The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning: Mississippi Course Redesign Initiative

The University of Southern Mississippi

Course Title: Nutrition and Food Systems
Redesign Coordinator: Denise Brown

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 3/15/10)

Project Abstract

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) plans to redesign Nutrition and Food Systems, a course offered on both the Hattiesburg and Gulfport campuses. Annually enrolling ~907 students, the traditional course is offered in several modes including multiple lecture sections, online sections and via an interactive video network that links a face-to-face section to both branch campuses.

The traditional course suffers from a number of problems. There is some inconsistency among sections. Many nutrition majors are unable to recall and apply information from this course that is required for their successful progression in advanced-level nutrition courses. It is also difficult to find qualified adjuncts, making it difficult for USM to meet student demand. There also is a shortage of large classrooms on campus.

USM will redesign Nutrition and Food Systems using the Buffet Model. Faculty will develop individualized learning plans and tailor the course for each student. Students will choose from lab-based or fully online sections. A required face-to-face learning laboratory will replace the traditional lecture sections where students will work on interactive assignments and projects under the direction of an instructor and a graduate teaching assistant (GTA). Fully online sections will continue to meet the demand from students who need maximum flexibility. All sections will use the same interactive text, learning exercises, recorded lectures with slides, web-based assignments and online quizzes. Students may choose the learning method that best suits their individual needs.

The redesigned course will enhance the quality of the students’ learning experience. The predominately lecture format will be replaced with interactive learning activities and pre- and post-assessments. Hands-on learning activities will promote development of application skills. Two self-assessment tools will be used to assess student skills to determine which learning materials are most suitable for each individual student’s learning style. Students’ ability to retain and apply nutrition content in subsequent courses will improve as a result. The redesign will also reduce dependence on adjunct faculty and permit three full-time faculty with specific expertise in nutrition content areas to team-teach the course.

USM’s assessment plan will compare student performance in traditional and redesigned sections. Student performance on a major project (a three-day food record) using a standardized grading rubric will be compared. Student performance on common final exams will also be compared. Student grade distribution and withdrawals will also be assessed.

The redesigned course will reduce the cost-per-student in the face-to-face sections from $72 to $35, a 51% savings. The cost-per-student of the online sections will decrease from $94 to $23, a 76% savings. These savings will be achieved by reducing the number of sections from 21 to six annually; one section of both types will be offered each fall, spring and summer term. The number of sections taught by part-time faculty will be reduced from 16 to three, one for each online section per term. Three full-time faculty will team-teach one large face-to-face learning laboratory section each term. Course work responsibilities for tenure-track faculty will change by using the modular format, freeing them to support graduate level courses or devote time to research and grant writing responsibilities.

Final Report (as of 3/15/10)

Impact on Students

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

Improved Learning

Prior to the course redesign, the nutrition course was offered in two formats: traditional face-to-face lectures and fully online. The redesigned course offered both formats with a number of common elements that included repeated quizzes, common exam questions, a common final exam, and a common application project.

In the face-to-face formats, the mean score on common final exams was 78 for the spring 2009 traditional sections and 84 for the summer and fall 2009 redesigned sections.

In the online formats, the mean score on common final exams was 67 for the traditional sections and 78 for the redesigned sections.

These improvements were statistically significant.

No statistically significant differences were noted in grades using a common grading rubric on the application project which was standardized across all delivery formats. Student performance on this project was 79 for traditional face-to-face and 72 for traditional online compared to 83 for redesigned face-to-face and 78 for redesigned online. Although mean scores were not significantly different, a higher percentage of students achieved an A (≥ 90 points) in both of the redesigned sections. The percentage of students receiving an A grade increased from 51% in the traditional face-to-face to 63% in the redesigned face-to-face sections and from 27% in the traditional online to 55% in the redesigned online sections. The greater percentage of A grades reflected an improved ability of students to apply the nutritional concepts to assessment of personal diet habits.

Improved Retention

Overall 78% of students in the redesigned formats achieved a C or better in the course compared with 77% of students who completed the course over five semesters for which grade data were available (fall 2005 – spring 2007).

In addition, the performance of nutrition and nursing majors was assessed separately for the redesigned formats. Successful performance for these two majors was defined as a grade of B or better; 88% of the nutrition majors and 87% of the nursing majors achieved a B or better grade. 

Retention in the course was defined as completing the course with a D or better grade.  The mean retention rate in the redesigned sections was slightly lower (83%) as compared with the traditional format (84%).

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

The team’s original cost savings plan intended to reduce the total number of course sections to one online and one face-to-face each term and to increase the number of students per section for both formats. Three full-time faculty members were to team-teach one large face-to-face section each term, and one adjunct was to teach one online section each term. This plan would have reduced the cost-per-student in the face-to-face sections from $72 to $35, a 51% savings, and in the online sections from $94 to $23, a 76% savings.  A weighted average yields a reduction for the whole course from $81 for the traditional to $31 for the redesign, a 62% savings.

