Tennessee Board of Regents: Developmental Studies Redesign Initiative

Northeast State Technical Community College

Course Title: Basic and Developmental Reading
Redesign Coordinator: Xiaoping Wang

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

Project Abstract

Northeast State Technical Community College (NSTCC) plans to redesign its Basic and Developmental Reading course. Historically, NSTCC offered two reading courses to accommodate different student ability levels: Basic Reading and Developmental Reading. Due to small enrollments and difficulties in scheduling, Basic and Developmental Reading, which combined both courses, was created in fall 2005. Serving ~ 400 students annually, the course offers remediation to students whose reading skills are below the required college level. The traditional course is a three-credit hour, lecture-based course in a computerized classroom. Students have access to an online tutorial program, which is available only on campus during the class meeting hours or in the college's open lab. Approximately 25 small sections (~17 students) are offered annually. Two full-time faculty and four to six adjunct faculty teach the course each semester.

The traditional reading course typically experiences a high DFW rate ranging from 34% to 45%. Approximately 12% of the students enrolled each semester are repeating the course. Considering that 90% of the approved general education core courses at NSTCC require reading and/or math as a prerequisite, progression toward the degree is considerably delayed for those students who fail reading. The rigid delivery format creates a passive learning environment that limits learning flexibility and cannot offer the individual assistance that is needed to meet each student's learning needs. Small sections entail a high cost in delivery, and the employment of multiple instructors leads to course drift, creating inconsistency in the quality of course delivery.

Using the Emporium Model, the redesigned reading course will use technology and provide individual assistance in a structured Reading Center. It will move from the traditional course delivery to a learner-centered, active-learning mode supported by high-quality, web-based, interactive, modularized learning software. Each semester, one large section of all enrolled students will replace the traditional small sections. Two full-time faculty members will share the duties of course planning and preparation, monitor student learning progress and provide individual assistance and remediation to students as needed. The redesigned course will eliminate all adjunct course instructors. Four Reading Center assistants and four peer tutors will be used in the Reading Center to provide students with individual assistance and tutoring.

The student-centered learning environment created by the redesigned course will enhance the quality of the course and student learning outcomes. Modularized course content, using MyReadingLab, coupled with diagnostic assessment, will support individual learning plans and flexible progress through the material. Web-based software will provide automated and immediate feedback to better focus student attention on skills yet to be mastered, and online learning materials will be continuously accessible to students seven days a week. Individualized assistance will be available in the Reading Center targeted on specific learning needs, and students will be required to spend at least three hours each week in the Center. The redesign will encourage students to become more motivated to participate in the learning process and more active in achieving their learning goals.

The impact of the course redesign on student learning outcomes will be assessed using various methods. In the pilot phase, performance data from parallel sections, six traditional sections (~17 students) and one redesigned section (~50 students) will be compared. Data will include results of pre- and post-tests and common final exams. Course grades will also be compared. The full implementation assessment plan will compare 24 traditional sections (~17 students) to one redesigned section (~270 students) using the same comparative data. Further studies will track student academic performance in subsequent college-level reading intensive courses to assess how well prepared the students are in reading.

The redesigned course will reduce the cost of instruction by replacing four adjunct faculty with four Reading Center assistants and four peer tutors, reducing the number of sections from ~12 per semester to one, and increasing section size from ~17 students to ~270 in the fall semester and ~140 in the spring semester. These actions will decrease the cost-per-student from $197 to $101, a savings of 49%. Further potential savings should result because fewer students will need to repeat the course. The savings generated by the redesign will be placed into NSTCC’s general fund to improve the education of all students enrolled at NSTCC.

Final Report (as of 6/1/09)

Impact on Students

Improved Learning

Students in the redesigned course performed better on a common final exam. In the traditional course, the final exam scores averaged 81% while in the redesigned course, final exam scores averaged 86% in fall 2008 when the redesign was fully implemented.

Analysis of pre-test and post-test Nelson Denny scores revealed that students in the redesigned course obtained a greater gain in their learning and reading skills. In the traditional course, the average gain was 11 points, while the average gain was 15 points in the spring 2008 pilot and 21 points in the fall 2008 full implementation. Students in the redesigned course made more progress in improving their reading skills than those in the traditional reading course.

Improved Retention

The student success rate (a grade of C or higher) in the traditional course was 58% while in the redesigned course, the success rates were 58%, 67%, and 54% in fall 2007, spring 2008 and fall 2008 respectively, an overall average of 60%.

Grade distributions of the redesigned course showed that significantly more students had As and Bs than in the traditional course.

