Redesigning Introductory Spanish: Increased Enrollment, Online Management, Cost Reduction, and Effects on Student Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Redesign of a beginning Spanish program allowed for an enrollment increase of 85%, lowered cost per student by 29%, and provided a 9% pay raise to the course instructors. Class sizes were reduced from 30 students per section to 25 per section and seat time was reduced from 200 minutes per week to 130 per week. In-class instruction was supplemented with automated, online homework exercises and computer-mediated communication (CMC). The online components were distributed through a WebCT course Web site. Implementation occurred over a period of 2 years. This study examines whether the redesigned program was able to maintain student learning outcomes. The resulting student retention rates, successful course completion rates, and scores on the Brigham Young University Web-based Computerized Adaptive Placement Exam (BYU WebCAPE) were comparable to those of prior instruction, but the redesign had questionable effects on proficiency.

Key words: cost, enrollment, online, outcomes, redesign

Language: Spanish

Introduction

This study describes the implementation and assessment of a technology-enhanced first-year Spanish program at Portland State University. The program included three courses (Spanish 101, 102, 103) taught in quarters. In the new program model, students met face to face 130 minutes each week, instead of the previous 200 minutes per week, and section sizes were limited to 25 students, rather than the previous limit of 30. Online homework assignments included reading, listening, vocabulary, and grammar activities. Class meetings were also supplemented with out-of-class computer-mediated communication (CMC). The redesign was implemented gradually over a period of 2 years.

The goals of the program redesign were to improve instruction, maintain learning outcomes, serve more students, reduce costs, and reduce seat time. Demand for enrollment in beginning Spanish at the university was straining the personnel and financial resources available. Without the new program design, section sizes would have increased and many students would have been turned away. This study examined whether the combination of technologies employed and the course design were effective in maintaining student learning outcomes.

Survey of Literature

In contrast with previous generations' expectations that machines would replace instructors (see Salaberry, 2001), researchers today present a balanced assessment which underscores the essential skills of language teachers in technologically rich learning environments (see Garrett, 1989, 1991; Pusack & Otto, 1997; Salaberry, 2001; Warschauer, 1997). In the present study, technology was integrated based on the indications of existing research on computer-assisted language learning and instruction. The experimental treatment was also designed to generate cost and space savings as these were institutional imperatives. The survey of literature therefore includes considerations of cost effectiveness. Cost is not a conventional criterion in studies of language instruction and acquisition, but cost is a concern for many language programs and is often a barrier to pedagogical transformation.

Two types of available online technology were identified as effective for improving learning outcomes and instructional efficiency. CMC was indicated by existing research to be effective for improving oral performance. Additionally, it could be used outside of class time. Online automated workbooks were highly efficient for grading and grade recording. They could also provide instant feedback. A WebCT course Web site was included in the curriculum because of its capacity to host mechanical and meaningful drills (à la Paulston, 1972) through its quiz programs, as well as communicative drills and communicative language practice (à la Lee & Van Patten, 1995) through its communication tools. The WebCT course Web site provided efficient ways to monitor student use of CMC and the WebCT quiz software allowed extensive customization of mechanical and meaningful drills. …

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