Arizona Board of Regents: Learner-Centered Education Course Redesign Initiative

Arizona State University

Course Title: Women in Society
Redesign Coordinator: Mary Margaret Fonow

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Project Abstract

The Tempe campus of Arizona State University (ASU) plans to redesign Women in Society and Women in Contemporary Society, two high-enrollment courses that provide an introduction to majors and fulfill general education requirements. Both courses provide an overview of the Women's Studies discipline and an overview of issues facing women in contemporary American society. Women in Society, enrolling ~1400 students annually, was designed as the lower division introductory course. Women in Contemporary Society, with an annual enrollment of about 1000 students, was designed as an entry course for transfer students and juniors. The courses are generally taught in a large-lecture format with section sizes ranging from 100 to 200 students. Student learning is assessed through machine-scored exams and a personal reflection paper. Women in Contemporary Society students write an additional paper. The courses are taught by a mix of full-time tenure track faculty, lecturers, instructors, and faculty associates based on a common list of topics.

The traditional course faces four main challenges. First, the course does not include any recitation or lab work where students are asked to engage in higher order thinking and apply concepts to real-life examples. Second, the students have a broad range of skill in understanding the material. The large class size makes it difficult to provide rapid personalized feedback. Third, ASU serves a diverse group of students. Approximately one quarter of the students in the courses are men and about one third are students of color. Women's Studies courses offer students the opportunity to connect to the curriculum in a way that is both academic and personal, which can have a positive impact on student retention. Fourth, the total student enrollment in all Women's and Gender Studies courses has increased by almost 50% in the last six years. The department wants to be able to increase the number of students served without adding significant new faculty.

ASU plans to use the Replacement Model in the redesigned course. Part of the lecture time will be replaced with required online student activities and discussion. They will work in small groups, participating in discussions around course topics and complete individual and group activities such as virtual field trips or examining real data on women's issues. To increase student feedback, Blackboard will be used to deliver a series of required, low-stakes quizzes, and personal response systems in the remaining lectures will be used to provide more in-class feedback.

The redesigned course will enhance quality in several ways by increasing student engagement with the course. Students will be asked to actively interact with the material and their peers. They will learn to apply course concepts to real-life examples. Student progress will be monitored. They will receive more frequent, individualized feedback which should improve their learning before the high stakes exams.

Student learning will be assessed by comparing scores on common exams from the traditional sections with the redesigned sections. The assessment effort will also examine and compare student success and completion rates between the traditional and redesigned courses. Finally, the team will also assess affective measures in terms of student perceptions of their own engagement in the course and activities.

The redesign will allow ASU to increase the number of students served from 2400 to 2800 by increasing section size to 400 from a range of 100-200 students as well as by changing the mix of instructional staff. Some full-time faculty will be replaced through the use of additional graduate teaching assistants and undergraduate learning assistants to facilitate the online activities. The redesign will reduce the cost-per-student from $78 to $57, a 27% decrease. The cost savings will be used to shift faculty time to other teaching and research responsibilities in the program. Faculty time is needed elsewhere both to serve growing student demand and to staff a new doctoral program in Gender Studies, which begins in academic year 2007-2008.

Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Impact on Students

Improved Learning

The team completed several assessments comparing traditional sections with redesigned sections taught by three faculty members. The spring 2007 traditional course had three written assignments, one short paper (3-5 pages), a midterm and a final exam. The fall 2008 redesigned courses had 12 online assignments, a midterm and a final exam.

The first assessment compared midterm and final exam grades. In each of the fall 2008 redesigned sections, the average midterm grade was higher than the average of the spring 2007 traditional course.

  • In course redesign A, the average midterm grade was 2.79% higher;
  • In course redesign B, the average midterm grade was 14.61% higher; and,
  • In course redesign C, the average midterm grade was 9.92% higher

Final exam grades in the fall 2008 redesigned courses were also higher than in the spring 2007 traditional course.

  • Course redesign A was 6.13% higher;
  • Course redesign B was 7.83% higher; and,
  • Course redesign C was 7.49% higher.

