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Some 3,600 students each year
take elementary algebra, the
lowest-level math class that
fulfills the general education
requirement. The traditional
lecture format had minimal
student interaction with faculty
and didn’t account for students’
different learning styles and
widely varied backgrounds.
Riverside cut the lecture
time in half because, as Sheila
Pisa, associate professor of math,
explained, faculty members were spending 15 to 30 minutes
of each class answering homework questions. The redesign
project shifted those homework assignments to an interactive
software program that generated individualized assessments,
study plans and learning sets. Amath lab was established
where students receive help from faculty or tutors and where
they do their assignments online.
One lesson learned from the redesign process, Pisa said, is
to match the technology to the course. Once the pilot project
was under way, the faculty discovered that the software didn’t
go along with the textbook. Students like to see the material
presented in the same way, and so they were sometimes
confused, Pisa explained. So this fall the course will use a
different textbook and software called “My Math Lab” that
comes with it.
Riverside calculated that it saved about $140,000 in wages
with the redesign—almost exactly the amount it cost to set
up the math lab that the school had needed anyway. That lab
will generate even more savings because students from other
courses use it, too. The redesign process also prodded the
faculty to agree on a level of standardization for this course,
which Pisa said professors had been talking about for some
Other schools among the 30 pilot projects also report
compelling results.
Rio Salado, part of the Maricopa Community College
District headquartered in Tempe, Arizona, intended to
At Riverside Community
College, a math lab was
established where students
receive help from faculty or
tutors and where they do
their assignments online.
Online Instruction Proliferates
on Campus
July 2008
he expansionof technology in higher education seems to be an
unstoppable force.There is no avoiding it, even for those who see it as
an encroachment on the purity of academia. In the summer of 2002,
National CrossTalk
examined an ambitious national program, run by the
National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), to use computer
technology in large introductory courses as ameans of improving
instruction and cutting costs. Since that time, interest in such approaches
has only grown.
“We’ve expandedwell beyond the initial 30 schools in the original
process,” said Carol Twigg, NCAT’s executive director. “There are two
additional national projects, with 20 schools in the first project, and 60 in
the second.”
The first of the two projects, called Roadmap to Redesign, lasted
from2003 to 2006, while the second, called Colleagues Committed to
Redesign, began in January 2008. “We took the lessons learned from the
original Pew-funded process and streamlined it so schools wouldn’t have
to reinvent the wheel,” Twigg said.
NCAT is also puttingmajor emphasis on developing state-funded
programs that replicate the national process. “We have six state programs
going on—inArizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Maryland, and
SUNY inNewYork,” Twigg said. “SUNY has 60 institutions, and they’re
going to award ten grants, similar to the national program, but in this case
the state is providing the funding.”That will ultimately result in 70 to 80
new redesigns by 2010.
“We are in discussionwith other state systems to launch additional
programs,” Twigg said. “It’s really exploding. We’ve gone from the original
30 schools to about 200, in one formor another.”
The corporate world is getting involved as well, through the Redesign
Alliance, a national association for colleges and companies. “The
Corporate Associates Program involves companies that aremembers of
the alliance—mostly higher
ed publishing and software
companies whosematerials are
used in the redesigns,” Twigg
The corporate associates
(of which there were five in
the 2007-08 academic year)
are paying an annual fee of
$50,000. Smaller companies
can also participate in the
alliance for $5,000 per year.
“Companies that pay the
$50,000membership get more
in return,” Twigg said. “The
smaller companies can’t afford
that, so we give thema chance to get involved.”
The proliferation of programs such as these speaks to the desirability of
what they promise. But do they really work as intended? Do they pay off?
Peter Ewell, vice president of theNational Center for Higher Education
Management Systems, has his doubts. “I still havemy reservations about
that,” he said. “Carol Twigg is now in the third voluntary semi-funded
project that involves individual institutions. Each successive round has
been a little less successful than the last.The first 30 programs were
spectacularly successful, but in the ensuing rounds, there has been a little
less bonsai spirit.” Ewell, who also serves onNCAT’s board of directors,
suggested that the declining success of the programs is “largely because
institutional commitment is less because they’re not receiving anymoney.”
As to the savings generated by online courses, Ewell said that it
is disingenuous to suggest that they are plowed back into academic
programs. “The bottom line is fewer faculty,” he said. “If there is no
increase inwhat onemight call efficiency in the instruction, there’s no
point in doing this. You can go inwith a straight face and say you’re going
to grow enrollment and not have to get rid of anybody, but this will result
in fewer full-time faculty per student.That clearly is the case.”
Nevertheless, some faculty find this very exciting, and are anxious to
embrace the new technology. “What you’re seeing is a quiet revolution,
Are the savings
generated by online
courses really plowed
back into academic
programs, or do they
merely allow
colleges to hire fewer
full-time faculty?