View Site Map

University System of Maryland: Maryland Course Redesign Initiative (2006 – 2009)

Improving Learning and Reducing Costs:
A Summary of Program Outcomes

By Carol A. Twigg

From June 2006 to June 2009, the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) conducted a program in course redesign in partnership with the University System of Maryland (USM) called the Maryland Course Redesign Initiative (MCRI). The goals of this partnership were to 1) build on the successful models and lessons learned from NCAT’s national programs to create a course redesign program within USM; 2) adopt new ways to improve student learning outcomes and demonstrate these improvements through rigorous assessment; 3) reduce instructional costs and free up instructional resources for other purposes; 4) produce a number of successful USM course redesigns that could be spread to institutions throughout the system; and, 5) develop the internal capacity of USM faculty and staff to continue the course redesign process. All of those goals were achieved.

The MCRI awarded grants of $40,000 to support the redesign process; $20,000 from the system, and $20,000 from the project’s campus. NCAT engaged the USM institutions in an extensive planning process to teach applicants its principles of course redesign. The NCAT process required institutional teams to follow a highly structured, iterative course redesign development process. Of the 21 teams that began the process, 10 were ultimately selected for funding. The final selection was made by USM Central Administration. The following proposals were funded: Coppin State University: Mathematics; Frostburg State University: Psychology; Salisbury University: Biology; Towson University: Developmental Math; University of Maryland Eastern Shore: Chemistry; University of Maryland, Baltimore: Nursing; University of Maryland, Baltimore County: Psychology; University of Maryland, College Park: Psychology; University of Maryland University College: Biology and University of Baltimore: Writing. NCAT recommended against funding three of the 10 due to their lack of a cost reduction strategy. Two of the remaining seven failed to submit a complete final report. Five of the 10 projects completed the redesign process and fully implemented their redesigns in fall 2008.

The results achieved by those five MCRI projects that completed their plans for improving learning and reducing costs were very strong. The redesigns impacted approximately 5,300 students. All five of the projects demonstrated improved student learning as measured by direct comparisons of content mastery. Three of the five projects improved course completion rates (as measured by a final grade of C or better). One showed a completion rate equivalent to the traditional format. In the fifth project, completion rates declined despite documented increased in student learning, attributable to prior grade inflation in the traditional course. All five of the projects reduced their instructional costs—on average by 50%, and three projects saved more than originally projected. The annual savings for the five projects was $397,636. All five of the redesigns will definitely be sustained after the grant period is over.

Project Outcomes

What follows is a summary of the USM course redesign projects’ final reports, which cover the following projects.

  • Frostburg State University, General Psychology
  • Salisbury University, Fundamentals of Biology
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Introduction to Psychology
  • University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Principles of Chemistry
  • University of Maryland University College, Concepts of Biology

1) Did student learning improve (as measured by direct comparisons of content mastery)?

5          Yes

2) Did course completion rates improve (as measured by comparisons of final grades)?

3          Yes
1          No difference
1          No

3) Were instructional costs reduced?

5          Yes
            (In addition, 3 projects saved more than originally projected.)

4) Will the redesign be sustained after the grant period is over?

5          Yes

1) Did student learning improve (as measured by direct comparisons of content mastery)?

Yes

1. Frostburg State Psychology  (compared common final exams)

  • Students in the redesigned sections (Mean = 75%) performed significantly better than students in the traditional sections (Mean = 68%) on a common final exam of 50 multiple-choice questions.
  • Dividing the exam into factual versus conceptual questions yielded similar results. Students from the redesign performed significantly better than students from traditional sections. Follow-up analyses revealed that final exam scores were positively correlated with student scores on the mastery quizzes (r = .523).
  • An optional extra-credit essay that asked students to write about prejudice was also given with the final exam.  A grading rubric provided points for each correctly used psychological concept in order to separate "general public" answers from answers by knowledgeable psychology students. Results indicated students in the redesign sections (Mean = 2.845) performed significantly better than students in the traditional sections (Mean = 1.092). Follow-up analyses revealed that students' essay scores significantly correlated with both their grades on the semester-long prejudice project (r = .328) and their grades for online discussions (r = .244).
  • During the fall 2008 full implementation, the team compared performance on 43 questions out of the original 50 questions from the pilot semester final to both the traditional and redesigned sections from spring 2008. Students from full redesign (Mean = 77%) performed significantly better than students from pilot redesign (Mean = 70%), who performed significantly better than students from traditional sections (Mean = 65%). The effect size was a strong .825. The same pattern of results (full redesign > pilot redesign > traditional sections) was obtained comparing factual versus conceptual questions.

