Program in Course Redesign

Portland State University

The Traditional Course

Portland State University (PSU) is redesigning Introductory Spanish, a yearlong, multiple-section course. Because of funding and space limitations, enrollment in the traditional course has been arbitrarily set at about 240 students or about 690 enrollments over the entire year. Students earning a BA at PSU must complete the equivalent of two years of university–level language. In some academic years, current offerings can meet only 50% of the demand, and students are forced to enroll at other institutions.

The learning goals of the course are focused on basic language skills including speaking, listening, reading and writing Spanish materials representing every-day situations. One senior faculty member coordinates the course content; selects, trains and supervises the TAs; and teaches one section. Teaching assistants teach the 9-10 remaining sections with considerable variation in goals and teaching methods. The TAs lack significant training and experience in language acquisition, and the instructional approach often mimics older teaching practices focusing on language structure (grammar) rather than functional language acquisition, practice, and proficiency.

The traditional course is currently in transition in order to articulate with Oregon's new K-12 universal second language exit requirement. This new requirement has become an entrance standard for colleges, and moving to complementary mastery standards is part of the redesign. Pedagogy and basic materials (including a CD Rom and other materials prepared by the PSU faculty) are proficiency-oriented and practical. However, instruction, delivery of materials, staff training and supervision, and logistics (testing, grading) have not been modernized. In addition, there is significant inconsistency among sections.

The DFW rate is approximately 25% from fall to spring. This rate is related to the wide variation in Spanish proficiency on enrollment and the problem of "false beginners." These are students who have some basic language skills and are able to demonstrate proficiency early in the course but not later. The range of skills can be intimidating for actual beginners and may exacerbate early drop and withdrawals.

The Redesigned Course

The learning goals for the redesigned course require students to

  • increase proficiency in spoken language using classroom, online and collaborative learning;
  • use online course components to increase proficiency in language structure, writing and reading; and
  • improve cultural awareness through in class and online learning.

The redesigned course will increase enrollments by one-third to one-half. It will provide immediate support to low-achieving students and address inconsistencies among sections through improved planning, standardized materials and ongoing assessment and better coordination and training of teaching assistants. Finally, it will provide clear articulation between the new K-12 universal second-language requirement in Oregon (on exit) and the Oregon University System (on entry) through specification of learning outcomes for the course.

To accomplish these goals, the redesigned course will reduce class meeting times from three per week to two while increasing the time students spend in the crucial area of interactive speaking. Class time will be devoted to oral communication. Outside the classroom, online activities will include testing, writing and grammar instruction as well as small group activities focused on oral communication. In the redesigned format, in-class time will be further reduced for those students clearly performing above standards.

The primary instructional materials used in the redesign will be a multimedia version of the comprehensive proficiency-oriented introductory Spanish program "¿Cómo?" produced at Portland State. The course coordinator will develop all assignments, reducing preparation time for the TAs. TAs will be trained more consistently and thoroughly with greater emphasis on conducting the oral proficiency Interviews.

Student success online (for listening, reading and writing) and in the classroom (for speaking and listening) will be assessed regularly. Student assessments will be tracked weekly, and students not performing at acceptable levels will be notified by email and assigned to a special support section for assistance. This tracking will also identify false beginners with performance limitations. PSU expects that the majority of students will be excused from such activities.

Assessment will measure student success against established national (ACTFL) guidelines (including an Oral Proficiency Interview that has been widely validated) and Oregon standards. This will allow the university to compare results with progressive pedagogy to baseline literature about results of traditional pedagogy, to compare the added effect of use of multimedia to the same material delivered conventionally, and to gauge the effect of new remediation strategies on students' performance. Implementation assessment will be addressed through videotaping of classrooms as well as more conventional procedures.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 10-week term
  • 10 sections each term of 20-24 students
  • 4 contact hours per week: 3 (1.3-hour) lectures
  • One full-time faculty member teaches one section per term. The faculty member prepares and delivers lectures; trains, supervises and evaluates 9 TAs; creates assignments and exams; and holds 2 office hours per week.
  • Nine TAs each teach one section per term. They prepare and deliver lectures, create assignments and exams, proctor and grade exams, attend orientation and staff meetings, and hold 2 office hours per week.
  • Professional staff prepare paper materials, and copy and distribute handouts, assignments, tests and exams.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 10-week term
  • 10 sections per term of 30 – 36 students
  • 2 contact hours per week: 2 (1.3-hour) class meetings; 1 (1-hour) recitation session is required for students identified as performing below expectations
  • One full-time faculty member coordinates the course. The faculty member prepares and conducts 2 class meetings per week, supervises 10 TAs, creates assignments and exams, holds 2 office hours per week, conducts TA training and monitors their performance.
  • Ten TAs teach 10 sections per term. They conduct class meetings for two to three sections with a partner TA; conduct one team-taught class meeting (conversation only) per week with a partner TA; grade assignments; proctor exams; manage student proficiency assessment grading in WebCT; hold office hours; and attend orientation, training and staff meetings.
  • Professional staff convert written materials to electronic format for Web posting, maintain grade and enrollment data in course management software (WebCT), and monitor automated email to enrolled students.


In summary, the redesigned course will implement the following changes:

  • Reduce class time while maintaining current levels of speaking and writing proficiency
  • Move multimedia reading, writing and listening materials to the online environment
  • Increase course quality by using class time and online environments more effectively
  • Increase class time spent in oral communication
  • Increase small group communication and oral practice in assigned study groups
  • Improve cultural awareness
  • Implement improved assessment of speaking and writing
  • Monitor low-achieving students and direct those having difficulties to small group sessions for additional oral practice
  • Shift the responsibility for the development of assignments to the course director
  • Automate record-keeping
  • Reduce preparation time for teaching assistants
  • Provide additional training for teaching assistants to conduct oral proficiency Interviews



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