Background:

The purpose of this assignment was for EDAE 639 students to assess a course or workshop and identify instructional needs—gaps in individual knowledge or performance that need to be filled either with instruction or other means (such as performance management). Other activities included defining the environment where the need exists, describing why instruction is required to fill the gap, and to list potential supporters (who they are and why they would support the instruction). For my assignment, I focused on instructional needs for FSHN 350, in the context of a course redesign. Details are below.

FSHN 350: A Brief Assessment and Analysis of the Course:

assess

Sources of information: The following information was derived from interviews with instructors in the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at CSU and their assessment of the current state of FSHN 350, based on their experience teaching it and other courses in the department, and on evaluations of student performance through assignments and testing. These interviews were performed in April 2013 while developing a grant application to redesign the course.

What ought to be: Students in FSHN 350, particularly individuals majoring in Food Science and Human Nutrition, should learn and retain understanding of important foundational concepts taught in the course and should be able to apply this understanding to future courses and careers in food science, nutrition, dietetics, and various other health science professions.

What is: Many students who have taken FSHN 350 have not adequately retained an understanding of the important concepts covered. For example, professors who teach upper-level courses in the department often must back up and review many foundational concepts. The percentage of students who pass the dietetics registration exam is high. However, because nutrition and health has become such a complex area of study involving the integration of material from organic and biochemistry, pathology, physiology, genetics, and many other disciplines, students are increasingly being expected to learn more and at a deeper level. Additionally, evaluations of student performance based on tests and assignments indicate a bimodal distribution. A good percentage of the students earn A grades, but a significant portion of the students earn D and F grades, often despite the latter students indicating they spend substantial amount of time studying.

Currently, the course is delivered as a traditional lecture-based class. The instructional problem described above has been an ongoing issue that course instructors have sought to remedy by progressively improving lecture materials for the class and, as possible, adding application-based examples (stories from research or clinical medicine) and class discussion time devoted to practicing different scenarios in physiology. Students have positively reviewed these experiences. However, due to the large volume of material that must be covered in the course to meet curriculum requirements, some of which are prescriptive, set by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, there is not enough time during class to add additional application exercises.

Closing the gap: As such, instructors have sought funding to formally redesign the course, integrating other university resources, technologies, as well as a collection of course-appropriate, learning-centered instructional strategies that have (in other biological sciences courses at CSU) proven successful in increasing student engagement and critical thinking, both in and out of the classroom. These strategies will necessarily increase the amount of time students devote to a wide range of course activities and assignments that supplement classroom instruction, and may free class time for (more of) the application exercises discussed above.

Environment:

analysis

As mentioned above, the course is delivered as a face-to-face lecture on campus at CSU, which is a large state university with over 20,000 undergraduate students. From semester to semester, the course is taught in a variety of classrooms. Generally, they are rooms that accommodate fewer than 200 students and the typical class size is fewer than 75 students.

Lectures are delivered primarily in the classroom. Lecture slides are provided online at the beginning of the semester and presented using PowerPoint. On occasion, the presentation will also include a multimedia clip—audio and/or video. Generally, classroom technology is not a major limiting factor for the instructors.

The textbook for the course has been somewhat problematic. Although it is an excellent text, students tend to find it more advanced than what they need for the class. Additionally, the book is very expensive. Students tend to rely more on the class notes and either opt out of purchasing the book or do not use it for more than an occasional reference. As part of the course redesign, specific sections in the book will be assigned for students to read, and each reading will have specific objectives.

Supporters of program need (and why):

As far as political and personnel support for the proposal to redesign the course, the environment has been extremely positive. The FSHN department places a high value on excellent teaching and student learning, and there is enthusiasm to creatively redesign key undergraduate courses and to continue setting a high standard among our peer institutions. For example, the proposal was submitted by instructors with 22 and 12 years of experience, respectively, and was formally supported by the Department Head and the Dean of the College. There are also two new faculty members teaching the course this year and they have each expressed interest in facilitating the course redesign.

Also, the FSHN Department has an outstanding national reputation and a high ranking among similar departments across the country. Because department leaders seek to maintain the high ranking and, more important, prepare students in the best way possible for effective careers, they believe it is imperative that we develop the most effective educational approaches to key courses such as FSHN 350.

In addition to the department and college support discussed above, the Institute for Learning and Teaching (TILT) at CSU has funded the project because it fits within the purview of its “learning ecologies” approach—to integrate existing university resources, including TILT resources for tutoring and peer mentoring, incorporating applications from current research in the nutrition department and other academic department at CSU, embracing new technologies, increasing the level of challenge in the course through critical thinking activities, developing strategies to reduce costs, and more.

Why fill need by an instructional event?

Fit with Instructional Goals: As stated above, high-quality instruction is a major thrust of the FSHN Department in preparing an academically and demographically diverse student population for professional careers focused on improving the nutritional status and reducing the burden of disease within the human population. Following the course redesign, which will integrate a greater variety of instructional resources and methods, we expect that a higher percentage of the students will be able to integrate and apply the important concepts involving macro- and micro-nutrient metabolism. This will be reflected by a greater percentage of the students earning A and B grades, greater student satisfaction with the course, and improved performance in higher division courses that require students to have a sound foundational knowledge base gained from FSHN 350. The course redesign will also benefit the large number of students in the Department of Health and Exercise Science and in the Department of Biomedical Sciences who enroll in the course each semester.