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Felicia Friendly Thomas, professor of behavioral sciences,
directs the psychology course redesign work at Cal Poly
Pomona.
Twigg, is that “the more you individualize the learning process
for students, the better the results are. Virginia Tech is a good
example of this. They have gone to the level of what each
student is ready to learn and what problems each has” and
have structured their course around that. “The more you do
this, the more successful you will be.”
Math and other quantitative courses appear the most
likely candidates for using technology to increase quality
and decrease costs. But some schools are redesigning world
literature, the performing arts, and English
composition.
BrighamYoung University is reducing
the amount of time students spend in the
classroom and replacing it with interactive
multimedia lessons for its first-year writing
course. The technology also helps the
university standardize a course that has had
a wide range of quality because of different
experience levels within the faculty.
The University of SouthernMississippi
is testing an online section of its world
literature course in which faculty
presentations of the content are taped
and placed online along with instructors’
notes, additional media resources, quizzes,
exams and essay assignments. Students can attend the live
presentations, but the school reports that only a handful do—
sometimes none at all.
Change, reform, revolution—whatever one calls it—is
never easy in any field. “Universities are going to push back
a good deal more” when redesign efforts go beyond pilot
projects, said Peter Ewell of the National Center for Higher
EducationManagement Systems. He sees three questions to be
addressed:
• How far-reaching can redesign be? “It’s no coincidence
that most of the redesign projects are inmath and science,”
Ewell said. “In those fields you have a faculty that can
agree on the outcomes it wants.” It is harder to convince
faculties in the humanities and social sciences to do this
because “that means giving up ‘my god-given right to do
what I want to do.’”
• How do you deal with credit hours and registration? How
do you account for faculty teaching load? How do you
alter, in Ewell’s words, the “administrivia” of academic life
with these redesigns?
•What do you do with the savings?This is perhaps the most
fundamental question. Right now, many schools are selling
the redesign process to faculty who want to be freed to do
their own research or teach upper-level courses. “But that’s
just feeding the higher education habit,” Ewell said. If you
implement these redesigns big-time, he asked, shouldn’t
you be putting a lot of that money back into lower-division
courses? And if you enlarge the redesign process, isn’t it
likely that colleges and universities will need fewer core
faculty in the future?
To spread the word about the redesign process, the Center
for Academic Transformation encourages participating
schools to disseminate their findings on their own campuses
and at conferences. For example, Fairfield University, which
redesigned its two-semester general biology course with a Pew
grant, hosted a conference this summer. Conferees discussed
what worked and what didn’t, how redesign results can be
assessed, and howmore faculty members can be brought on
board. The center also maintains a website (www.center.rpi.
edu) containing extensive detail about each college’s effort.
“I’ve been talking about these ideas for a long time,” Twigg
said. “I think we’ve proved that you can do this. Now the
question is how do you disseminate these ideas more rapidly
through higher education so that people who hear about
the process won’t start from scratch. We let these 30 schools
experiment, within certain parameters. Nowwe knowwhat
works.”
u
KayMills is the author of “This Little Light of Mine: The Life of
Fannie Lou Hamer,” and four other books.
“The more you
individualize the
learning process for
students, the better
the results are.”
—Carol Twigg, executive
director of the Center for
Academic Transformation