Contact: Gordon Hodge, (505) 277-3019
Nancy Uscher, (505) 277-2611
Steve Carr, (505) 277-1821

August 28, 2001

UNM RECEIVES $200,000 GRANT FROM THE PEW LEARNING AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAM

The University of New Mexico is one of 10 institutions nationally to receive a two-year, $200,000 grant from the Pew Learning and Technology Program at the Center for Academic Transformation as part of the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign.
The grant will support the redesign of general psychology 105 at UNM using technology to enhance learning and reduce costs.

The lead principal investigator for the grant is Gordon Hodge, associate professor in Psychology and UNM Presidential Teaching Fellow, who has been teaching in the department for more than 25 years. Other University officials involved with the grant include Nancy Uscher, associate provost for Academic Affairs and John Sobolewski, associate vice president at Computer Information and Resources Technology.

“The impetus from the grant was to encourage universities to take a hard look at how they are teaching their introductory courses,” said Hodge. “One goal was to look and see if we are being efficient in terms of providing instruction to students. The second goal is to find out if we can be more effective in teaching students the material. The challenge of the redesign effort is to determine whether we can offer an introductory course to a large number of students efficiently, but at the same time effectively improve their learning.”

One of the major overall goals of the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign is to engage institutions in rethinking their approaches to integrating information technology and academic planning. While each project focuses on one course, the context in which the redesign takes place is, perhaps, more important than the success of the particular project. The intention is to create a model of redesign that can be implemented throughout the institution. UNM was selected following a three-stage application process. The first stage identified those institutions that were ready to engage in large-scale redesign. The second stage selected 20 institutions from among a group of 40 that identified specific courses that are ready for large-scale redesign. The third and final stage selected 10 institutions to receive redesign grants. UNM was selected based on its commitment to this process.

“One of the real successes we had prior to receiving the grant was the chance to demonstrate a collaborative effort across the University,” said Uscher. “Fritz Allen, former interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, John Sobolewski, associate vice president at CIRT, and Gordon Hodge of the pyshcology department, all collaborated and attended workshops as a team, which modeled a very positive effort by the University to work across sectors for the common good of the student.”

The course redesign will directly address the high failure rate for general psychology which is currently 30 percent. The “drop, withdrawal, failure” rate is even higher at 42 percent. General psychology is the university’s largest and most popular undergraduate “killer” course. More than 2,200 students enroll in the nine sections of the course which is currently taught in the traditional lecture format. High failure rates in core curriculum courses such as general psychology are known to have a strong negative impact on UNM’s low overall retention and graduate rates.

“Because general psychology is a core course, it really has a tremendous impact on students at University. It is one of the most popular core courses in the social sciences,” said Uscher. “It was the perfect course to redesign for this project. We’re paying increasing attention to helping our students succeed. We’re really looking at teaching and learning as an important component in the University’s mission.”

The course redesign will significantly enhance the learning experience for students in several ways including: the use of technology, which will improve overall course performance of the university’s diverse student population; course content will be consistent across sections; and students will learn to actively apply principles of scientific and critical thinking in this and subsequent courses. The course redesign will also produce a substantial cost savings by reducing the number of faculty, instructors and teaching assistants; reduce course failure and retake rates; and increase student retention and graduation rates which affect state funding.

The course redesign will incorporate one 50-minute lecture and one 50-minute computer lab section per week, supplemented by interactive hybrid Internet/CD-ROM activities, quizzes and programmed self-instruction offered on a 24/7 schedule; use computer-based technology to provide students with “learner-centered” activities providing immediate feedback to both the student and instructor about student progress; use computer-based technology to foster greater peer interaction and work within teams; increase student contact with upper level peer leaders to facilitate learning; and to develop consistent curricula across all sections of the course.

“It going to help teaching and learning,” said Hodge. “The Pew grant recognizes retention as a crucial goal, but beyond that, it recognizes the commitment that UNM has had toward outstanding teaching. The Pew grant will help focus our teaching efforts on new ways of enhancing student learning and retention.”

Some aspects of the redesign will be implemented in the 2001 fall semester. Next semester, one section will be fully implemented and a comparison of student learning in the redesigned section against student learning in a traditionally taught section will be studied. In the fall 2002, all sections will use the redesign.

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