Missouri Course Redesign Initiative

Missouri University of Science and Technology

Course Title: Chemistry I
Redesign Coordinator: Klaus Woelk

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 3/1/13)

Project Abstract

Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T) will redesign Chem 1, the first course in a sequence of two general-chemistry courses, with an annual enrollment currently exceeding 1,000 students. The targeted course provides general-chemistry education to both major and non-major students. For more than 75% of S&T’s students, Chem 1 is a required four-credit lecture and recitation course in which they typically enroll during their freshman year. Chem 1 is taught in four lecture and 32 recitation sections in the fall and two lecture and 12 recitation sections in the spring. Chem 1 does not include a laboratory portion. (The lab course is taught separately and will not be part of this redesign effort.)

The redesign will address the following academic issues: 1) Incoming students have extremely different backgrounds in chemistry. Typically, at least 10% of the students never had chemistry before, whereas 20% were enrolled in AP high-school courses or college-level introductory chemistry.  2) Students often lack successful learning strategies and resist adjusting their study skills as they transition from high school to university. 3) Student success (i.e., achieving high grades) too much relies on, or may be achieved by, rote memorization rather than developing conceptual thinking and problem-solving skills. 4) Student engagement in recitation classes is inconsistent and often inefficient. Recitations are often provided as another lecture in a smaller classroom setting but without encouraging student engagement or applying active-learning strategies. 5) Despite weekly meetings to adjust efforts and timelines, a considerable duplication of effort takes place when multiple instructors individually compile lecture notes, PowerPoint slides and clicker questions. 6) The chemistry department lost several faculty positions due to budget cuts and hiring freezes. As a consequence, 200- and 300-level courses are currently taught combined as one course. This practice sacrifices the quality of upper-level education and prevents students from taking 300-level courses as electives if they were previously enrolled in the 200-level course.

The redesigned chemistry course will use the Buffet Model and offer a variety of techniques for learning chemical-science principles and concepts. Students will be given the option to participate face-to-face or synchronously from a remote location. In-class assessment and feedback requests by clicker questions will be augmented with online response requests by ResponseWare of Turning Technologies. Recitations will be replaced with a choice between collaborative learning centers of active-learning and problem-solving activities or online modules. Computer-based tutorials common homework assignments and exams that are mandatory for all students will be offered using Pearson’s MasteringChemistry. To ensure engagement in the buffet, students will be required to develop a learning strategy and discuss a study plan with TAs or instructors. At regular intervals, this strategy may be adjusted. In the future, videotaped lectures with integrated assessments similar to the clicker questions will be offered as will the option of elective modules or activities to focus on extra-credit activities particularly designed for engineering or other physical-science disciplines.

The redesigned Chem 1 course will give students the opportunity to select from a wide pool of instructional materials and strategies to match their own learning characteristics and needs. This built-in flexibility will allow students to prepare effectively for challenges in subsequent courses. It will encourage active learning over memorization and help individualize study plans in a large-enrollment basic science course. It will better serve the needs of diverse learners with the goal of attracting and retaining more students, particularly underrepresented minorities, first-generation college students and students with different science or study-skill backgrounds. The modular online exercises will allow students to reinforce their conceptual understanding and take control of their progress, enhancing student satisfaction and student success.

During the pilot phase, one instructor will be in charge of two Chem 1 sections, one taught in the traditional fashion and one as a redesigned course. The major assessment dataset will be generated by the final exam, although four common intermediate exams will be used to track student performance throughout the semester. To test the homogeneity of the two groups, a prior-knowledge test based on high-school-level chemistry problems and a preparedness test for math relevant to science in general and chemistry specifically will be administered at the beginning of the semester. Similar datasets will be generated and compared after the full implementation of the redesigned course.

Five of the 19 tenured or tenure-track faculty members in chemistry are currently involved in general-chemistry education. They are joined by one non-tenure-track lecturer, one adjunct faculty, up to 10 TAs and six peer learning assistants. The course redesign will provide noticeable cost savings by reducing the number of instructors needed to teach the course. This reduction will be achieved mainly by increasing the section size from 200 to 400 students, reducing the number of sections offered annually from six to three, and transferring some student learning experiences online. These actions will reduce the cost-per-student by 19%, from $150 to $122. The chemistry department is in the process of hiring a non-tenure-track teaching professor whose primary responsibilities will be general-chemistry education and coordination. For the S&T chemistry department, the greatest saving and structural improvement achieved with this redesign is releasing professors from their general chemistry teaching duties and allowing them to offer a more varied and improved curriculum for upper-level undergraduate and graduate instruction.

Final Report (as of 3/1/13)

Impact on Students

In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?

