Why Data Is the Key to Successful Course Redesign

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?

Complete Student Experience

It can be helpful to understand the entire student learning experience at the school. Understanding what support systems are available (i.e. tutoring) as well as how the students utilize these services can influence what services need to be incorporated into the course redesign. For example support services can help offset issues presented by high faculty load.

On the individual student level, it is important to consider how much time they spend engaged in a course. Course redesign experts will analyze whether or not the time allocated for instruction is appropriate and delivered in a way that is efficient, effective, meaningful, and motivating to the students. Examining the entire student learning experience allows course redesign experts to influence student learning on a larger scale as opposed to focusing solely on the outcome of one specific course.

Here are a few suggestions to explore when considering the complete student learning experience:

• Once students leave the learning environment, what resources are available to them to reinforce their learning, answer questions, and clarify misunderstandings?
• For each of the elements within a course (content presentations, learning activities, assessments, etc.) how much time does each student spend accomplishing those tasks? How does this data compare to the stated time on task for this course?
• Are the course elements arranged in such a way that the learning experience is efficient, effective, meaningful, and motivating for the students?

Student Assessment

Student assessment data points can be critical in helping to identify specific targets within a course that should be considered for revision or redesign. It is well understood that properly utilized data from assessments could be valuable to educators in improving the overall quality of their instruction. Logically this data is equally important in helping curriculum developers redesign a course to ensure that all students achieve their maximum growth in learning as well as making the instructional decisions that best support the students progression through a course.

Here are a few suggested data points to explore when considering student assessment in the redesign process:

• How are the individual learning outcomes assessed throughout the course? Are they assessed appropriately according to the stated student expectation?
• Which assessments or assessment items do the majority of the students get right and which items do the majority of the students get wrong? Is this consistent between each class participating in the course?
• To what factors do students attribute their passage or failure on an assessment?

The Sum of its Parts

Course redesign can be a major undertaking, but utilizing the data derived from your existing course can inform your decisions on what areas need to be targeted. When you combine the four factors I mentioned and use them to form a holistic, summative picture of your course redesign project; you can be certain that what is currently working in your course remains, and what is not working is revised.

Whether your faculty is contemplating redesigning a course, or you are partnering with curriculum developers, keep these guidelines in mind:

• Any changes made to a course should reflect current research and techniques that are most effective in improving learning for all students;
• When making major changes to a course that affect the way students and teachers interact with each other, you must consider what is manageable and feasible for both the student and the teacher; and finally
• Remember to avoid the philosophy of ‘do something, do anything’

Having successful students is dependent on successful curriculum implementation. Successful curriculum implementation is dependent on faculty, students, and curriculum developers working together, jointly solving problems and sharing ideas on how to make the learning experience.

By: David White, M.A., M.S., Curriculum Consultant, Pearson