Faculty presents progress on gateway course transformation


Emily Ng

Samuel Gosling, a professor in the Department of Psychology gives a presentation on the world of synchronous massive online classes during the Course Transformation Program Showcase in Avaya Auditorium Wednesday afternoon.

Matthew Hart

Large introductory courses at the University of Texas may better equip students with skills applicable to their major as faculty continue to review and refine required courses.

At a talk Wednesday, faculty presented progress of the Course Transformation Program, a plan to profoundly transform large gateway courses at the University.

Gretchen Ritter, vice provost for undergraduate education and faculty governance and government professor, said the program is designed to allow students to focus on conceptual understanding and help them to apply their knowledge to real life situations.

Lecturers and professors from the School of Biological Sciences, the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and several other schools which participated in the program in its first cycle last semester addressed course redesign procedures and the challenges of continuing to improve gateway courses.

The program has restructured gateway courses to engage students through technology in multiple departments. 

“It is about experimenting with synchronous online course programs that gives students daily, personally-tailored quizzes,” Ritter said. “It allows them to check with each other virtually from any location on or off campus.”

English associate professor Coleman Hutchison said within each variant of the Masterworks of Literature courses at UT, faculty have discretion on the curriculum and do not teach out of a standard set of textbooks.

“The challenge is that we have a very heterogeneous audience, and they come with varying levels of preparation,” Coleman said. 

Economics lecturer Beatrix Paal said instructors need to get students from thinking like high school students to thinking like economists. 

“Some students take [macroeconomics] in four weeks in high school, and that counts as the same credit and this is a huge concern to us,” Paal said. “We are using the universal TUCE [Test of Understanding of College Economics] test to evaluate our students at the beginning of the course and we are checking their progress throughout the semester.”

Daily course planning is also undergoing assessment.

“Implicitly we continue to adopt backward design principles when designing our units,” Paal said. “Integrating more interactive activities in the large lectures necessitates being more explicit about the unit design goals.”

The intent of the program is to develop new resources in introductory courses and to improve academic success. 

“In the evaluations programs, what we have learned so far is that students are learning more based on concept tests and are doing better academically,” Ridder said. “And one very exciting finding we’ve seen is that when students take more than one course transformation course, they seem to be doing better not just in that class, but in their other courses as well.”

Printed on Thursday, February 7, 2013 as: Faculty plans to increase course quality