First-year Curriculum at University of Massachusetts

University of Massachusetts - Dartmouth

Designing for Long Term Effectiveness

It is common for educational innovations to die when particular people are no lnger involved. This is a real concern. The IMPULSE curriculum was designed to include features that would make it robust and would encourage its extension into more of the engineering and science curricula. Specifically we designed the curriculum to:

Lower the cost of delivery

This is a powerful incentive for college Deans to keep the program going and to enlarge it. The new hands-on studio sections of 48 students have a lower cost of delivery than traditional courses at UMD. This is easy to understand for English courses with a typical section size of 25; however, studio classes are also less expensive to deliver than the traditional lecture hall, recitation and laboratory class combination typically used in the sciences. When there are 96 students taking a total of 31 credits of IMPULSE courses with each class taught by an instructor and a TA, the university can save an estimated $124,000 per year.

Build in thorough, accurate assessment

This is critical to the lasting success of the curriculum because it drives future improvements and provides insight for good decisions. Assessment data about the overall performance of courses is the only effective counter to misinformed judgments based on a few students' poor performance in later classes. Performance data showed significant improvements, which encouraged faculty to adopt the new methodology. Assessment in IMPULSE courses is both formative and summative. Control groups were established using a cluster method on baseline pre-test scores, high school rank, and SAT scores. Comparisons were made between IMPULSE students and the control groups on the Force Concepts Inventory Test and the Mechanics Baseline Test as well as common exam questions and student and faculty surveys.

Build on faculty teamwork

Faculty members function as a team in IMPULSE. This provides long-term stability in the curriculum because the methodology is rooted in the team, not in a single member. In order to maintain this stability, however, the number of new teachers in the program each year must be kept small and allowance has to be made for training new members.

Pilot full size sections

Full-size pilot courses cause instructors to develop and tune their teaching methods at the outset for the appropriate number of students. In addition, assessment data provides direct insight into the performance that would be seen when the pilot courses move into the required program. We used a pilot size of 48 students because it was the section size ultimately desired in the freshmen program at UMD.

Have a scale-up plan

For a lower division curriculum to become mainstream, it must deal with all of the special cases that arise because of transfer students, AP credit and students who leave school but return after various lengths of time. In order to have at least one reasonable solution, a plausible plan was sketched that would include all students in some version of IMPULSE during scale-up. This was done informally before starting the pilot to make sure that the basic plan was not fatally flawed.