Improved Learning

There was a considerable increase in performance on the post-assessment from the fall 2011 traditional course (mean=70.93%) to the fall 2012 redesigned course (mean=80.39%).

In addition, a math and science preparedness test developed by the team was administered to all students as a pre-test. Students in the redesign course were less prepared (mean score=68.56%) than students in the traditional course (mean score=74.70%), making the learning increase in the redesigned course even more impressive.

Improved Completion

There was no significant difference in the completion rate in the redesigned course with 77.23% of students receiving a C grade or better in the redesign compared with 78.30% in the traditional course.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

MS&T’s cost savings plan was to reduce the number of instructors needed to teach the course by increasing the section size from 200 to 400 students, reducing the number of sections offered annually from six to three, and transferring some student learning experiences online. These actions would reduce the cost-per-student by 19%, from $150 to $122.

MS&T carried out its cost savings plan of reducing the number of instructors from six to three (two in the fall and one in the spring down from four in the fall and two in the spring) and combining original sections into larger sections of students that included face to face and synchronous online participation.

In addition, MS&T saved more than they anticipated since the redesign required fewer graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) than planned. Only seven GTAs were needed instead of the 12 projected. The structure of the activities allowed undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) to replace GTAs. Three additional ULAs were hired, but at a lower rate than GTAs. Further with only three sections taught annually, and a much more organized course, release time for coordination was not needed in the redesign. The actual cost-per-student dropped from $150 to $102 per student, a savings of 32%.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Increased flexibility for students. All students were exposed to each of the various choices early in the semester, allowing them to make an informed decision about how they wanted to learn the rest of the semester, adapted to their own learning styles and schedules. Students mentioned the following strengths of the course in helping them in their learning: use of clicker questions, live text feed, classroom discussion (peer learning), constructivist approach to learning and collaborative work.

Collaborative learning. Through the redesign, students were exposed to two hours a week of small group, hands-on, collaborative learning, which replaced one hour of traditional lecture and one hour of traditional recitation. This module was instructor-facilitated rather than instructor-led and emphasized time on task and student-centered learning. In addition, students formed their own study groups during synchronous lecture in vacant classrooms, which demonstrated self-organized learning.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Consolidating sections and changes in personnel. Consolidating sections and hiring a non-tenure track teaching professor dedicated to teaching the redesign course reduced costs. These changes also allowed the department to release higher paid full professors to teach higher level courses. The total number of faculty involved in the lecture portion of the course went from six in the traditional to three in the redesign for teaching two semesters.

Replacing GTAs with ULAs. The redesign required fewer GTAs than anticipated. Only seven GTAs were needed instead of the 12 projected. The structure of the activities allowed ULAs to replace GTAs. Three additional ULAs were hired but at a lower rate than GTAs.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Perception issues. Many students, parents and advisors assumed face-to-face was a better mode of learning. Public relations and educational efforts alleviated some of these concerns.
Technology issues. There were a variety of challenges relative to technology. Most were worked out within the semester and others forced the team to adopt different tools.

  • Synchronous-online lecture broadcast by Blackboard Collaborate failed enough times to make it unreliable. Adobe Connect was adopted instead in a later semester.
  • The instructors in the face-to-face classes were tethered to their monitors where the camera was located for synchronous lectures, thereby limiting the mobility of instructors and student-instructor interaction. Additional technology, such as tablets, which allowed the instructor more freedom in the classroom has already been successfully implemented.
  • Students were given a choice about question and answer forums and unanimously chose Piazza over the Blackboard discussion boards for interaction with other students, instructors and GTAs/ULAs.
  • A patch from Mastering Chemistry online homework caused problems such that the course designers had to rewrite these modules as the online homework was critical to the student experience.
  • The personal response device provider did not initially follow through with the bundled clicker/license to enable online students to interact with the face-to-face lecture at the beginning of the semester. A work-around was developed shortly afterward.

Classroom space. The team had difficulty in finding adequate classroom space for collaborative learning recitations as movable tables and chairs were needed rather than desks. The rooms also needed to be in close proximity for the instructor to visit each one during the teaching block. This type of classroom was scarce. The team also had difficulty in finding adequate space for exams during the day, so evening exams were scheduled.

Administrative challenges. There was no existing definition to describe the buffet model of the course adequately as coded by the registrar’s office; therefore, students were not sure what they were registering for. The registrar required students to fill out paperwork each time a student wanted to switch from one mode of lecture or recitation to another. Additionally, faculty advisors were not well versed in the redesign options and could not adequately advise students about the best registration options (face-to-face vs. online).


Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?

The newly hired faculty position is permanent; therefore, there is support for the redesigned format of the course to continue.

There are plans to increase the number of options for students, including an online asynchronous model. Additional recitation models that are discipline-specific are also being planned.



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