Redesigning for large enrollment

Martha Mamoby Sydney Brown, Assistant Director, Innovative Instructional Design, January 2017

Faced with an enrollment that had jumped from 30 to 95 and seeking a way to address the increased variability in student readiness to take “Soil Nutrient Relationships,” Weaver Professor of Agronomy and Horticulture Martha Mamo launched a redesign of her course. 

“Last spring, I was making all these assumptions about my students based on their majors, but I really needed to build up to it. Many were not ready for the course,” Mamo said.

From her perspective, there were only two ways to address the student readiness problem.  Either lower her standards, or find a way to make more time during class to do formative assessment and work through more examples more slowly using active learning techniques.  Lowering her standards was out of the question, so she opted to move the lecture content online and use class time for active learning, working through examples, and case studies.

Laying the groundwork

Having participated in several faculty development programs where she discussed effective teaching strategies with her colleagues, she contemplated what she could be doing in her class to achieve her goals. She also took note of what her colleagues were doing.  Jeyam Subbiah, Kenneth E. Morrison Distinguished Professor in Food Engineering, used active learning techniques such as peer instruction and just-in-time-teaching, and had recently flipped his course. His satisfaction with the outcomes gave her confidence her changes would lead to better student learning.

Up until this point, she taught every semester and had been making incremental and intentional revisions to her course, but she knew a major redesign would require focused attention. To create room in her schedule, she moved all her teaching to the spring term, reserving the fall term for research and course design. She also requested instructional design support, working with both Terry Workman, Instructional Design Technology Specialist for the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources, and Sydney Brown, assistant director with the Innovative Instructional Design team. The team met on a regular basis to work though design issues and ensure the new course would be ready to launch in Spring 2017. 

Course characteristics and goals

The course is made up of mostly sophomore students who attend three 50-minute lecture sessions and one recitation session each week.  Unlike many courses with recitation sections, AGRO366 does not use the recitation as a discussion session. It is taught by Meghan Sindelar, Assistant Professor of Practice, and better thought of as a skill-building, hands-on course of its own parallel to the lecture. In the recitation section, students develop a recitation portfolio and incrementally complete a nutrition management project.  The project represents 25% of the final grade and constitutes an authentic performance task wherein everything students learn over the term is applied to a real-world situation. Students also do a poster oral presentation on their nutrient management project. Other summative assessments include weekly online quizzes and five one-hour exams.

Mamo’s first step was to identify and articulate desired learning outcomes and how she would be able to tell if her students reached them.

“At the end of the day, they should be able to develop a solid nutrient management plan,” she said.

Considering the many learning goals students would need to achieve to successfully develop a nutrient management plan, Mamo analyzed her course, reviewing all content and activities to eliminate the non-essential and make the most of the essential. By moving the lectures online, students would have an increased workload, needing to read, watch the lectures, and complete the quizzes. Consequently, only essential content and activities could be included.  The payoff of the out-of-class work, however, would be that students would arrive at class prepared for the learning activities.

The learning cycle

The next step was to define the learning cycle.

“You have to have the big picture, then break it into pieces.  What will happen before, during, and after class?” she said.

Before class, Mamo equips students with study guide questions to use as they do the readings, watch the video lectures, and complete the weekly quiz. The quiz is part summative and part formative.  One formative aspect is having students write well-formed questions related to their own real-world experiences.  These help Mamo detect conceptual misunderstandings.

During class, Mamo addresses these questions, poses new questions to which students respond using i>Clickers, and works through case studies.  This approach supports student engagement through active learning  and allows her to correct conceptual understandings. Additionally, by helping students to connect accurate and well-organized new information with their prior knowledge and experience, students will build a more accurate mental knowledge network, or schema, that will enhance long-term retention and recall of what they’ve learned.

Technologies employed

Students access the course and course quizzes and exams through Canvas.  Students may take each untimed quiz up to three times, but exams are timed and conducted during class. 

The narrated lecture topics were recorded using Camtasia.  Videos are short and stick with a single topic.  This makes it easier for students to focus their attention and revisit topics.  For Mamo, the single-topic approach gives her a library of content she can easily update and deploy in different ways. Students watch the videos through Techsmith Relay and viewing analytics are captured.

Screenshot of Module
This screenshot shows how students are introduced to a new module and easily access all module elements from a single Canvas page.

In class, the student response system, i>Clicker, allows Mamo to do formative assessment and increases student engagement.

Redesign evaluation

In addition to the summative assessments, Mamo developed a knowledge survey based on the course learning goals. Students will take this survey before and after they complete the course.

The course launches on Monday, January 9, 2017 and Mamo plans to discuss the evaluation as well as lessons learned at the Fall Teaching & Learning Symposium.