State University of New York: SUNY Course Redesign Initiative

Niagara County Community College

Course Title: Introduction to Statistics
Redesign Coordinator: Dan Miller

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

Project Abstract

Niagara County Community College (NCCC) plans to redesign Introduction to Statistics, the course with the largest enrollment of all mathematics courses at NCCC. Enrolling ~527 students annually, the course is offered in a traditional lecture format. Taken by most mathematics majors, the course has experienced a large enrollment growth rate over the last several years since it has become a required course in eight other majors. Many students using it as a core mathematics component to transfer to four-year institutions.

The traditional course suffers from two problems, low success rates and inconsistency in course delivery. The passing rate in fall 2007 was 63%, creating a roadblock to progress for a significant number of students. A second problem is that the course lacks consistency across sections. During fall 2007, eight of the ten sections offered were instructed by full-time faculty. Current trends show an increase in the number of sections instructed by adjunct faculty. The redesigned course will provide a structure for consistent delivery that is difficult to achieve with the current structure.

NCCC will redesign Introduction to Statistics using the Replacement Model. Students will be grouped into double sections, with one full-time and one adjunct faculty member team-teaching each section. Classes will meet in a classroom with computer work stations for each student. At least two thirds of the weekly class time will involve individualized instruction and graded homework with immediate feedback using MyStatLab. Group work and/or projects will be assigned to investigate statistical simulations through applets.

The redesigned course will enhance the students’ educational experience by creating an active learning environment. The online components will provide more opportunities for students to work through problems at their own pace. They will receive immediate feedback as they solve problems and can view step-by-step solutions to any that cause them difficulty. Students will receive individualized assistance from the instructors and may also obtain additional assistance from tutors in the math center. They also will be required to practice problems in a low-stakes environment before they are allowed to complete the hourly exam. Team planning and implementation will achieve consistency across sections by using a standardized syllabus and delivery format. This will insure that students are uniformly prepared for subsequent mathematics courses. In addition, the math department intends to apply the redesign model to other mathematics courses, so students will benefit from the similarity of structure as they move from course to course.

Student learning outcomes will be assessed by comparing student performance on a common final exam administered to traditional and pilot redesigned sections in spring 2009. This will provide baseline data to compare the full implementation of the redesign in fall 2009. Questions on the final exam will be grouped into distinct topics to allow comparison of performance on a topic-by-topic basis as well as on overall scores. Univariate ANOVA will be used to assess strengths and weaknesses related to specific learning objectives. Chi square tests will also be used to compare completion and passing rates between traditional and redesigned students.

The redesigned course will reduce instructional costs from $339 to $162, a 52% savings. Cost reduction strategies include reducing the number of full-time faculty from eight to five and increasing the number of adjunct faculty from two to five. Each full-time faculty member will partner with an adjunct faculty member to team-teach two sections simultaneously. The redesign will allow the full-time faculty members to teach higher level courses in the department.

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

Student learning outcomes in the redesigned course were compared to those of the traditional course using scores on common, comprehensive final examinations given to all students. The final examination average increased from 64.9% for the traditional course to 68.7% for full implementation of the redesigned course. The percentage of students scoring a C or better on the final exam increased from 41% for the traditional to 53% for the redesign. This difference is statistically significant at the 95% confidence level.

Improved Completion

The redesigned course experienced a decrease in successful course completion rates (grades of C or better) from 62.4% for the traditional course to 58.3% for full implementation of the redesigned course.  Also, the DFW rate in the redesigned course was 30.6% compared to a DFW rate of 22.8% in the traditional course. 

A contributing factor to these results is that a portion of students who passed the final exam did not complete the required assignments. Such students might have been successful in the traditional course where homework completion did not contribute to their final grade. The team’s intent when introducing required homework was to encourage traditional D and F students to take advantage of this structure, thus moving them into the completion category. Though this occurred, further modifications will need to be made to accomplish this and to prevent students that would have earned a C in the traditional course from dropping into a lower grade category.

The redesigned course experienced an increase in retention rates (students who stayed in the course earning grades of A – F) from 82.8% for the traditional course to 86.9% for full implementation of the redesigned course. The increase in the percentage of students that completed the course reflected the students’ positive attitudes as a result of the course redesign.

Other Impacts on Students

Instructors found that there was an increase in student accountability based on the required homework.  Firm due dates kept students on task and mastery of the concepts could be achieved by repeating concepts that were not understood with the use of online tutorial features. 

A survey was conducted at the end of the semester and the responses by students were favorable.  Among the positive comments, the following are noteworthy:

  • Class notes were useful and kept the students engaged.
  • Homework prepared students well for tests/quizzes.
  • Paper and pencil tests allowed equitable partial credit.
  • Frequent quizzes and plentiful homework reinforced main concepts.
  • Computerized tutorials and help features were useful.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

The redesigned course adhered to the cost savings plan. The redesigned course reduced instructional costs from $339 per student to $162 per student, a 52% savings. Cost reduction strategies included reducing the number of sections covered by full-time faculty from eight to five and increasing the number of sections covered by adjunct faculty from two to five. Each full-time faculty member was partnered with an adjunct faculty member to team-teach two sections simultaneously. The redesign allowed the full-time faculty members to teach higher-level courses in the department.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Collaboration among instructors. One of the most beneficial aspects of the redesign was the standardization of course material across all sections. The redesign team created standardized guided lecture notes that contained not only the key concepts from each section, but numerous examples which were worked out in class. These were distributed to students in class and were also posted in the course management system. The handouts were used in all sections of the course. Prior to this, instructors in different sections used their own notes, and there was much less consistency of material coverage across sections. 

