Large Course Redesign

Large-enrollment courses present a number of unique challenges that can impede students’ learning and exhaust faculty members teaching the class. To get a glimpse of the challenges, we have asked UNC Charlotte students what they have to say about large classes in three short, entertaining videos.

Video Q&A with UNC Charlotte Students

Large Course Redesign (LCR) service

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) provides Large Course Redesign services to help faculty members and departments to improve large enrollment courses. Redesign efforts typically require changes in teaching practice and university-wide collaborative work to make the changes happen. Instructional designers at CTL facilitate the collaborative process by linking faculty members with support staff and administrators. They walk through the entire redesign process in partnership by providing information and support on:

  • Assessment of course needs and design goals
  • Current pedagogies and technologies
  • Redesign planning
  • Course budget planning
  • Material development and evaluation
  • Redesign evaluation
  • Faculty training
  • Project management/facilitation
  • Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)

Any faculty members who are willing to make changes to improve the way they teach large-enrollment courses are encouraged to contact CTL for a consultation to begin the redesign process.

With daily responsibilities of most faculty members, the entire redesign project typically spans over 3-4 semesters: one or two semesters to plan and develop; another semester, to try out; and the last, to update and plan for scale. It’s most effective if instructional designers get involved from the beginning of the process especially that initial stages of commitment building and planning are most difficult and critical phases of the design process.

What Do We Mean by Large Course Redesign?

The Large Course Redesign service at CTL utilizes guidelines and methods of the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) who has been working on course redesign since 1999 and emerged as a national leader and resource provider in the area.

According to NCAT, large course redesign efforts typically aim improving the quality of student learning while reducing the cost of instruction. To achieve the goals, redesign efforts typically incorporate technologies, particularly online learning technologies. The degree of technology utilization varies depending on the needs of the course:

  • Online components may supplement face-to-face (f2f) instruction (Supplement Model.)
  • They may replace a portion of the f2f instruction (Replacement Model), making the course a hybrid/blended format.
  • They may replace the entire f2f instruction, making the course format a fully online (Fully Online Model.)
  • The course can also be designed to provide customized instruction and resources for individual students as in Emporium Model and Buffet Model.

In addition to the use of technologies, large course redesign often involves employing various types of personnel in addition to full-time faculty members, including graduate assistants, tutors, staff members, or undergraduate learning assistants. In summary, large course redesign involves changes in overall course format and structure in addition to the implementation of numerous pedagogical strategies intended to address daily challenges of the course and incorporate best practices of teaching large classes.

Why Redesign Large Courses?

Most large-enrollment courses tend to share common problems and challenges; however, each course is likely to have a different priority list depending on the nature of discipline or departmental context. The initial needs assessment helps define goals of a redesign project. Typically, the broad goals of improving learning and reducing cost come along with more specific goals such as:

  • Less instructional time spent on course management activities
  • Less instructional time spent on lecturing
  • Automated grading or less faculty time spent on grading
  • More instructional time available to facilitate active learning activities
  • More interaction between faculty and students, and among students
  • Frequent assessment of students’ learning progress
  • More individualized counseling
  • Standardized learning experiences across multiple sections of the course
  • Better use of classroom spaces and facilities
  • Better prepared for the external forces of increasing enrollment and decreasing budget

In the process of redesigning to improve the course, faculty members are essentially practicing the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL). SOTL projects are often eligible for funded research programs or awards.

What’s Involved in Large Course Redesign?

Course design guidelines such as NCAT guidelines listed below can help steer the redesign process in a way that incorporates best practices of course redesign and hence improves the course ultimately:

Process-wise, large course redesign process is a complex one that moves forward through informed decision-makings on design plans, trials, evaluations, and deployment. To provide an overall framework for the complex process, the classic model of Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation (ADDIE) of instructional system design approach can be utilized. Our synopsis of what’s involved in large course redesign, guided by the ADDIE process.

Importance of commitment building and planning

NCAT describes in its how-to guidelines that a redesign project must start with building commitment and then progress into planning, implementation, capacity building and scaling. The initial phases of commitment building and planning can be pain-staking where buy-ins and collective commitment must be established and decisions on diverse aspects of course design must be made. Background information and data are often required to move forward through these tough phases. Once the initial phases are completed successfully, however, participating members gain a sense of confidence along with commitment which allows for active collaboration on the subsequent processes.

Collaborative design process

The complexity of issues and the amount of work involved in large course redesign can hardly be addressed by individual faculty members teaching the course only. Issues must be brought up and decisions, made. Research on best practices and pedagogical methods and tools must be identified and then implemented. Instructional materials and format must be developed and evaluated. Faculty training is often required. In brief, large course redesign requires team work across the university among faculty members, support staff and administrators. It is important that each participating team member is willing to collaborate and appreciates each other's contribution.

Progress through drafts and revisions

Another important characteristic of large course redesign or any design projects is that a new design is achieved through iterative processes. Design plans and prototypes evolve as new findings and discussions emerge. A design is never perfect, and the more revisions and updates we are willing to work with, the better design we can obtain. Empirical formative evaluation from students often provides insights on the effectiveness of the proposed design. Faculty members who are not familiar with such an iterative design process may be overwhelmed by versions of drafts and the number of communications that come along with them. A community-oriented communication space such as an online project site can support and nurture the necessary reviews and collaboration to achieve optimal updates.