Purpose of course
This course is part of the CSU Proven and Promising Course Redesign Program. The aim is to develop a fully online upper-division GE course capable of serving over 200 students. This course also satisfies an upper-division requirement in the Philosophy baccalaureate degree, and therefore must be taught at a fairly high level.
Pedagogical Structure and Content
The instructional spine of this course is a series of instructor created screencasts on each of 28 chapter of the text.
The course is organized into 10 learning modules, each of which covers 2-4 chapters of the text.
Using Blackboard, an online quiz is given after each chapter which covers the text, the lecture and online supplemental material. Quizzes are set to adaptive release, so that students must pass one assessment before moving on to the next.
Quizzes may be taken an unlimited number of times and are not timed. A timed test based on quiz questions is administered at the end of each module. Students who do not complete a module are permitted to go on to the next one. But, as each module is worth about 9% of their grade, failing to complete one is tantamount to a reduction of one grade point. There is no opportunity to make up a module except in the case of serous documented circumstances.
Each module also requires a writing assignment which students complete in an online journal using Google Docs shared with the instructor and TA. The complete journal is worth 9% of the student's grade. Journal entries are monitored by the instructor and (currently) one TA, with feedback letting students know how they are doing. But the journal grade is not assigned until the end of the grading period.
Only tests and journal grades (and a small number of points for filling out online course evaluations) count toward the student grade in this course. There is no final exam.
All students are also assigned to one of four optional discussion groups using the Google Groups utility.
Meeting Pedagogical Challenges
This course belongs to GE area B-5, The Physical Universe and its Life Forms. It is a challenging course, and therefore challenging to deliver online without achieving the disastrous fail rates typical of online courses to date. It is not an option to 'dumb down' the material. Hence, increased pass rates can only be achieved by providing incentives for students to stay engaged with the material.
This is largely being addressed by the assessment schedule. Ideally the course would require nearly everyday engagement and assessment, but this would be to forfeit the intrinsic flexibility of online learning. Hence, I have compromised with weekly assessments and constant vocal encouragement to stay on task with quizzes throughout the week. Students are expected to visit a What's Up page on a daily basis to let them know exactly where they should be at any given point of the week, as well at let them no when instructional materials are available.
Both the instructor and the TA for this course hold extensive online office hours and we typically respond to student e-mails (during the day) within minutes. Blackboard's retention center will also be used to prompt students who are not engaging assessments early enough.
Results to date: 2.17.14
This course began with a target initial enrollment off 200, and was capped at 225 on the assumption that many student would be dropping. During the first three weeks of this course the enrollment dropped from 225 to 165 as students found the work to be either too difficult or too labor intensive. About 50% of the drops were instructor initiated due to enrolled students never attempting the introductory assessment after serial promptings.
Performance of remaining students on assessments and journal activity suggest that challenging multiple assessments during the first 2 weeks of this course (when students can still drop electively ) has had the effect of increasing the proportion of students enrolled who are actually capable of succeeding in the class, but only time will tell.
This result suggests that at a course of this kind might initially be capped with the expectation of a 25% drop rate during the first two weeks. Obviously, students dropping under these conditions are likely to be among the at-risk population that courses involved in this project would like to retain. However, those at-risk who remain should be aided considerably in their efforts by the course architecture described above.