Online assignments. Online homework and quizzes with firm deadlines were created to help students learn the basic course content in a timely manner. Class time was allowed for students to work on these concepts and receive immediate online feedback with the opportunity to clarify through individual and or group instruction. The redesigned course used publisher-based course materials (Pearson’s MyMathLab) for homework assignments, practice tests and quizzes. MyMathLab includes useful features such as a link to the virtual textbook and videos, as well as various help buttons: “Help Me Solve This,” “View an Example,” and “Ask My Instructor.” Students had the opportunity to repeat homework assignments an unlimited number of times and practice tests up to ten times. This promoted increased student involvement and preparedness for the actual course exams.   

Standardized assessments. Algorithmically-generated homework assignments, practice tests and quizzes were utilized in all sections. The redesign team created standardized paper-and-pencil tests and common technology projects with corresponding grading rubrics. These efforts promoted consistent grading across all sections. 

Exam review. Prior to each of the course exams, an optional review session was offered to students. These were fairly well attended and well received by the students.   

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Reducing full-time faculty. The percentage of full-time faculty in the redesigned sections was reduced from 80% to 50%, and the percentage of adjunct faculty was increased from 20% to 50%. Each full-time faculty member was partnered with an adjunct faculty member to team-teach two sections simultaneously.

Shared resources. The use of computer-based homework and quizzes both in and out of the classroom proved to be a valuable resource for maintaining course consistency as well as student engagement across all sections. This reduced the amount of time that any individual instructor needed to devote to developing course materials.

Increasing number of students per section. Cost reduction was achieved by increasing the student load of instructors without increasing their workload.  In the redesigned course, each instructor taught 11% more students than in the traditional course. The increase was limited by contractual class size-constraints.

Computer-graded homework assignments, quizzes and practice tests. The additional student load was made possible because of the time-savings provided by technology. Using computer-graded assignments, quizzes and practice tests decreased the amount of time that instructors spent grading allowing for more time to be spent streamlining the delivery of the course.  

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Homework accountability. During the pilot redesign there were flexible deadlines for homework as well as a “pre-requisite chain.” This proved to be detrimental to students as they tended to procrastinate in completing assignments. As students fell behind, subsequent pre-requisites for future assignments were not met. This was resolved during the full implementation of the redesign through firm homework deadlines and the elimination of pre-requisites for assignments. 

Assessment materials. During the redesign pilot, exams were delivered through online materials supplied by the textbook publisher. This proved problematic due to minor syntax issues in the software. The major issue, however, was the inability to award partial credit on problems requiring multiple-step solutions. This problem was addressed during the full implementation of the redesign by using paper-and-pencil tests. The redesign team carefully created grading rubrics for the exams, which allowed for much more equitable awards of partial credit. 

Use of class time. Although the software is robust and dynamic, it is sometimes cumbersome in the explanation of solutions in the discipline of statistics. This proved to be somewhat detrimental in that students needed more actual instructional time, especially on more complex course material.  With the use of standardized guided lecture notes, the lecture time was reduced so that students would have class time to work through online homework and quizzes. 

Need for student and instructor buy in. It was important for both students and course instructors to adapt to this new course delivery method. Many instructors felt that students needed more instructional time on certain topics in the course. At the end of the semester, students were surveyed regarding various aspects of the redesign (lecture notes, homework assignments, quizzes, projects, exams), and the majority of the responses were favorable. 

Student-teacher interaction. Course sections were taught in a large 60-computer classroom, which created a somewhat impersonal classroom atmosphere. Instructors interacted with every student during each class while students completed computer work on course assignments to alleviate this sense of anonymity. 

Technology issues. Occasionally the campus web server went down, but this was a minor issue in that it was usually up and running in a short amount of time.  A more serious issue was that individual computers went down during each class. The Office of Instructional Technology resolved this issue expeditiously.  


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

Without question, NCCC will sustain the changes that were undertaken through the redesign. In light of the current economic climate, the cost savings produced in the redesigned course were significant. Therefore, the redesign format is being used as a model for other courses and future redesigns in the mathematics department. The redesign approach is currently being extended to other mathematics courses where appropriate. The NCCC administration is fully supportive and encourages the creation of redesigned courses.

The redesign team developed standardized guided lecture notes, quizzes, tests, and technology projects as well as a departmental final exam for the course. These materials will be used by course instructors in the future thus guaranteeing consistency of content and assessment across sections. The use of the standardized guided lecture notes in particular will help to maximize the computer time students experience in class. This gives students the chance to immediately practice concepts covered in class while affording them the opportunity to seek instructor assistance if needed.    

The computerized assessment portion of the course has increased student accountability. With regard to sustainability, this portion of the redesign gives the students the chance to fully understand the material and gain a sense of work ethic. The mathematics department will continue to provide this opportunity to the students and strive for the continuous improvement of both delivery and assessment.



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