IMPACT redesigning large classes in bunches; next cohort to form

August 31, 2011

Not your standard introductory course: George Hollich redesigned his Psychology 120 course to become more student-centered with group activities that take advantage of an innovative new classroom in Hicks Undergraduate Library. (Purdue photo/Mark Simons)

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Like many other instructors faced with teaching introductory courses, psychology professor George Hollich and math lecturer Tim Delworth have taught their classes the same way for years, lecturing to students who sit passively in large classrooms. That's about to change. The instructors are part of IMPACT (Instruction Matters: Purdue Academic Course Transformation), a program about course redesign, that aims to change the way key foundation, large enrollment classes are taught.

This year, Delworth and Hollich are among a group of 10 instructors offering newly revamped courses -- from Government to Soil Science -- designed to better engage students. Delworth's Algebra and Trigonometry II students were able to opt for a hybrid version of the class that meets live once a week for 90 minutes of group work on problem solving. Students also, on their own time, watch lectures in PowerPoint narrated by Delworth. Hollich's Elementary Psychology class and students in Delworth's math class meet in a cutting-edge classroom in Hicks Undergraduate Library where they can work in small groups.

IMPACT is a campus-wide initiative begun last year by the Provost's Office for the redesign of classes. Its aim is to engage students more fully in their learning, thereby improving retention and completion in classes that serve students across the entire campus. It is related to the University's strategic plan to ensure student success as part of launching tomorrow's leaders.

"IMPACT is focused on transforming the way we teach based on a few key principles," says Dale Whittaker, vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs. "We should teach based on research about how people learn. We should treat teaching as research -- being free to experiment, assess, and institutionalize what we learn. And we will bring the best that Purdue has to offer to each participating class." 

Instructors in the IMPACT program work with teams of course and curriculum developers from the Center for Instructional Excellence, ITaP, Libraries, Extended Campus and the Discovery Learning Research Center to redesign their courses. The faculty cohort is also part of a faculty learning community. Delworth says the time spent working with faculty members from many disciplines has been rewarding.

"I have learned a lot from the IMPACT fellows," he says. "I am the only math person in the group, but we have all learned from each other how to overcome similar classroom challenges."

In addition to insights gained from colleagues, instructors can also integrate novel classroom technology, online education resources, small group work and innovative classroom spaces as they redesign traditional courses.

"By involving 20 to 30 courses each year for the next three years, we anticipate that the culture of teaching for learning that is based on research will shift in a dramatic way -- making it more engaging and productive to teach and more effective and lasting to learn," Whittaker says.
CIE's first fall workshop in its Series II will address IMPACT and serve as a callout for faculty interested in joining the next course redesign cohort. It will be from 9 to 10 a.m. Sept. 8 in Hicks Undergraduate Library, Room B848.