2. Salisbury Biology (compared common exam questions)

  • Students in the redesigned course outperformed students in the traditional course on common exam questions. The average percentage correct for the traditional students was 74% whereas for the redesigned students, the average was 82%.

3. University of Maryland, Baltimore County Psychology (compared common exams)

  • The percentage of students scoring an average grade of C or higher on four common exams was 83.5% in the spring and fall 2008 redesigned sections compared to 72.3% in the spring 2008 traditional sections.

4. University of Maryland Eastern Shore Chemistry  (compared final grades based on common assignments, exams and grading rubrics)

  • The UMES team compared the final grades earned by students in the traditional format and in the redesigned format. The two formats were taught using the same materials, homework assignments and exams and were coordinated by a single professor. The number of students who earned a grade of C or better in the traditional course was 54.5%. In the redesigned pilot course, that number approached 66%, and in the spring 2009 full implementation, it was 69.4%.

5. University of Maryland University College Biology  (compared common final exam questions)

  • Final exam questions were mapped to course objectives. Students in spring 2007 traditional sections scored correctly an average 26.62 of 40 test items on a common final exam. Students in redesigned sections in spring 2008 scored correctly an average 27.18 of 40.

2) Did course completion rates improve (measured by comparing final grades)?

Yes

1. University of Maryland, Baltimore County Psychology

  • During the fall 2008 full implementation semester, the redesigned sections had a withdrawal rate of 3.2%. This was the lowest withdrawal rate documented since 2000, when rates have ranged from 4.1% to 10.3 %.

2. University of Maryland Eastern Shore Chemistry

  • The number of students who earned a grade of C or better in the traditional course was 54.5%. In the redesigned pilot course, that number approached 66%, and in the spring 2009 full implementation, it was 69.4%.
  • In the spring 2009 full implementation, the percentage of D grades decreased by 11% and the percentage of F grades decreased by 3.1% compared with the spring 2008 traditional section.

3. University of Maryland University College Biology

  • The percentage of students earning a C or better was 49% in the traditional laboratory course and 58% in the traditional lecture course. The percentage of students earning a C or better was 61% in the redesigned combined course.
  • The non-success rate (F-FN-W) was reduced from 38% in the lab course to 34% and has remained stable over two semesters.
  • The percentage of As and Bs increased from 42% in the lecture course and 38% in the lab course to 48% in the redesigned course and has remained constant for two semesters.
  • The percentage of Fs decreased for the redesigned course.

No difference

1. Frostburg State Psychology  (compared common final exams)

  • The average DFW rate for General Psychology was 12.5% during 1998 - 2006. The fall 2008 full implementation rate was 12.8%, similar to the rate prior to redesign.

No

1. Salisbury Biology

  • The percentage of students (N = 648) earning a grade of C or better was 77% in the traditional course (fall 2007) compared with 72% of students (N = 513) in the redesigned course (spring 2009.) Some fall 2007 sections, however, used a grading method that inflated the final grade distribution whereas no sections used that method during spring 2009 and in subsequent semesters.

3) Were instructional costs reduced?

Yes

1. Frostburg State Psychology

  • FSU saved more than they anticipated. As planned, the team reduced the number of instructors (full-time and adjunct) needed to teach the course. The cost-per-student was reduced from $89 to $26 (not $32 as first estimated), a 71% decrease.
  • The additional cost savings were due to FSU’s not paying as many undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) as originally planned. The team planned to pay 12 ULAs. In the pilot, they were not paid. Instead, FSU developed a ULA certification process, where students registered for credit and were not paid. As they did during full implementation, FSU in the future will pay half the ULAs (who work in the lab) $6,000 total per year; the other half (who do other activities) will be part of the certification process and will not be paid.

2. Salisbury Biology

  • Cost reduction was greater than originally planned. By reducing class time to one hour per week instead of the 1.5 hours projected and by increasing enrollment in lecture sections to 120 students instead of the 96 projected, the team has reduced the number of lecture sections from 12 to eight annually rather than 10 as originally planned. One full-time faculty member and three lecturers each teach one section each term. The cost-per-student has decreased from $329 in the traditional to $155 in the redesign, a 53% decrease. Since the course serves approximately 1,000 students per year, a savings of $174 per student is substantial.

