University System of Maryland: Maryland Course Redesign Initiative
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Course Title: Principles of Chemistry
University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) plans to redesign Principles of Chemistry, the first semester course in a two-semester sequence chemistry regimen designed for freshman science and health professions program majors. In 2006, four sections of Principles of Chemistry were offered during the fall semester and three during the spring semester. In the 2005-2006 academic year, approximately 20% of the freshman class enrolled in Principles of Chemistry. The course is taught in the traditional lecture format in sections of 50 students. Professors, typically three per semester, use a combination of Power Point presentations, the Blackboard Learning System, and chalk-talks. Each section meets three times a week for 50 minutes.
Principles of Chemistry suffers from the following academic problems: 1) inconsistent knowledge of incoming students; 2) poor student retention of material; 3) a 55.1% student retention rate in regard to enrollment into the second part of the freshman chemistry regimen; 4) a lecture-based format which is ineffective in engaging students; and 5) a lack of coordination among the faculty members teaching the course, leading to course drift and inconsistent learning outcomes.
The university's plan will use the Replacement Model to redesign Principles of Chemistry. The traditional three-50 minute lectures per week will be replaced with one-75 minute lecture each week and two required hours in a chemistry computer lab using modularized chemistry tutorial software packages. The section size will be increased from ~50 to ~90 students each. The software will monitor student time and progress, assign and grade homework, randomly generate and grade quizzes, as well as assign, grade, and compare pre- and post-module assessments. An optional recitation session, meeting once a week, will review the concepts covered in that week's learning module. These sessions will be mandatory for students scoring less than 75% on quizzes and/or examinations.
The redesign will enhance Principles of Chemistry by encouraging individualized, active learning through technology-based modular exercises, ongoing and prompt assessment and feedback. ULAs and tutors will offer on-demand, personalized assistance. The redesign team anticipates that the reinforcement of concepts presented in the lecture by completing modularized exercises as well as the support provided by individual assistance and online resources will increase the students' performance in the redesigned course and in subsequent chemistry courses.
One professor will teach both the traditional Principles of Chemistry course and the redesigned course during the pilot phase. These courses will be offered mid-day to eliminate the temporal factor and will employ the same materials. A comparison of pre- and post-module assessments, common exam grades, final grades (A-F, P/F), drop/fail/withdraw (DFW) rates, and retention rates will be utilized in the assessment of the impact of course redesign.
Appreciable savings will be achieved by decreasing the number of sections from seven to four and increasing section size from ~50 to ~90 students each. The number of professors will be decreased from six to two, and lecture time will be replaced with computer-based learning experiences, eliminating the duplication of professors' efforts. The software will automatically grade homework and tests. UMES projects that the cost-per-student will decrease from $268 to $151, a reduction of 44% or a savings of ~$21,000 per semester. The redesign efforts will allow an increased amount of faculty time dedicated to research and on faculty development and will enable the faculty to teach additional advanced courses.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
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%.
The final grades for both formats are reported above.
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.
Other Impacts on Students
Faculty observed that:1) female students were more likely to work through the web-based problems as teams; 2) female students were more likely to seek assistance; 3) students were more likely to seek assistance from the learning assistant than the professor, and 4) student use of the text to complete the web-based activities improved.
Of the pilot population, 17.9% of the students were enrolled in fundamentals of reading, writing and/or mathematics; 21.4% of the full implementation course population were enrolled in fundamental courses. Consequently, the team developed a series of notes to assist students in learning how to be successful in university study of chemistry. These notes were posted on Blackboard after each lecture.
Were costs reduced as planned?
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. The increased student enrollment in the course, however, significantly strained the resources for offering the laboratory co-requisite course.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
What implementation issues were most important?
Will the redesign be sustained now that the MCRI project is over ?
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.