Data Is the Key to Successful Course Redesign

By LindsayH

For years, it has been no secret that many students who start post-secondary education programs drop out early. To address this issue, many schools and institutions decide to redesign their courses with the hope that students might gain a greater feeling of success, continue with their chosen program and graduate.

When considering courses for redesign, many questions are asked but the most important is this: “What data should be considered to ensure our course redesign efforts are successful?” Data metrics like grades, attendance or participation rates are obvious considerations. These can be reliable metrics in driving decision-making. However, I recommend also considering student feedback, faculty load, student experience, and assessment performance as additional data points which can better inform decisions that directly impact the course redesign process.

Let’s look at each of these to see their value as data metrics in the course redesign process.

course redesign

Student Feedback

Student feedback can be a rich source of data to take into consideration before investing in a course redesign project. Most course surveys ask about the instructor’s performance, however, student feedback should not be targeted or limited to the course in question. It should encompass the entire student learning experience. It is important to understand where the students stop learning and where they fail to make connections with the content. The typical approach to improving the student learning experience has been simply creating add-ons to the existing course. However the effectiveness of add-ons without thoughtful integration is questionable. We must avoid the philosophy of ‘do something, do anything’ and focus redesign efforts on activities that are both sound and rational.

When reviewing student feedback we should focus our analysis through three lenses: the content lens, the assessment lens and the learning activity or practice lens. While course redesign focuses on the sum of the parts, each of these three lenses give curriculum developers a comprehensive picture on how students put their knowledge into practice, if at all.

Here are a few suggested data points to explore when considering student feedback:

• What learning activities did students find to be the most engaging?

• What learning activities helped students connect to the content directly?

• What did the students expect to learn prior to the start of the course?

Faculty Load

Educators are continually asked to do more with less. Frequently that extends to requiring faculty to teach more students with no additional resources. Faculty load can have an influence on student success. Students may not receive adequate or authentic feedback from instructors with a heavy student load because those instructors have fewer touch points with their students. By knowing the number of enrollments to an individual faculty member, course redesign experts can make additional recommendations for support services. Additionally, faculty load may influence a different approach to content presentations, activities, assessments, and other student services.

Here are a few suggestions to explore when considering faculty load:

 • How often throughout a high enrollment course is a faculty member able to offer individualized attention to students?

• When a faculty member offers individualized attention, is it to clarify a student’s understanding of the content, provide intervention, or offer genuine feedback on activities and assessments?

• What are the student’s perceptions of the faculty member’s presence within a course?

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