|The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning: Mississippi Course Redesign Initiative
Mississippi State University
Course Title: Introduction to Statistics
Mississippi State University (MSU) plans to redesign Introduction to Statistics, which enrolls ~790 students annually in 22 sections. Seven sections, each with 45 students, are offered in both the fall and the spring; eight sections of 20 students each are scheduled in the summer. This three-hour course is currently taught in a traditional lecture format with an online homework component. A coordinator teaches one section and is responsible for the syllabus, assignments and exams used by all sections. The remaining sections are taught by graduate teaching assistants (GTAs.)
The demand for Introduction to Statistics is projected to increase by 190 students or 24% annually to fulfill the university’s math requirement. Enrollment is currently at full capacity, and the redesign will enable the department to serve the additional students and provide a consistent learning experience for all students.
MSU will redesign Introduction to Statistics using the Replacement Model. Each week, students will attend one lecture and one mandatory recitation session and will spend two required hours in the Math Domain computer lab. Recitation sessions, led by GTAs, will review course content and answer students’ questions. Students will work in the Math Domain sessions on projects involving statistical applications and will complete online homework. These sessions will also be used for proctored online quizzes and tests.
The redesigned course will enhance the students’ educational experience, making them active and engaged learners, and will provide a consistent learning experience for all. Online tutorials and guided solutions for homework will support students in their learning. Online mastery quizzes, which can be taken up to three times, and tests will be graded automatically, providing immediate feedback to students. GTAs will provide tutoring and individual assistance in the Math Domain and closely monitor student progress. A principal benefit of the redesign will be uniformity of instruction across sections. An experienced faculty member will provide the core learning material, GTAs will reinforce it during the recitation sessions and students will practice it in the Math Domain.
Student learning outcomes will be assessed by comparing common final exams in the traditional format during 2007-2008 to the redesigned sections. Success rates and course grades, using common criteria, will also be compared.
MSU will reduce the cost of instruction by increasing the number of students served annually from 790 in 22 small sections to 980 in seven large sections. Two sections, each with 200 students, will be offered in the fall and spring. Three sections with 60 students per section will be offered in the summer. The number of faculty will increase from four to five and GTAs will decrease from eight to seven. These actions will reduce the cost-per-student from $133 to $110, a 17% savings. The redesign plan will also enable the department to meet anticipated future enrollment growth on the same resource base, thus producing an additional reduction in the cost-per-student.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
Performance on common final exams from two redesigned sections (N=318 students) taught during fall 2009 was compared to performance of 2788 students taught from 2002 to 2007. The exams for each semester were similar in content and difficulty. A slight improvement was seen on the comprehensive final exam in the redesigned sections. The mean score on the exam for students in the redesigned course was 75% compared to the five-year average of 72.7% in the traditional course. This difference was not statistically significant.
In the redesigned course, 65.4% completed the course with a C or better. The five-year average for the traditional course was 67.12%.
The percentage of enrolled students who took the final exam was 86.1% in the fall 2009 full implementation of the redesign, roughly the same as the five-year average of 87.9%.
Were costs reduced as planned?
MSU planned to reduce the cost of instruction by increasing the number of students served annually from 790 in 22 small sections to 980 in seven large sections. The cost savings plan was implemented successfully, but enrollment was less than expected during the first implementation. In future semesters, the team expects the projected savings to be realized. These actions will reduce the cost-per-student from $133 to $110, a 17% savings.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Online component. The online component helped students become more immersed in the course. The online component made it possible for students to individualize their preparation and adapt the presentation of course content to their particular learning style whether it be through video lectures, guided practice, textbook pages, or simply viewing an example. Students completed homework and tutorials for each chapter online. Students took mastery quizzes before each test to help identify specific weaknesses and target these with additional practice problems available through a computer-generated study plan.
Two required hours per week in the Math Domain. Students’ understanding of real-life applications of statistics were enhanced by requiring lab projects using online statistical packages applied to large data sets. Online course materials were provided that allowed students to develop individualized plans of study and to take a more active role in learning. Tutors in the Math Domain offered one-on-one assistance and have been trained with the goal of active participation by the student. Individual help was available 36 hours per week from GTAs in the Math Domain.
Accommodating a variety of learning styles. The redesign addressed different learning styles through a variety of presentation methods. Instructors gave weekly lectures in which students were introduced to concepts. Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) conducted weekly recitations in which students participated in problem-solving. Students met in the computer lab each week to take quizzes and tests or to complete lab projects using a statistical package.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
While enrollment in the fall 2009 semester was less than anticipated, the redesigned course enabled an increase in enrollment with no additional resources. In particular, no additional faculty were required. The use of online quizzes with machine grading significantly reduced copying costs. Time previously spent on grading by GTAs was reallocated to tutoring in the Math Domain.
What implementation issues were most important?
Content coverage. Instructors found it difficult to cover the course content with the weekly lecture. One 50-minute lecture per week did not allow for adequate coverage of the content or give the instructor time to demonstrate sample problems. In a survey of enrolled students, 55.48% responded that the lectures were a waste of their time. The team has decided to change the lectures to 75 minutes per week, allowing the instructor to make the lectures more beneficial.
Scheduling issues. Students continued to have difficulty adjusting to the non-traditional schedule. The department revised the way the course was scheduled during registration, but the students continued to raise concerns about missing class or assignments at the beginning of the semester due to the confusing schedule. In the future, instructors and GTAs will make an effort to clarify the lecture/recitation/lab schedule in all classes.
Need for consistency between lecture and lab. Students were confused when the GTAs’ explanations or problem-solving methods varied from what was presented in the lecture. In the future, the instructors will provide solutions to the sample problems to be covered in the recitation sections to ensure that the GTAs are consistent in their approach. The faculty and GTAs teaching in the full implementation of the redesign in fall 2009 were new to its format, and therefore coordination between lecture and recitation sections, while better than the pilot’s, was not optimal. The team expects results to improve with increased experience of the faculty in oversight of the recitation sections and adjustments to the methods of presentation.
Inconsistent use of individualized help. Students did not use the Math Domain for individual assistance. In the end-of-course survey, 49.31% of enrolled students reported that they did not utilize the Math Domain for help when they needed it. Since offering individualized help to students was important to the success of our redesign, the department will consider steps to better advertise the benefits of the Math Domain to the student. The team plans to enforce the requirement two hours per week in the Math Domain by implementing software that tracks student activity. The team hopes to improve both retention and success rates by incorporating attendance in class and the Math Domain as a component of the student’s total score.
Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?
The department is committed to the redesigned course format, which offers significant financial and pedagogical benefits. Specifically, cost savings accrue through the ability to accommodate increased enrollment with limited faculty and staff and enhanced learning outcomes result from the increased accommodation of learning styles and the computer lab projects presenting realistic applications.The issues that remain center around coordinating lectures and recitations and improving success rates by enforcing class attendance and lab time. The former will be improved primarily by the additional experience of course instructors in course management. Attendance and class participation can be improved through the use of “clicker” response systems and software that monitors time in the lab.