Large course plans move into second year

An Iowa law mandating continuous improvement plans for large courses is in its second year of implementation. The legislation applies to all three state Board of Regents universities.

Last fall, undergraduate courses with annual enrollment (fall, spring and summer, combined) of more than 300 students were required to measure student learning outcomes and develop continuous improvement plans. This fall, courses with 200-plus students are included. That threshold will be lowered to 100 students in 2015-16.

By the numbers (2014-15)

Courses: 166
Student (unique) enrollment: 26,576
Student (total) enrollment: 151,570

At ISU, 300 courses (166 last year and 134 more in 2014-15) have been impacted by the legislation. The student numbers are measured by course total enrollment, not by the number of students per section. For example, a course that has 10 sections with 30 students in each section meets that 300 student total.

Following the 2013-14 fall and spring semesters, faculty were surveyed about the impact of the continuous improvement plans. Results were shared with colleges and departments, and a summary (PDF) was submitted to the regents in July.

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching offers faculty best practices and strategies to use in the continuous improvement plans, both online and in faculty workshops.

Karen Zunkel, director for undergraduate programs and academic quality in the provost's office, said more specific data will be available following this second year of implementation.

"The continuous improvement plans are an ongoing process and, over time, we expect to share specific examples of the types of changes faculty members are making -- and the results they are seeing -- in their courses," Zunkel said.

Some of the changes faculty planned in response to the legislation applied to:

  • Course delivery
  • Assessment strategies
  • Student activities
  • Time spent on specific course content
  • Class instructions or assignments

In the survey, faculty reported greater consistency across courses with multiple sections because of the law. Instructors collaborated to clarify course objectives and identify mutual outcome assessment strategies.

"The continuous improvement plans formalize the ongoing efforts of faculty to improve student learning in their courses," Zunkel said. "As faculty learn from their experiences, it is anticipated the types of assessments used and the outcomes being addressed will evolve. The plans will allow faculty to document specific examples of the impact of their efforts on student outcomes and improvement of their courses."