Hawaii Course Redesign Project




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Round I Funded Projects


Since April 1999, the Center for Academic Transformation (CAT) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has managed the Program in Course Redesign (PCR). Its purpose is to demonstrate how colleges and universities can redesign their instructional approaches using technology to achieve quality enhancements as well as cost savings. Thirty institutions were selected from hundreds of applicants in a national competition to participate. Each institution redesigned one large enrollment course to increase quality while simultaneously reducing instructional costs through the use of technology. These 30 institutions represent research universities, comprehensive universities, private colleges, and community colleges in all regions of the United States.

The first redesign projects focused on large enrollment, introductory courses. As an initial target, these courses have the potential of generating large cost savings and having significant impact on student success. Studies have shown that undergraduate enrollments in the United States are highly concentrated in introductory courses. On average, nationally, at the baccalaureate level, the 25 largest courses generate about 35 percent of student enrollment. At the community college level, the 25 largest courses generate about 50 percent of enrollment. In addition, successful completion of these courses is key to student progress toward a degree. High failure rates in these courses - typically 15% at research universities, 30-40% at comprehensives, and 50-60% at community colleges - can lead to significant drop-out rates between the first and second years of enrollment.

The Center required each of the 30 institutions participating in the PCR to conduct a rigorous evaluation focused on learning outcomes as measured by student performance and achievement. National assessment experts provided consultation and oversight regarding the assessment of learning outcomes to maximize validity and reliability.

The findings of the PCR show:

  • 25 of the 30 redesigns improved learning; the remaining 5 redesign resulted learning outcomes equivalent to traditional formats;
  • All 30 projects reduced the cost of instruction - by 40% on average, with a range of 20% to 77%; and,
  • Of the 24 projects that measured retention, 18 resulted in reductions in drop-failure-withdrawal (DFW) rates.
Other outcomes achieved included improved student attitudes toward the subject matter and increased student satisfaction with the mode of instruction.

While each of the 30 institutions within the PCR had complete freedom as to how they would redesign their course to increase quality and reduce costs, a number of common elements emerged. The redesigns addressed the entire course, not just a single class session. They emphasized active learning through greater student engagement with the material and other students. Learning activities emphasized practice, feedback and reinforcement. Interactive software was heavily used - individually and in teams. Online learning resources were available 24/7. On-demand individualized personal assistance was provided. Differences in student learning styles were accommodated. Course management software helped monitor student performance to support mastery learning. And there was differentiated use of personnel rather than relying on a single faculty member to individually do everything associated with delivering a course.

From the initial 30 projects, the Center has identified five different models for applying these elements. The five models represent different points on the continuum from a fully face-to-face course to a fully online course. The Center has also established a number of proven approaches to assessing student learning as well as a variety of strategies to overcome potential implementation obstacles.

It is also important to understand the context for reducing costs. The savings achieved through the redesigned courses were not “swept” and reallocated to non-instructional purposes. Rather the projects applied the savings to objectives such as offering additional courses that previously could not be offered; increasing faculty release time for research, renewal or additional course development; satisfying unmet student demand with the same level of resources; reducing course repetitions; and combinations of these.

Further information about the Center and the PCR results are available at www.center.rpi.edu.