During the course of the redesign implementation, the team revised this plan. In the future, three face-to-face sections will be offered each term, each taught by a full-time faculty member. Also, the redesign will require only one graduate teaching assistant rather than the four planned. In addition, the fully online version of the course must be offered in both a full-semester and a shortened semester format, a need that was not addressed in the original proposal. In the future, two fully online sections will be offered each term taught by a full-time faculty member to accommodate the two different formats; no adjuncts will be involved.
The overall impact of these changes is to reduce the cost-per-student from $81 to $44, a 46% savings rather than the planned 62%.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

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

Interactive electronic textbook. In collaboration with the textbook publisher, an electronic version of the textbook was developed that included pre-tests linked to chapter learning objectives. Students completed the pre-test, and the chapter materials were tailored to the student’s performance on the quiz, thus creating a personalized learning plan. Students who completed pre-tests by established deadlines (in all sections) were awarded bonus points for their efforts. Students who were proficient with some of the chapter material were able to focus their attention on content that was less familiar. The textbook also contained additional practice quizzes, matching problems, video clips and a glossary of terms that students could select from to enhance learning. The course instructors developed audio lectures to accompany slides that were also integrated into the textbook. Students were able to access all of these learning resources through the Blackboard course shell.

Low-stakes quizzes. All students were required to complete chapter quizzes that could be repeated three times with the highest grade counted toward the course grade. Each quiz included 25 questions which were randomly selected from a larger pool of questions based on the textbook publisher’s support materials. Students who completed the quiz three times had an opportunity to engage with up to 75 practice questions that included both knowledge and application questions (approximately 30% of the question database). Similar questions were incorporated into the course exams. The electronic textbook was designed with pre-tests linked to chapter objectives.

Weekly in class activities. In the redesigned face-to-face sections, once-a-week attendance was a requirement included in course points. Students who attended class participated in individual and small group written exercises selected from the text book publisher’s instructor manual. The emphasis of the class activities was on application of the nutrition concepts to personal health practices. Students were encouraged to work in pairs or small groups to complete the class activities. In the traditional course, lecture material was the primary focus of student/faculty interactions. In the redesigned face-to-face course, student/faculty interactions were directed toward in-class activities, providing a richer and more diverse learning environment that required student participation rather than passive learning.

Collaborative course development and course standardization. The redesign team worked closely together to identify common concepts, exam questions, quiz questions, lecture slides and class activities which were tested during the pilot phase of the project and refined over two semesters. These features were delivered through the university course management system. One common course shell was developed for each semester from which all section course shells were populated. A common course calendar was implemented across all course sections, which further supported a consistent course product for all students regardless of the section or individual instructors. 

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Common course supplement for all sections.  Quizzes, exams and final exams were all delivered through the university course management system. No paper versions of these materials were provided. The quizzes and exams were objective and graded within the course management system. The course management system also included a student grade book feature. The only grade entry required for faculty was for recording bonus points and attendance points for the face-to-face sections. This resulted in a significant decrease in workload for both instructors and GTAs. At the end of the semester, grade calculations were simplified as the student grade book could be downloaded as a spreadsheet available for final grade calculations. One GTA was able to manage most of the course activities for 400 students with part-time assistance to grade the semester project.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Technology challenges. Although students believed they possessed significant technology skills, those skills did not transfer well to the electronic learning environment used to support the redesigned course. Students experienced difficulty accessing the Blackboard course shell for several weeks into the semester. Once students developed a level of comfort with the technology support tools, the remainder of the semester was focused on course content. Completing electronic quizzes and exams was frustrating to students, particularly the time limits and the delivery of one question at a time. These features were selected to reduce opportunities for student cheating and to encourage individual student performance. Once the reason for the format was explained as students practiced with the testing format, fewer complaints were noted. Other electronic tools used in the course were a challenge to students including the interactive textbook and the nutrient analysis program required for the semester project. 

Instructor and student acceptance. Students enrolled in the face-to-face sections found the requirements for interaction with electronic resources challenging. The shift from passive lecture sections into interactive class activity sessions was met with some resistance. Students and faculty were more comfortable with the lecture format as compared to the interactive activities. A compromise between these two approaches that included a short lecture with one or two class activities was more appealing during the fall 2009 semester.

Transition to an electronic textbook. Collaboration with the textbook publisher resulted in a high-quality interactive text with many additional learning features. Students were slow to embrace this change. Although the interactive features were attractive, the custom text was equal in cost to the printed text. Students complained about the cost of the text and their inability to purchase a used text or to sell the text back at the end of the course. A textbook code, required for students to access the electronic text, was active for one calendar year. For students who repeated the class, a system to reset the textbook code was needed and developed to allow students to continue to access the text in a later semester and not purchase a second book. A shift in perspective will be necessary for students and instructors to value the knowledge and learning tools made available in such an interactive format that are distinct from the commodity of a printed book. Once the development costs for interactive materials are recovered, publishers need to pass the cost savings to the students. Students need to see the value they receive for the expenses incurred. 

Audio lectures. Faculty spent considerable time developing slide presentations with audio lectures for those students who requested this type of learning materials. In addition to the development of the audio lectures, each slide set included a verbatim transcript of the lecture material to accommodate hearing impaired students. Although students indicated a desire for these lectures, few students accessed these lectures through the course materials. Providing slides with lecture notes may be sufficient for future revisions of the class.


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

The course redesign as revised will continue. Student outcomes have improved with the redesigned course materials, and savings have been generated in response to the increasing budget constraints faced by the university as well as the staffing challenges within the nutrition department.

In addition, many of the features of the course redesign are being added to all nutrition courses such as supplements using Blackboard to convey syllabus information, report student grades and communicate with students. Once these supplements are developed, other faculty may incorporate some of the features developed for this course such as the repeated quizzes and electronic exam delivery.



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