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Course Redesign Promotes Learning Outcomes

Posted: December 8, 2010
Course redesign, as envisioned by the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT), is not simply a matter of “putting a course online.” Instead, it’s redesigning a course with the specific intent of improving student learning outcomes as well as reducing the cost of higher education.

“When we started this project in 2007,” said William T. Ganley, professor of economics and finance, “we wanted to improve learning outcomes and achieve some cost savings for the Economics and Finance Department.” The money that has been saved on the department’s large general-education course, the Economic System (ECO 101), has supported the department’s graduate programs.

“By any measure of learning outcomes,” said Ganley, “the redesign has been good for our students. Our withdrawal rate this semester was about eight students out of 300; usually, in our large lecture classes, it’s about ten percent. And there has been a slight but general improvement in grade distribution.”

In the past, ECO 101 was a traditional, general-education course for nonmajors that was offered in two lecture sections of about 150 students each. Now a single section meets face-to-face with Ganley once a week; online activities, including a weekly quiz and an online forum, replace the second meeting.
The class of 300 is divided into groups of 35–40 students. A carefully trained “undergraduate learning assistant," or ULA, leads each group. The ULAs are students in the course, and they facilitate much of the online learning.

Several different models of course redesign exist. Ganley believes that this particular model, in this particular course, allows students the opportunity to learn based on their strengths. “Visual students can watch streaming video,” he said, “and students who like to become engaged can do so in the online forums. One of the surprising aspects, to me, is how well the online forums have succeeded in engaging more students.”

Karen O’Quin, associate dean of the School of Natural and Social Sciences, and Meghan Pereira, instructional technology specialist, were also involved in the course redesign. Together, they presented their initial findings at SUNY’s Conference on Information and Technology in May 2010

Last summer, NCAT invited Ganley to become an NCAT Redesign Scholar. He has traveled around the country, presenting the process and product developed at Buffalo State. “From Kentucky to California, faculty members are being told that they have to find more cost-effective ways to provide a college education,” he said. “Those who attend our presentations are sometimes relieved to find that it’s possible to design a course that improves students’ learning while providing more effective utilization of academic resources.”

Ganley, who chairs Buffalo State’s enrollment management committee, also sees course redesign as a tool to improve retention. “Improving retention at a college,” he said, “means retaining students in a program. And to retain students in a program, you have to retain them in individual classes. Students and faculty are, and will remain, at the center of higher education.”

Ganley and O’Quin will present their successful redesign of ECO 101 to a group of Buffalo State administrators this month. In April, they will help to host a regional NCAT conference, Course Redesign for the Social Sciences, on campus.

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