Impact on Cost Savings

The traditional reading course was a three-credit hour, lecture-based course. The course was taught in 24 small sections (~17 students) annually, 12 taught by full-time faculty, and 12 taught by adjuncts. Small sections entailed a high delivery cost; the total cost of offering the traditional course was $80,832. Employing multiple instructors led to course drift, creating inconsistency in the quality of course delivery.

The redesigned course included one section each term of 275 (fall) and 137 (spring) students each. Each section was team-taught by two full-time faculty, and no adjuncts were used. The team added trained reading professionals to work with students in the Reading Center at $15 per hour. The total cost of the redesigned course was $39,639, which represents a savings of $41,119, a 51% reduction.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

  • Using the emporium model. The redesigned course moved away from the traditional course delivery to a learner-centered, active-learning mode supported by high-quality, web-based, interactive, modularized learning software. The traditional format created a passive learning environment that limited students’ learning flexibility; it could not offer individual assistance to meet each student's learning needs. In the redesigned course, instead of meeting as a class, students were required to spend two hours in the Reading Center where individualized assistance was available from the instructor and the Reading Center assistants to target students’ specific learning needs. Students and the instructor also met once weekly as a reading group.
  • Focusing on “hands-on” learning. The web-based learning materials increased students’ opportunities to participate in hands-on learning activities, thus increasing their engagement in learning. Students were required to complete two mandatory hours weekly in the Reading Center to complete various types of exercises and tests using the web-based interactive learning materials.
  • Individualized study plans. Each student enrolled in the redesigned course had to complete a diagnostic test at the beginning of the course. Based on the test results, an assessment-based personalized study plan was created to address the student’s individual learning needs. Guided by such a plan, students could better focus on the learning skills that were to be mastered and did not have to spend much time on the skills in which they were already competent. Since students had individual study plans, they could work as fast as they wanted so that they could early exit the class. Some students exited the course about one-third of the semester sooner, and about 18-19% of the students exited the course early.
  • One-on-one assistance. The redesign provided a tremendous amount of one-on-one assistance to students in the Reading Center , targeting the learning needs specific for individual students. This especially increased the opportunity of success for students who had difficulty in the course, who would, otherwise, be lost in the traditional course.
  • Learning notebooks. Students were required to construct a learning notebook to help them organize the course and learn effectively. Students were required to place course documents, module concepts, and other relevant module materials in their notebook as they progressed through the course. They were also required to record their progress and complete the weekly progress check sheet to present in the notebook, which was checked on a weekly basis. The learning notebook served as a useful progress check and assessment tool not only for students but also for instructors and the Reading Center assistants. Students who were behind or had difficulties completing the required modules were identified through the checking process, and necessary intervention was provided.

Cost Savings Techniques

The redesigned course used technology and interactive web-based learning materials that significantly reduced the hours faculty spent on the traditional course. Twenty-four small sections were replaced by two large ones. Additionally, hours associated with adjunct faculty teaching were completely eliminated. Reading Center assistants were used at a lower cost to provide face-to-face, individualized help in the Reading Center.

Implementation Issues

  • Making online learning materials the primary focus. In the first pilot, the team included too many different activities, which caused students to feel overwhelmed and lose focus. In subsequent terms, the team created course requirements and learning activities, which primarily focused on the content of learning materials and eliminated other online activities associated with content reading required on D2L that were part of the first pilot. This change helped focus students’ attention and efforts on improving the essential reading skills that were needed for success in college and made it less overwhelming to students.
  • Adding a mandatory weekly reading group meeting. In the original plan, there was no mandatory meeting, and students felt disconnected from each other. The group meeting time, added in the second pilot, was used to communicate with students on matters of concern common to the group, teach major reading concepts as appropriate, provide encouragement and intervention as needed and create a sense of “connectedness” among the students. This change helped improve communication with the students tremendously, and the reading group meeting gave the instructor a chance to address any concerns in a timely manner.
  • Emphasizing online study skills and learning strategies. Initially, modules on study skills and learning strategies were not covered until the end of the course, which was not very beneficial to students. In spring and fall 2008, the modules were rearranged so that the modules related to learning strategies were taught first. Students were taught how to learn effectively in an online environment since, for many, this was the first time for them to use online software. Students greatly benefited from this teaching.
  • Strengthening course orientation. Based on the feedback obtained from the first pilot, more time was allotted at the beginning of the course in subsequent terms to adequately train both students and Reading Center assistants for the new learning mode. This orientation helped students learn the program and the routine of the course and made the rest of the semester go more smoothly for the students.


The team believes that the redesign of the reading course is sustainable due to two major reasons. First, the redesigned course was implemented to include all reading students in fall 2008, and no major problems were encountered. Second, the redesigned course generates significant savings for the college; therefore, funding will not be an issue to sustain the redesign.



Quick Links:

Tennessee Board of Regents Main Page...