Campus and Community / Faculty and Staff / Top Stories

UHD’s Course Innovation Initiative Earns THECB Star Award

Photo: Thomas B. Shea

In its efforts to enhance undergraduate success, the University of Houston-Downtown’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence (CTLE), with support from faculty members, launched the Course Innovation Initiative (CI2) in 2015. This program formalizes over a decade of faculty and staff work aimed at improving student performance in gateway courses or those entry-level classes that provide the academic foundations for selected majors.

Taking cues from past projects, the current initiative was sparked by faculty members in the departments of English, history, mathematics, biology, chemistry and political science. These professors saw the need for a new strategy to increase success in gateway courses and helped spur the creation of the CI2.

The results of this initiative have been positive. So much so, UHD recently earned the University of Houston System Board of Regents Academic Excellence Award for its collective efforts to improve student success in gateway courses over the years. Now, the same program has received the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Star Award. The Star Award celebrates the contributions of higher education institutions that are distinguished in promoting student success. Finalists and winners were honored during the Texas Higher Education Leadership Conference on Dec. 1.

“Receiving a Star Award from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is an absolute honor for our institution,” said  UHD President Dr. Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “It reflects the diligence of our faculty and staff and their commitment to helping our students succeed during those crucial first semesters at our University. I thank everyone who contributed to our Course Innovation Initiative and who continue to develop new programs aimed at enhancing our Gators’ learning experiences.”

The Course Innovation Initiative targets those gateway courses with large class sizes and low percentages of students earning A’s, B’s or C’s. It utilizes strategies, such as team environments (fostering collaborations among faculty, students, and peer tutors/Supplemental Instruction Leaders); reading guides and interactive online video lectures; and classroom problem- solving activities.

“The Course Innovation Initiative shows students that faculty members want them to do well,” said Dr. Timothy Redl, associate professor of mathematics. “I want students to know that I am encouraging them to do well and succeed.”

Redl has implemented CI2 strategies in various classes including interactive, online homework assignments (using MyLab) and in-class group exercises.

Such tactics have proven productive. The percentage of students earning a “C” or higher in College Algebra has increased from 42 percent to 64 percent. In General Biology, grades improved from 38 percent to 65 percent earning a “C” or higher. And students earning an “A, B or C” in U.S. History 1 improved from 52 percent to 71 percent.

The chart below reflects a partial list of the program’s target course outcomes, where the baseline semester varies depending on when the courses innovations began:

Course Name 2016/17 Enrollment Baseline % ABC Current % ABC
English Composition I 1050 54 74
English Composition II 1044 56 69
Integrated Reading & Writing 213 70 83
US History I 1294 52 71
College Algebra 1120 42 64
College Math for Liberal Arts 246 53 65
Beginning Algebra 77 54 70
Intermediate Algebra 251 49 66
General Biology I 390 38 65
General Chemistry I 385 44 56
Federal Government 1145 59 75

Faculty members appreciate the Course Innovation Initiative’s novel approach to supporting student learning, as well as teaching. The team environment approach has been particularly helpful in creating communities of practice. These communities enhance both faculty and instruction, as well as students’ comprehension of course subject matter.

“The team-based learning model inspired students to study more and do better,” said Dr. Lisa Morano, associate professor of biology and microbiology. “They wanted to learn, as well as look good in front of their teammates. It held them accountable.”

Redl added that in-class activities also factored into students’ comprehension of course material. Whether students worked individually or in teams, they responded favorably to these assignments.

“Active learning has proven to be very effective,” Redl said. “During these activities, Supplemental Instruction Leaders and instructors will walk through the classroom to provide support when needed. Classes have grown beyond straight lectures and now provide more opportunities for discovery through exercises conducted within the classroom.”

UHD’s Course Innovation Initiative is just one of the programs aimed at supporting the success of First Time in College Students (FTICs). Other University initiatives include Supplemental Instruction (connecting students with peer mentors/instruction leaders); Freshman Seminars (courses exploring themes relates to students’ respective majors), Gator Gateway (an expanded orientation for freshmen); faculty and peer mentoring; and Gator Ready (registration event for freshmen).

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