Purdue helping students succeed in foundational classes

January 27, 2011

Marc Loudon, the Cwalina Distinguished Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, circulates among "Organic Chemistry I" students as they work in groups to analyze and name a carbon compound. Purdue is launching a new program to assist faculty in transforming large, traditional foundation classes into more student-centered learning environments. The project, Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation, also known as IMPACT, is recruiting faculty this semester so the new courses can be launched next fall. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A new Purdue program aims to help more students succeed by redesigning some of the university's large, traditional courses into more student-centered learning environments.

"By using in-classroom technology, online education resources and even small-group work, the traditional lecture format for some introductory classes of more than 100 students will be upgraded to an environment of active learning," said Dale Whittaker, vice provost for undergraduate and academic affairs. "Yes, the goal is to improve retention and completion, but we want students to learn more and learn better overall. By engaging students and helping them obtain the foundational information they need in their studies, they are more likely to succeed."

The project, Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation, also known as IMPACT, will target classes that serve as key introductory courses, especially those with high enrollments and higher unsatisfactory grades, and course withdrawals. Historically, these courses also tend to have higher incompletion rates by women and minorities.

"Foundational courses play a critical role in the education of all Purdue students," said Dennis J. Minchella, associate dean in the College of Science and professor of biological sciences. "This program has the potential to improve student success in these courses through the development of student-focused approaches. Online versions of courses will give students on campus an alternative platform that may better fit their learning styles."

During the next three years, 10 courses will be targeted each semester. The program, which also is partnering with the Discovery Learning Research Center, starts this spring with program development, and the first classes will be implemented in the fall. Faculty who are interested in participating can contact the program's co-chairs, Marne Helgesen, helgesen@purdue.edu, and Donalee Attardo, dattardo@purdue.edu. Consultants in instructional design and technology will be provided to faculty who want to redesign a course. Similar implementations have worked at other universities, and that research will inform Purdue's course design, said Helgesen, director of the Center for Instructional Excellence.

"This is more than reworking one class. We want to have professors, instructors, department heads and administrators rethinking how they present classes," Helgesen said. "Yes, we are changing practice, but we want to go beyond to change the culture and create a new system that will be sustained for the long term."

Regular assessment and benchmarking also will be part of the project, said Attardo, director of the Instructional Development Center at Information Technology at Purdue.

Leaders guiding this process also will work with other programs and initiatives taking place at Purdue such as redesigned learning spaces, service learning, problem-based learning, distance education, hybrid course development, learning communities and supplemental instruction.

"Purdue is well-known for its strength in teaching because of many of these already existing programs," Whittaker says. "IMPACT is an opportunity to reach even more students and help them build a foundation toward success."

In the fall 2010 U.S.News & World Report, Purdue tied for 12th nationally in a ranking of universities cited by college presidents, provosts and admissions deans as having an "unusual commitment to undergraduate teaching." The same report also praised the university's efforts in first-year experience, internships, study abroad and writing in the disciplines. Overall, Purdue is listed 18th among the nation's public universities, up from 22nd the previous year.

Writer:  Amy Patterson Neubert, 765-494-9723, apatterson@purdue.edu

Sources:  Dale Whittaker, 765-494-6970, dwhittak@purdue.edu

                   Dennis J. Minchella, 765-494-8188, dennism@purdue.edu

                   Marne Helgesen, 765-496-6424, helgesen@purdue.edu

                   Donalee Attardo, 765-494-2696, dattardo@purdue.edu