In November 2002, Penn State was awarded the Sloan-C Award for Excellence in Online Cost Effectiveness for the curricular redesign of the Statistics 200: Elementary Statistics course. The project, funded by a grant from the Pew Learning and Technology Program at the Center for Academic Transformation, was a team effort of the Statistics Department, the Schreyer Institute, and Education Technology Services (ETS).
William Harkness, professor emeritus of statistics, accepted the award November 8 at the Sloan-C International Conference on Asynchronous Learning Networks in Orlando, Florida. The Sloan Consortium, or Sloan-C, is an association of accredited educational institutions offering degree programs through high-quality online education, as its Web site at http://www.sloan-c.org/ explains.
In selecting recipients of the award, a panel of experienced online educators looks for practices that best exemplify reliability, impact, and contribution to a particular field. The citation reads, "For implementing and sharing the cost effective practice of course design that reduces lecture time and adds interactive learning."
According to the Statistics 200 Web site at http://stat200.stat.psu.edu/, the course redesign was intended to make the material more relevant to students by shifting the role of the instructor from strictly a lecturer to facilitator of self-directed learning. The redesigned course stresses hands-on practice activities using technology.
Because students are now grouped in labs of about sixty students, rather than lecture sections of about thirty students, fewer sections are needed, reducing the number of teaching assistants required and the administrative overhead costs. Assessments of student readiness help instructors focus instruction on gaps in knowledge, rather than sequencing material based on a predetermined notion of what students need to know.
These course improvements reduce the cost per student by approximately thirty percent. In a course with an enrollment of over 2,800, this adds up to significant savings. John Harwood, senior director of Teaching and Learning with Technology, of which ETS is a part, says, "Statistics 200 has shown that careful redesign of large courses can yield both improvements in learning and reduction in costs."
The course redesign project began when the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign gave a grant to the Statistics Department. According to their Web site at http://www.center.rpi.edu/PewGrant.html , the Pew program encourages universities to redesign instructional approaches using technology to achieve cost savings as well as quality enhancements, particularly in large-enrollment, introductory courses. The Pew program is currently supporting three rounds of ten projects each, for a total of thirty redesigns. Penn State's project is one of those in round I.
With the help of the grant money, the Schreyer Institute assisted the Statistics Department in redesigning the curriculum. Once the curricular redesign was complete, ETS created a small-scale Web-based course management system.
"The system allows an instructor to post a syllabus in one place for all sections of a course, and when a student logs in, he or she automatically enters the right section," explains Elizabeth Pyatt, ETS instructional designer. There, the student finds pre-assessments, reading assignments, and exercises, listed by date. "Our programmers did an incredible job developing such a usable system on a very quick time line," adds Pyatt.
Harkness says of the course redesign, "It's a fantastic success." He explains that the Statistics Department is now using the same curricular model in biostatistics and engineering statistics. Students enrolled in courses using the new model have performed progressively better on each quiz, he says. On the final exam, there is a "big difference" compared to scores from students enrolled in traditional lecture classes. He observes, "There's no other way to fly." He says he prefers the new curriculum emphasizing self-directed learning and would not go back to the old model of three lectures a week. Now the students get hands-on, involved learning. Although it may be more work for the students, he says, "They get so much more out of it."