University System of Maryland: Maryland Course Redesign Initiative
Frostburg State University
Course Title: General Psychology
Frostburg State University (FSU) plans to redesign General Psychology, the first required course for psychology majors and also required for five other majors. In the General Education Program (GEP), this course is one of five that satisfies the social sciences requirement. Of these course options, General Psychology has the highest enrollment with approximately 67% of all students taking it. The average annual course enrollment is approximately 900 students with 50 students per section, and the (drop-failure-withdrawal (DWF) rate is 12%. On average, 12 sections are offered in the fall semester and six in the spring (occasionally a summer section is offered). This course is taught by both full-time faculty (50%) and adjuncts (50%).
The redesign of General Psychology will address several academic problems: staffing issues, course drift, redundancy of effort, and lack of active learning. First, fiscal constraints at the university have resulted in the department relying on an increasing number of adjuncts who may or may not receive proper guidance in course development. Additionally, in the past two years, the department has had to rely on master's level graduate students to teach the course as full instructors. Second, since General Psychology is not standardized, each instructor creates his or her own version of the course. Thus, multiple versions of General Psychology are taught by a variety of instructors at differing skill levels, resulting in "course drift." This drift may result in overall lower course quality. Third, instructor's use of time is inefficient and leaves little time to assist the student who may need extra help. Instructors spend a lot of time on redundant tasks, grading exams by hand and entering grades. Finally, the course’s lecture-based approach does not promote motivation, interest in course content, active learning, or account for different learning styles, which may contribute to the 12% DWF rate. It is the redesign team's goal to become more efficient and effective through the course redesign.
Using the Replacement Model, FSU will collapse three sections of 50 students into one section of 150 students and will reduce the number of in-class meetings by half. During the in-class meetings, interactive activities will be used for most of the period rather than lectures. In-class activities will be designed to promote active learning and to follow-up and coincide with course material for the week. Additionally, the in-class meetings will prepare the students for the next week's topic. For the remainder of the time, technology will be used for assessment and discussion of weekly topics. Via online assessment, students will receive immediate feedback on their performance and areas in need of improvement. Undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) will help with peer tutoring, discussions, other learning activities assigned online, and technology issues that arise.
The redesigned course will enhance quality in several ways. The redesign of General Psychology will improve the standardization of the course, which will help prevent course drift. Further, the redesign will enhance quality by providing more learner-learner interaction, instructor-learner interactions, and active learner-content interaction. With the use of time-saving online assessment, instructors will have more time to interact with students, either in-class or in the online environment. Using online discussion forums, students will be divided into small groups where they can interact with each other, the instructor or the ULAs. The use of class time for activities rather than merely lectures will promote active learning and collaboration on small group projects. These types of interaction have the potential to promote student satisfaction with instruction, which will lead to increased motivation, interest, cohesiveness, and learning. Additionally, the use of online assessment will provide immediate feedback to the students and direct them to supplementary materials. Instructors and ULAs will evaluate student progress and feedback aimed at providing guidance to students who may need extra help. Students will have greater engagement with psychology content. Using the online class time, students will be linked to interesting content that is discussed by experts in the field of psychology and applicable to their lives.
The psychology department will assess the impact of course redesign in spring 2008 by comparing two redesigned sections of 100 students with two traditional sections of 50 students each. A common end-of-course comprehensive multiple-choice exam will be the main tool used for assessing the effectiveness of instruction. The test will contain a representative sampling of questions for common chapters covered and contain three types of questions: knowledge, critical thinking, and applications questions. All questions on this exam will be different from those found on previous quizzes and tests. However, the form of questions will be similar to ones previously used in that they will have similar prompts for directing students to access their knowledge, to think critically about the material covered, and to apply their knowledge. The redesign team will investigate training students to improve their abilities to answer critical thinking and application questions using practice and test questions often involving simulation of everyday and professional applications of psychological knowledge and thinking. In addition to the common final exam, the DWF rates will be analyzed. The same techniques will be used following full implementation of the redesign by comparing learning outcomes in the fully redesigned course with those collected from the traditional format in spring 2008.
