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The Role of Course Redesign in Progression to Graduation

April 14, 2014

Faculty, Staff, and Students:

The KU Course Redesign Task Force, ably led by psychology chair Ruth Ann Atchley, has spent the last six months investigating priorities and best practices to improve the learning environment at the University of Kansas, especially within large gateway courses taken by first-year students.  (It turns out that the task force did not actually recommend standing desk classrooms or missile-guided faculty members, but I have posted a number of nice responses I received after last week’s April 1 issue of Provost eNews.)

As Kansas’ flagship institution, KU aspires by the year 2022 to a first-year retention rate of 90 percent and a six-year graduation rate of 70 percent. To reach this ambitious goal, significant challenges must be overcome.  The KU Core that we launched last August is a vital first step.  Another issue is that too many of our first-year students stumble in courses with high DFW rates (i.e., courses with significant numbers of final grades of D or F or withdrawal), and as a result they take such courses multiple times or may not progress. Course redesign is an important mechanism for improving learning and progress toward a degree.

In the September 30 Provost eNews, I outlined the charge for the 12-member task force, with a focus upon general principles and collaboration. The group’s draft report is now available for viewing and comment by the KU community.  I encourage you to read it and provide feedback.

Six action areas

The task force has made six overarching recommendations:

  1. Identify key courses for redesign.  Departments should focus upon courses with high DFW rates; lecture courses; courses critical to success in a major; KU Core courses; and courses serving students from a variety of majors.
  1. Greatly increase collaboration within departments, across the university and with partner universities.  Faculty members and departments must work together in a shared manner for course redesign to succeed. A number of recommendations build upon existing collaborations and communities and expand KU’s collaborations with outside organizations.
  1. Recognize excellence in course redesign in promotion and tenure standards.  Faculty members who redesign courses should receive time for development, and promotion and tenure policies should reward faculty who engage in innovative teaching, document student learning, and share successes and failures.
  1. Expand the C21 Course Redesign Consortium and the use of postdocs and undergraduate teaching assistants.  Expansion of C21 and additional postdoc funding would allow more courses to be redesigned and attract more faculty participants. Additionally, undergraduate teaching assistants have been shown to be a cost-effective means of helping manage large, redesigned courses.
  1. Increase funding for classroom redesign.  Recommendations include funding for redesigned spaces across campus, central scheduling, and the creation of prototype classrooms.
  1. Make better use of technology for learning.  Recommendations will accelerate KU’s use of flipped, hybrid, and online courses, including a bring-your-own-device model for students and expanded use of remote-access software and negotiated site licenses.

Because no one size fits all, the task force recommends a menu of approaches.  However, the report makes it clear that KU’s courses should adopt a student-centered model and promote a range of learning outcomes.

Positioning KU as a national leader

Many of the recommendations build upon ongoing initiatives that have positioned KU to take a dramatic step forward as a national leader in course redesign. The C21 Consortium has helped redesign over 25 large courses since 2012, and its membership continues to grow — from an initial 40 faculty and staff members in the fall to a current cohort of over 80, including undergraduate and graduate students.

Doug Ward, associate professor of journalism, has written several posts on a Center for Teaching Excellence blog about the value of classroom redesign, and this fall he is teaching in new space in Stauffer-Flint 202. Similarly redesigned space is available on the third floor of Strong Hall and will be a major part of the new buildings underway for the Schools of Engineering and Business. This summer, additional classrooms in Wescoe Hall will be redesigned, including the EGARC on the 4th floor.

And most prominently, KU is positioned at the forefront of the national discussion on this topic through our work with three high-powered consortia: the Bay View Alliance, the APLU Personalized Learning Consortium, and the Public Flagships Network.

I urge you to review the task force’s draft report and share your comments and encouragement with the task force, which you can do at the task force report website.

Bits and Bytes

  • In case you missed them, there have been several recent announcements regarding upcoming leadership changes across campus:
  • Mary Ellen Kondrat, dean of social welfare, will step down June 1 after eight years leading the school and will retire as a faculty member on August 17. I’ve named Tom McDonald, professor and associate dean, as interim dean while we begin a national search for Dean Kondrat’s successor. She leaves a great and lasting legacy at KU.
  • John Gaunt, dean of architecture, design & planning for the past 20 years, will step down at the end of the spring 2015 semester. In the coming weeks, a national search for his successor will be announced. I am extremely grateful for Dean Gaunt’s sustained leadership and commitment to KU, which will be extended as he remains on campus as a faculty member.
  • Steve Warren, vice chancellor for research for the past seven years, is stepping down at the end of this semester to begin a one-year research leave. I’ve named Mary Lee Hummert, vice provost for faculty development, as interim vice chancellor for research, effective May 19. A national search for a new vice chancellor will be underway soon. Vice Chancellor Warren has overseen tremendous growth in research at KU, and he will continue his own personal research on child language development and disabilities.
  • Marta Caminero-Santangelo, professor in the Department of English, will serve as acting vice provost of faculty development effective May 19. Marta is a past chair of her department, a past senior administrative fellow, and a 2008 recipient of the Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence.
  • The deadline for nominations for the second annual Jim Baxendale Commercialization Award is Tuesday, April 15. This KU Innovation & Collaboration (KUIC) award recognizes a faculty member for excellence in research entrepreneurship and commercialization. The award is named after former KU commercialization director Jim Baxendale, who worked for nearly 16 years in the field of technology transfer at KU. Last year’s winner was Lisa Stehno-Bittel, professor and chair of the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science in the School of Health Professions and co-founder of startup company Likarda. Nominations may be submitted online.
  • KU Innovation & Collaboration (KUIC) is hosting the 2014 Innovation Fair from 4–6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 1 in the Kansas Union Ballroom. Attendees may learn about KU technology, discover opportunities for entrepreneurial collaboration, and network with faculty, students and company representatives. Hors d'œuvre and refreshments will be served. A short program will include presentation of the Jim Baxendale Commercialization Award and awards for a poster competition.
Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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