|The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning: Mississippi Course Redesign Initiative
Mississippi State University
Course Title: Survey of Chemistry
Mississippi State University (MSU) plans to redesign Survey of Chemistry, a freshman level, non-major chemistry course, enrolling ~500 students annually. Two sections are offered in the fall and one in the spring semester, each with ~150 students. One section with ~50 students is offered in the summer. The course is a curriculum requirement or a science elective for a very diverse number of majors, thus impacting students throughout the university. It is taught by full-time faculty in a traditional lecture format with three 50-minute lectures per week. Survey of Chemistry does not include a lab; the lab is a separate course. Recitation sessions are normally not available, and neither graduate nor undergraduate students are used to assist in this course.
Students come to the traditional chemistry course with diverse backgrounds and varying degrees of academic preparation, which contributes to an average success rate of ~65%. Grading traditional homework assignments is a time consuming activity for faculty and is often reduced to a minimum given the large class size. This traditional method does not provide timely or adequate feedback to students. There is inconsistency across sections in delivery, content and testing. These problems are compounded by a seriously understaffed Department of Chemistry and a predicted growth in student demand. University officials recently notified the department to expect an enrollment increase of 1000 students in this course in the near future.
MSU will redesign Survey of Chemistry using the Replacement Model. The three weekly lectures will be replaced by a set of short modules delivered online and a single weekly meeting to answer student questions and conduct in-class testing. Each of the modules will cover a specific topic and can be viewed multiple times. Students will post questions in a chat room or directly with the instructor via e-mail. The traditional homework will be replaced by Chem21Labs, online homework software with automatic grading and immediate feedback to the students.
The redesigned course will enhance the quality of the students’ educational experience and provide a consistent learning experience for all. Students will be more actively engaged with the content, working through the modules at their own pace, solving problems and receiving immediate feedback. Chem21Labs will also be used to monitor and assess student progress. When students master a particular topic, they can move on to the next one. Trained undergraduate peer tutors, available in a computer lab to meet with 20% of the students two hours per day, will answer questions and assist the students with their online assignments. The redesigned course will also enable the department to meet the anticipated enrollment increase.
MSU’s assessment plan will use the same comprehensive final exam that has been used in the traditional course. Historical data for 650 students will be compared to exams scores in the redesigned sections. The plan calls for offering one traditional section during the spring 2009 pilot phase and for full implementation in the fall 2009 semester, when all sections will be redesigned into one single section per term. In addition, the team will also administer pre-survey and post-survey questions to assess student satisfaction and identify any implementation issues needing attention.
MSU will reduce the cost of instruction by teaching an increased annual enrollment (from 500 to 1000 students) on the same resource base. Section size will be increased from 150 to 450, and the number of sections will be reduced from four to three. Three full-time faculty, rather than four, will teach the course; this will free up the equivalent of one full-time faculty member’s teaching obligation for the year. These actions will decrease the cost-per-student from $133 to $51, a 62% reduction. The savings generated by the redesign will strengthen the department, enabling them to offer critically needed higher level undergraduate and graduate courses, while accommodating increased student demand.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
The team assessed student learning by comparing performance on common final exams from 219 redesigned students taught during fall 2009 with performance on the same final exams from 625 traditional students taught from spring 2007 through spring 2008. Traditional students scored a mean of 59 and redesign students scored a mean of 56. This difference was not significant.
The full implementation was completed during the fall 2009 semester. The data used for the traditional course was taken from one section of the instructor who also taught the full implementation of the course redesign. The full implementation was a combination of two sections, thus, the major difference is the number of students.
The percentage of students earning a grade of C or better was not significantly different (traditional = 42% versus redesign = 44%.) The table below summarizes student performance:
Student retention defined as the percentage of students who initially enrolled in the course who completed the course was 85.7% in the traditional course versus 87.3% in the fully redesigned course.
Were costs reduced as planned?
MSU carried out their plan to reduce the cost of instruction by teaching an increased annual enrollment (from 500 to 1000 students) on the same resource base. Section size increased from 150 to 450, and the number of sections was reduced from four to three. These actions decreased the cost-per-student from $133 to $51, a 62% reduction.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Short, web-based lectures. All lectures were delivered via the web in short (~20 minutes) sessions. Students could watch them several times, rewinding them as needed to fit the individual student’s ability. Students could access these lectures on a computer and other devices, which was seen as an advantage by most students. They did not have to go to class at a certain time and could work at their own pace. More time was available for one-on-one engagement of the students.
Automated grading. All homework problems were offered online and graded automatically, resulting in immediate feedback to students.
Improved class meetings. Face-to-face class meetings were spent dealing with the more difficult topics. More time was spent on learning techniques rather than going through each and every topic in the textbook, which was delivered online.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Reduction in the number of faculty involved in the course. More than 95% of the department’s budget is salaries, and reduction in personnel is the only potential source of savings.
What implementation issues were most important?
Preparing students for the change. Students and perhaps parents were not prepared well enough for the changes. The students were not receptive to the course redesign. They felt that they were attending a traditional university, and they expected face-to-face instruction. In addition, the format of the pilot course was not publicized well due to the time constraints between the time of grant notification and the start of the semester when the pilot was implemented. Before the full implementation, the team made an effort to explain the new format of the course better, and the attitudes changed. Some students are still somewhat negative to the web-based approach.
Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?
The department has decided to redesign this course, the second course in the sequence, Survey of Chemistry II and the accompanying laboratory course for both courses, Experimental Chemistry using the Fully Online Model rather than the Replacement Model for all three courses. The main motivation for this decision is to reduce costs. This will allow the department to offer more upper-level courses for its majors.