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St. Cloud State University

Course Title: Introduction to Communication Studies
Debra Japp

Status: This project originated as part of a collaborative program between NCAT and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, 2005 – 2006. NCAT’s role was to introduce the course redesign methodology to MnSCU institutions and assist them in developing a project plan. NCAT was not involved in project implementation; consequently, the project’s status is unknown. For more information, contact Lynda Milne at or the project contact listed above. The project plan serves as a good example of how to think about redesigning a large-enrollment course.

Project Plan:
Saint Cloud State University (SCSU) is redesigning Introduction to Communication Studies, a large-enrollment introductory course required of all students who graduate from SCSU. The course serves approximately 3,000 students annually in sections of 26. Each section meets 150 minutes per week for 16 weeks. Students are taught in a traditional format that combines lecture, discussion and speaking activities.

The course faces significant academic problems. First, the need for sections continues to grow. Second, the constant pressure to meet increasing enrollment demands threatens the quality of the department’s major and minor programs. Third, the labor-intensive nature of the course limits faculty creativity, scholarship and ability to participate in ongoing and new university initiatives. Fourth, the traditional format is inflexible, making it difficult to accommodate students with diverse learning styles and different levels of preparation.

SCSU plans to redesign the course using a replacement model. The redesign will maintain the fundamental components of the introductory communication course: critical thinking, collaborative learning, small group interaction, speech preparation and delivery. One instructor and two undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) will lead sections of 48 students. UTAs will support instructors by mentoring two "pods" of 12 students that meet weekly for structured discussions. A communication center, staffed by faculty and undergraduate teaching assistants, will provide students with individualized help on speech preparation, outlines, and course material. In addition, course content, quizzes and exams will be delivered through Desire2Learn, a web-based course management system, replacing lectures and in-class quizzes and exams.

The course redesign will enhance quality by: 1) increasing student time spent on task; 2) increasing the amount of individualized instruction available to students; 3) promoting active and collaborative learning; 4) promoting student ownership of their learning by creating self-directed learning activities; 5) addressing the diverse range of student learning styles; and, 6) allowing students to proceed at their own pace. During the pilot phase, student learning will be assessed by comparing outcomes from parallel sections of both the traditional and redesigned courses. SCSU will compare common course content items selected from exams, use common rubrics in evaluating speeches and allow students to assess their own learning on open-ended question responses. Student, TA, and faculty satisfaction will also be measured in course evaluations and interviews.

SCSU’s course redesign will standardize course content across sections. It will increase instructional efficiency by using online course management and undergraduate teaching assistants, creating substantial savings. Section size will increase from 26 to 48, and the number of sections offered will be reduced from 116 to 64, each taught by one faculty member and two UTAs. This will reduce the cost-per-student from $310 to $171, resulting in an estimated 45% savings. By reducing the number of sections faculty teach (from 4 to 2 per year) and thus reducing their total course load, SCSU will be able to invest in other important department and university initiatives. These include strengthening faculty scholarship, developing a graduate program, increasing student retention, enhancing student advising and creating outreach curricula and projects for alumni and the St. Cloud community.


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