The redesign of the General Psychology course will produce cost savings in several ways. Fewer instructors will be needed to teach the course since the number of sections will be reduced by a third, from 18 to six requiring as few as one full-time faculty member (vs. nine) and three adjuncts (vs. nine) to teach the course. This change will allow full-time faculty to teach upper-level courses. The cost-per-student will be reduced from $89 to $32, a 64% decrease. Interested full-time faculty will contribute their expertise to the redesign of the course, standardizing it and enhancing the quality. With improved consistency, adjuncts will be able to teach the course without concern for course drift and will receive training to help them with the teaching process. Since the department is not staffed at full capacity, the cost savings from the redesigned course may be used to fund new full-time faculty.
In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?
During the spring 2008 pilot, four sections of General Psychology were offered: two traditional sections taught by seasoned adjunct faculty members and two redesigned sections taught by one full-time and one adjunct faculty member. Both were primary members of the redesign team. A comprehensive, required final exam of 50 multiple-choice questions was created by the chair of the redesign team (who did not teach any sections). Instructors were blind to its content.
Results indicated students in the redesign sections (Mean = 75%) performed significantly better than students in the traditional sections (Mean = 68%). Dividing the exam into factual versus conceptual questions yielded similar results. Students from the redesign performed significantly better than students from traditional sections. Follow-up analyses revealed that final exam scores were positively correlated with student scores on the mastery quizzes (r = .523). Thus, this aspect of the redesign appeared helpful for students.
An optional extra-credit essay that asked students to write about prejudice was also given with the final exam. Instructors were again blind to its content. A grading rubric provided points for each correctly used psychological concept in order to separate "general public" answers from answers by knowledgeable psychology students. Results indicated students in the redesign sections (Mean = 2.845) performed significantly better than students in the traditional sections (Mean = 1.092). Follow-up analyses revealed that students' essay scores significantly correlated with both their grades on the semester-long prejudice project (r = .328) and their grades for online discussions (r = .244). Thus, these online activities assisted student acquisition of knowledge.
During the fall 2008 full implementation, the team compared performance on 43 questions out of the original 50 questions from the pilot semester final to both the traditional and redesigned sections from spring 2008. Students from full redesign (Mean = 77%) performed significantly better than students from pilot redesign (Mean = 70%), who performed significantly better than students from traditional sections (Mean = 65%). The effect size was a strong .825. The same pattern of results (full redesign > pilot redesign > traditional sections) was obtained comparing factual versus conceptual questions.
The average DFW rate for General Psychology was 12.5% during 1998 - 2006. The DFW rate has been increasing in recent years, reaching a high of 18% the semester prior to the pilot. The fall 2008 full implementation rate was 12.8%, similar to the rate prior to redesign.
Were costs reduced as planned?
FSU saved more than they anticipated. As planned, the team reduced the number of instructors (full-time and adjunct) needed to teach the course. The cost-per-student was reduced from $89 to $26 (not $32 as first estimated), a 71% decrease.
The additional cost savings were due to FSU’s not paying as many undergraduate learning assistants (ULAs) as originally planned. The team planned to pay 12 ULAs. In the pilot, they were not paid. Instead, FSU developed a ULA certification process, where students registered for credit and were not paid. As they did during full implementation, FSU in the future will pay half the ULAs (who work in the lab) $6,000 total per year; the other half (who do other activities) will be part of the certification process and will not be paid.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
What implementation issues were most important?
Will the redesign be sustained now that the MCRI project is over ?
The support for the redesigned course has not wavered within the department, and there is every indication that it will remain. Since the redesign has been fully implemented, the team has moved to a maintenance role. At some point, some or all of the members of the original redesign team may need to be replaced by other members of the department. This issue is just beginning to be explored.
As with all courses, the redesigned course will continue to evolve and need updating with new book editions, materials, etc. The original team members were compensated for their time and effort through a combined grant from USM and the university. Since the grant process is now complete, the issue is whether new forms of compensation will become available to support continued efforts.
One of the major changes the team made from the pilot implementation to the full implementation was adding a course lab. Although it has been effective in increasing learning, the lab has added tasks (e.g., identifying and recruiting lab assistants, weekly monitoring of assistants and interns.) During the redesign process, the coordinator had release time that allowed her to complete some of these tasks. The team hopes that the university will support compensation options for future coordinators.