|Program in Course Redesign
The University of Alabama
The University of Alabama plans to redesign Intermediate Algebra, a pre-General Studies course enrolling 1500 students each year, in order to address poor student performance. Approximately 50 percent of all undergraduate students place into the course (which essentially repeats material that should have been learned in high school). Students perform poorly (more than 50 percent receive grades of D or F), report high levels of dissatisfaction with the course, and often need to repeat the course several times. A student’s initial math course plays a key role in establishing either a successful or a problematic transition from high school to the university. Those students who receive a grade of D or F in Intermediate Algebra show a 30 percent six-year graduation rate compared to the university average of 55 percent.
Modeled in part on the Math Emporium at Virginia Tech, the course redesign involves the development of a student-centered, computer-assisted, self-paced tutorial course that allows the individual student to focus precisely on his or her questions and difficulties. Through its diagnostic and record-keeping functions, the software used in the course will provide quick feedback to students, instant assessment of skills competencies, and a steady flow of information to the instructors and tutors. The interactive nature of the new teaching and learning process will require students to be active participants rather than passive observers.
A small pilot program conducted during the spring 2000 semester indicates that students spend more time working on problems, do better on exams, and show a greater persistence to the final exam, findings that agree with results achieved at Virginia Tech. The D/F rate for students in the computer-based sections of Intermediate Algebra was 27 percent, well below the 43 percent rate for students in the traditional version of the course. Furthermore, on all four of the regular exams, the computer-based students outperformed the "regular" students. Ninety-one percent of the students in the pilot program evaluated the computer-based approach as superior to a traditional course.
The university plans to assess the impact of course redesign on learning in several ways. Perhaps the easiest and most definitive measure is student performance: semester grade averages and grade distributions. The team will look with particular attention at the number of students earning D, F, and W grades. They will also conduct periodic satisfaction surveys with students to study both their attitudes toward math generally and toward the computer-based approach to learning. They will also track student performance in subsequent courses, particularly the next math course, in order to assess how well the students are being prepared.
The redesign will reduce the cost-per-student from $122 to $86, a 30 percent savings. This a result of a classic substitution of capital for labor as software replaces instructor hours previously devoted to in-class instruction, record keeping and grading. Instead of spending time on lectures and presentations, instructors can devote time directly (through tutorial interaction in the lab) to each student’s specific, immediate needs. Instead of spending time grading homework, quizzes, and exams, the instructors can engage the student in more direct, personalized tutorial assistance. In addition, the university anticipates additional savings as fewer students need to repeat the course and as greater numbers of student remain at the university (and pay tuition).
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