3. University of Maryland, Baltimore County Psychology

  • The redesign decreased the number of sections required each year from seven to five. This allowed the reassignment of two faculty each semester to teach other courses, freed up classroom space for other courses and decreased the need for graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) from two to one.

4. University of Maryland Eastern Shore Chemistry

  • The actual cost savings to the university was higher than the team anticipated. The average cost-per-student in the traditionally offered course was $268. The projected cost-per-student for the redesign was $151, a 44% reduction. The full implementation actually decreased the cost-per-student to $80, a 70% reduction.
  • The increased savings was due to increased section size. UMES was able to enroll 30% more students per semester than before.

5. University of Maryland University College Biology

  • Increasing the enrollments per section from 25 to 30 and combining two courses into one meant that fewer faculty members were needed. Rather than the anticipated savings of $84,000, there was a reduction of $50,000 in instructional costs for the redesigned course.
  • The costs to the institution for the administering proctored final exams have been reduced since there is only one exam to administer. The combination of two courses into one resulted in a 50% reduction in the number of exams administered by Exams and Testing. Cost savings were also realized on final exam development. Exam chairs are paid $2,000 per year to design common final exams, and a single exam meant a savings of $2,000 in exam chair contracts.
  • Students no longer need to buy the laboratory kit, so student costs have been reduced by $40 per student.
  • The combination of two courses into a single course reduced the costs of course revision. Online courses are revised every three years, and typical revisions cost $30,000. Since only a single course will need to be revised, there will be a savings of $30,000 in course development costs

4) Will the redesign be sustained after the grant period is over?

Yes

1. Frostburg State Psychology

  • The support for the redesigned course has not wavered within the department, and there is every indication that it will remain.

2. Salisbury Biology

  • The combination of increased student learning, increased student engagement and cost reduction ensures that the redesigned course model is sustainable. Faculty teaching the redesigned course find it to be effective and enjoyable, even more so as they gain experience with the new model.
  • Not only will the redesign be sustained, redesign successes are being extended to other portions of the biology curriculum at Salisbury University. The Department of Biological Sciences at Salisbury University is currently discussing the application of course redesign principles to other large-enrollment courses like Anatomy and Physiology.  Another introductory course for majors has also benefited from approaches implemented in the course redesign.

3. University of Maryland, Baltimore County Psychology

  • Redesign faculty are currently committed to maintaining the redesign, and one is assigned to teach the course in the fall 2009 schedule. Faculty teaching this course in the future will benefit from the efforts of the redesign initiative.

4. University of Maryland Eastern Shore Chemistry

  • Prior to the MCRI, the traditional version of the course commonly employed up to six professors per year. The redesign decreased the number of sections offered annually from seven to three. This freed one full-time faculty member to teach other courses. Two professors are now assigned to teach the redesigned course, one of which is the coordinator.
  • The team’s success is most evident in that other groups within the Department of Natural Sciences plan to follow their example and redesign their freshman gatekeeper courses.
  • Other benefits for faculty and students will accrue when the department incorporates the redesigned courses into its curricula. These benefits include offering advanced courses, increased grantsmanship, increased time for research and increased service to the university and the community.

5. University of Maryland University College Biology

  • The answer is a resounding yes. All aspects of the redesign are sustainable, and the benefits have been documented in this report. The university has been experimenting with variable term lengths, and a course like this one, which has rich online learning resources, is flexible enough to adapt to different term lengths. The only modification necessary is to change the syllabus and schedule. The model of combining two courses into one is being followed for the university’s Introductory Physical Science three-credit survey and one-credit lab courses, currently in course development. The model of aligning all aspects of online course development with course objectives has been adopted as a general principle for course development in the School of Undergraduate Studies.

Final reports from each completed redesign are at http://www.thencat.org/States/USM/USM%20Project%20Descriptions.htm. Final reports include learning outcome data, course completion data, cost reduction data, a discussion of the most important pedagogical techniques that led to increased learning, a discussion of the most important cost reduction techniques that led to reduced costs, a discussion of implementation issues encountered during the redesign process, and a discussion of future sustainability of the redesign.

 

 

Quick Links:

University System of Maryland Main Page..