Thursday, July 5, 2012

Implementing MLCS: Course Design and Development

When designing a version of MLCS for your school, there are many facets to consider so that the course will be a success.  Once you gather a few faculty together to work on the course's development, here are some additional ideas:

1.  Determine your goal.

Why do you want to create this course?  Is it to diversify content and provide more realistic problems to developmental students?  Is it to provide a pathway for non-STEM students?  Is it to accelerate the time in the developmental sequence?  Whatever it is, state it and acknowledge it amongst the faculty who will work on the development of the course.  It's important that everyone is on the same page for bringing the course to life.  Your goal will affect how much and what kind of content is covered.  Knowing your goal will also help you measure its success.  More on that in another blog post.

If you decide to create this course to replace one or more courses across your sequence and/or creation of this course will be met with a lot of skepticism, skip to #8 next before proceeding.

2.  Determine your audience.

Who will take the course?  At my school, it is a student who placed into beginning algebra or passed prealgebra and only needs statistics or liberal arts math for their program of study.  In other words, it is for our non-STEM students at the beginning algebra level.  Some schools want students who have passed only basic math, not prealgebra, to be allowed to take the course.  Whatever you decide will affect the content necessary to make that student successful.  If you allow students who have not taken prealgebra, you may want to give more time to the lessons on fractions and integers.

3.  Decide on the outcome courses.

This is very important as it will have a direct effect on the content covered.  Investigate the outcome courses you will feed into to ensure prerequisite skills are addressed.  Make a list of skills and/or topics students need to learn to be successful in those courses.  We wanted intermediate algebra to be on the list of outcome courses so that students wouldn't have to backtrack if they changed paths.  Setting that as a goal has a large impact on what must be taught.

4.  List the content and objectives.

What do your students need to learn to be successful for the places they'll go and what would you like them to learn beyond that?  We added a few more algebra topics to our course to ensure students could flow into our intermediate algebra. We also made sure our intermediate algebra covers factoring to the point that a student could take MLCS and then intermediate algebra and be successful.  More on that in the next blog post.  But we also considered that our students would feed into a few key science courses.  And these students need to be well rounded citizens.  That governed some choices and broadened our initial list of objectives.

At this point, you may also need to consider 4 year schools you feed into and/or state requirements to ensure you have the necessary content for the course to be piloted.

If you'd like to see our course outline and objectives, check it out here.

5.  Choose materials.

You need materials that support your goals and vision for the course.   A traditional algebra text will likely not suffice.  MLCS is not just different in terms of the order of topics, but also the treatment and emphasis.  We could not accomplish our goals with the materials available.  One option is to piece things together that you can find and write materials to supplement them.  That will have a choppy feeling to students and instructors, creating even more challenges than will already be present with a new course. 

We have worked to write materials that would encompass the vast majority of content needs for this course.  In this document, I have listed the four units and lessons in each as well as included some sample materials.  We also worked to make the materials work for any student or instructor.  Many instructor supports are created to ease the instructor into a new course and philosophy successfully.  But the student also gets many important help aids so that they can navigate a new kind of course and content.

If you would like to see a larger sample of our materials and/or class test them, please contact me.

6.  Choose the credit hours for the course.

Once you see how big or small your course is, you can decide on the credit hours necessary to teach the content.  But also include enough credit hours for the students to learn the content.  These students need time.  Err on the side of more credit hours than fewer.  One 5-credit course passed the first time is still less financial aid than a 4-credit course repeated.  The number of credit hours will have a direct impact on pace, which should not feel rushed.  This is one place where my college's version of the course needs improvement; we feel rushed all the time.  Nobody likes that feeling.  A little more time for discussion and problem solving is very helpful at the developmental level.

7.  Get approval to offer the course.

You will likely have to apply to your college's curriculum committee, but there may also be state-level permissions to acquire.  Investigate the protocol for adding developmental courses and follow any necessary procedures.

8.  Introduce the course to the full department.

If you have all the interested players part of your course task force, it's not always necessary to explain the course to the entire department until there's something to show.  We waited until our course was approved before presenting it to everyone so as to not get people excited or worried about a non-event. 

To make the course a success, it's a good idea to make sure everyone understands what the course is and why it's being created.  If you are concerned about buy-in, offer the course as a pilot and only as an option in the sequence, not a requirement.  Some schools are using MLCS to replace beginning algebra.  We are not because many faculty and students will balk at that approach.  You'll need to consider your school's culture when choosing how to bring the course into the developmental sequence.  The method that will garner the least resistance is to create an alternative, optional pathway with MLCS in it.  That allows only faculty and students who are interested in the pathway to take part in it.  Faculty that are opposed to it will not have to teach it, nor will their classes be affected.

9.  Work with the course logistics.

At this point, you need to determine day patterns, length of class periods, times the class will be offered, number of sections, who will teach them, what semester will the pilot begin, etc.  It's helpful if you can teach this course in a room large enough to move desks into groups and one that has a document camera.  A lecture hall is not the ideal environment for this class.  If you can schedule sections to not be held at the same time, that will help in case a sub is needed at a later date or if the instructors want to observe each other.  Also, consider who will teach it and their schedules so that hopefully a common time can be found for the pilot instructors to meet and talk.  The instructors will want that, so it's important that time is planned for it from the beginning.

Next up:  Integrating MLCS into your sequence

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