Guest Contributor: Elaine Gray, Appalachian State University.

A Little History

The National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) has gathered more than a decade’s worth of evidence and enthusiasm for what Peter Ewell, Vice President, National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, describes as “the most extensive demonstration to date of the effectiveness of fusing instructional technology and reconceptualized instructional practices.” The course redesign movement is credited with bringing about increased retention, high quality learning, and cost savings to higher education institutions. NCAT’s monograph Increasing Success for Underserved Students: Redesigning Introductory Courses provides a comprehensive overview of case studies from thirty colleges and universities through an effort funded by an $8.8-million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Each of the institutions in the case studies abided by six common pedagogical practices:

  1. Whole course redesign, in which all sections of the course were retooled
  2. Active learning, which focused on learning-centered teaching strategies
  3. Computer-based learning resources that engaged students with course content
  4. Mastery learning that although not self-paced, organized student progress by the scaffolding or mastering of learning objectives
  5. On-Demand help that connected students with peer tutors, support staff, teaching assistants, and faculty
  6. Alternative staffing, which allows the on-demand help and course building process to expand beyond faculty, thus freeing faculty to work more directly with academic tasks than on logistical challenges.

Much of the excitement generated by the NCAT case studies is also a direct result of the instructional design flexibility this model allowed. For example, the model can be successfully applied across a wide variety of academic disciplines.

Continued Successes

Almost fourteen years after the NCAT Program for Course Redesign was created, the course redesign movement is still spawning healthy and hopeful offspring. In December 2012 the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas in Austin, in collaboration with national partners Jobs for the Future, Complete College America and the Education Commission of the States, published a joint manifesto entitled The Core Principles for Transforming Remedial EducationThis document outlines what many institutions of higher education are considering a highly promising method to ensure students’ timely and successful completion of their programs of study–or even new programs of study — possibly entitling them to much-needed performance funding that is directly tied to completion numbers.

Research from Dr. Thomas Bailey, director at the Community College Research Center since 1996, supports the data in the Core Principles report. Bailey’s research found that “Only about a quarter of community college students who take a remedial course graduate within eight years.” Not good numbers if your institution counts on performance-based funding. The report also states that “The seven core principles should lead to a more coherent, contextualized, and completion-focused approach for all students.” Educational technology can be leveraged to contextualize remedial education (by connecting key concepts to a student’s chosen career path) and to provide accelerated, just-in-time support.

Looking into Course Redesign?

There are three critical considerations for determining the feasibility of implementing course redesign at your institution:

  1. Budget: Do you have the funding to sustain a multi-year implementation plan?
  2. Assessment: Do you have a baseline measure and a feasible long-term assessment plan that will capture changes in student learning as you move through the course redesign process?
  3. Staffing: In addition to subject matter experts, do you have a team of technology savvy developers and instructional designers to assist with the development and implementation?

The grand takeaway from years of NCAT-sponsored course redesign projects is that technology can be used as a lever to improve student outcomes and reduce instructional costs. When employed with intentional design efforts, technology can become “teachnology,” allowing students to gain individual mastery of content while simultaneously freeing faculty and support staff to provide more active, ongoing, and direct learner support.

Elaine Gray holds a Masters degree in Liberal Studies from Rollins College and a PhD in Learning and Change in Human Systems from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She teaches courses in the Interdisciplinary Studies Program and First Year Seminar program at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. She is an advisor for the Kellogg Institute and taught graduate courses in the Leadership and Higher Education program. Elaine has extensive background as an instructional designer and serves as the program assessment coordinator for the General Education Program. She is the author of the student success textbook “Conscious Choices: a Guide to Self-directed Learning”.

Interested in exploring course redesign? Cengage Learning’s team of NCAT-trained consultants and award-winning instructional designers can help! Visit the Web site to learn how our consulting and curriculum design services can help you redesign your course(s) in a way that will improve student outcomes and institutional efficiencies.

What do you consider an important consideration to course redesign success? Are there efforts you’ve been a part of that have been successful? Share with us in the comments section.