Lincoln students rely on financial aid to fund their books, and some students were not able to purchase a book for weeks, or even months, while waiting for their financial aid to be in place. Not having access to the homework affected their grades significantly.
Online submissions. Having students submit written assignments to the course management system allowed for faster feedback on assignments, but some students and some instructors did not understand how to use the system. This created problems because students did not submit assignments on time. Also, students did not always have access to a computer outside of the classroom.
Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?
This redesign should be sustainable at Lincoln. One issue that needs to be addressed is finding high-quality undergraduates with schedules to fit around the course’s schedule to serve as ULAs. In the future, ULAs will be interviewed and secured months in advance.