A t test showed that the higher midterm scores of combined sections (Tuesday and Thursdays) for course redesign A and B and combined sections (Monday and Wednesday) for course redesign C were statistically significant. However, the midterm scores for the course redesign A Tuesday section was not statistically significantly better than the midterm scores in the spring 2007 traditional course. T tests for the higher final exam scores indicated statistically significant results in all redesigned courses.

Improved Retention

The second assessment compared completion/retention results.

  • The percentage of A grades in all of the fall 2008 course redesign sections were higher than the average number of A grades in the spring 2007 traditional course.
  • The percentage of passing grades (C or better) in the course redesigns were lower than in the traditional course,
  • The percentage of grades with a D or higher were lower than in the traditional course,

Although students did better on exams, low assignment scores including assignments not completed impacted the final grades.

Other Impacts on Students

  • The team believes that the hybrid format allowed them to deliver the course both more efficiently and consistently.
  • Students generally were quite satisfied with the redesign because it afforded them increased opportunities for peer interaction.
  • Students enjoyed the flexibility of the hybrid in completing on line assignments
  • Students benefited from a design that played to their different learning styles. In-class material was supplemented by a variety of different exercises both visual and experiential.
  • Student participation was facilitated by discussion boards, which allowed all students to contribute to the conversation while still allowing anonymity.
  • Students enjoyed working with undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs), who seemed more approachable than GTAs.
  • Blackboard allowed students more access to instructors, graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), ULAs and each other.
  • Because the class only met in person one day a week, student attendance seemed to increase.

Impact on Cost Savings

The redesign achieved cost savings by increasing class size from 150-200 to 400 and reducing the number of sections from nine to four. The instructional mix was changed to include fewer regular faculty and more GTAs and ULAs. The cost-per-student was reduced from $78 in the traditional course to $57 in the redesign. The cost savings will allow the department to accommodate new student growth during a time of retrenchment and to meet the demands of a new graduate program.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

  • Peer mentoring. Students in the large lectures were broken into smaller 40-person groups online. Each group was administered by a ULA and a GTA. Students thus had the opportunity to interact with peer teachers as well as their instructors and GTAs. In fall 2009, the program will offer a separate course for these ULAs to be completed in conjunction with their work on the redesign. This course will provide opportunities for them to increase their technical expertise and their teaching techniques as well as to develop new material for the course.
  • Discussion boards. In the traditional 200-student sections, group discussions were very difficult. In the redesign, each student was placed within a smaller community and had to complete a series of five discussion boards on a number of issues. Talking in front of a group can be a very intimidating experience for many students, but the online format allowed them anonymity. It also let them compose their thoughts before making a post.
  • Quizzes. Students took a series of four quizzes which were based only on the readings to assess student comprehension of the material. Using online quizzes was helpful because 1) they were self-graded, which required no additional GTA or ULA grading, and 2) they tested on the content appearing on exams.
  • Experiential assignments. Students had a series of three experiential assignments, which required them to learn by doing. For example, during a unit on gender roles, students were asked to play “Toy Store Detectives” in order to analyze the messages about gender embedded in children’s toys.

Cost Savings Techniques

  • Fewer staff required. The program was able to serve 1200 students (903 in Women in Society and 300 students in Women in Contemporary Society) with only three faculty members (one tenure track and two instructors).
  • Undergraduate learning assistants. During the grant period, the team was able to pay the ULAs, but in the future they will be required to take a pedagogy course in conjunction with their work on the redesign. Thus, they will receive course credit for their participation instead of pay.
  • GTA training. GTAs will be trained to teach future sections, thus further lowering the cost of the course.

Implementation Issues

  • Technology. The team was able to use a lot of pre-existing materials that had been used face-to-face in the traditional course because of the ease of transferability to the Blackboard site.
  • 24/7 access to resources. Students were able to access course content 24 hours a day, allowing them to work at their own pace to submit assignments before deadlines. Since many students work full- or part-time, the flexibility of the online component allowed them to work around their employment schedules.


The redesigned courses will be very easy to sustain and to replicate for new faculty. This redesign allowed the program to standardize its survey courses. In the past, each instructor taught her own version, and the results were often uneven. Now the course is delivered consistently. The redesigns were so successful that the team may adapt the model for some other large classes. To achieve even better results, instructors will emphasize the importance of completing all assignments.



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