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redesign the delivery of its introductory algebra course. It
wanted one instructor to handle 100 students while devoting
more time to content instead of troubleshooting technology
problems and performing course clerical work.
But because Rio Salado begins each of its distance learning
classes every two weeks, it proved too difficult to enroll 100
students in any one section. Instead, the college redesigned
its course management system so that one instructor handled
four different math courses with a total of 100 students.
The redesign added a course assistant to work on the
technology questions, monitor student progress and alert
the instructor when students were having difficulty with the
material. The instructor could therefore spend more time on
content.
Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia, redesigned its
linear algebra course, which is taken by about 2,000 first-
year engineering, physical sciences and math students. The
redesign was part of a larger transformation project for all
large-enrollment math courses, made possible by the opening
of the Math Emporium, a 500-workstation computer lab and
a generational shift,” Ewell explained. “Thirty-year-old faculty like the
teacher technology.They’re good at it.They understand it.”
A case in point is Felicia FriendlyThomas, a professor of clinical
psychology at Cal Poly Pomona who was featured in the 2002 article. At
the time,Thomas had tomaster the new teaching technology in order
to conduct a redesigned introductory psychology course, and has since
become an advocate for online learning.
“I have done a number of research studies on learning in the online
environment, and presented at numerous conventions over the course
of the last four years in every imaginable topic of online learning
and instruction,”Thomas said. In 2005, for instance, at theWestern
Psychological Association convention,Thomas gave a presentation
entitled, “Can one teach about human behavior in a non-human
environment?”
While Cal Poly was considered only “partially successful” in its
redesign program, according a report by NCAT, and did not complete
or fully implement its redesign plans, online instruction is more popular
there than ever.
“At Cal Poly we have pre-registration, and this is one of the courses
that closes almost immediately on the first day it is available,”Thomas said
of her online introductory psychology course. “It’s extremely popular. I
usually have twice as many
students trying to get into the
course as there are spaces.”
The use of online resources
is popular in a growing
number of non-introductory
and upper-division courses as
well, and Cal Poly has licensed
an educational database
programcalled Blackboard
to help facilitate this. “All of
our courses are automatically
uploaded into Blackboard,”
Thomas said. “An instructor
can decide if he or she wants
to use some, all or none of the
features available within Blackboard. Even the regular, traditional courses
have that available to them.”
Most of the resistance to online pedagogy comes, predictably, from
faculty. “A few recalcitrant faculty can stop dead the process,” Twigg said.
“Something that will typically happen in a research university is that
the research-oriented faculty are resistant. One of the reasons we chose
to focus on introductory courses was because there is less possessive
ownership of introductory courses, and generally star faculty are not
involved in them.” Peter Ewell was more blunt, referring to the courses as
“mega-classes that nobody wants to teach anyway.”
The students, on the other hand, seem to be embracing the new
technology.Thomas says that they are demanding online courses, and
Twigg concurs. “Students like it,” she said. “They become big advocates of
changing other courses. We have plenty of stories of students who failed in
the traditional course, and then passed the redesigned course.”
A lot of themath programs, in particular, show impressive results,
according to Twigg. “Theymake gains in scores initially, and then the
sores continue to go up,” she said, citing the University of Alabama as an
example. “InAlabama, prior to their original redesign, only 40 percent
of students passed college algebra; after the redesign, in the first year in
implementation, it was 60 percent.That number has increased steadily to
80 percent.”
Another much-touted success story is theMath Emporiumat
Virginia Tech, a facility with hundreds of computers, staffed by faculty and
teaching assistants, where thousands of students satisfy introductorymath
requirements.
“I don’t think there is as much resistance to using educational
technology as there was ten years ago—it’s how things get done,” said Jane
Wellman, executive director of the Delta Cost Project, an organization that
focuses on college affordability and institutional productivity. “When it
is done comprehensively it clearly both saves money and produces better
results.” She cautioned, however, that the technology has to be used in
the right way. “Whether this is resulting fromcomprehensive, thoughtful
redesign—whether it’s something other than just putting the Internet in
the classroom—remains to be seen.”
—Todd Sallo
Felicia Friendly
Thomas, a professor
at Cal Poly Pomona,
had to master the new
teaching technology,
and has since become
an advocate for online
learning.
learning center.
Lecture sections for the redesigned course were eliminated
and all the classwork is conducted in the Math Emporium,
which is open every day. Content was organized into units
that a student would normally cover at a rate of two a week,
followed by a quiz. Interactive tutorials give the student
feedback.
The Math Emporium employs student tutors, who point
students toward appropriate resources for answering their
questions. Last fall the shift in format allowed one professor
to handle 1,500 students and helped the university save more
than $130,000, said math professor Ken Hannsgen.
“This is just a first shot,” Hannsgen said. “When you
consider that traditional methods have had decades or even
centuries to perfect themselves, I think we’ve made a good
beginning. You should encourage people to be creative—
maybe you can do more than you expect.”There were a lot of
doubters, he added. “But you should not listen to the worst
fears.”
Amajor lesson from the redesign process, said Carol