PSU Mark
Eberly College of Science Mathematics Department

Course Coordination

Course Coordination Guidelines for 200-Level MATH Courses

Penn State University Department of Mathematics

January 2009

 

Overview

 

The purpose of this document is to provide useful guidelines and recommendations to faculty members and instructors who serve as course coordinators for 200-level MATH courses at Penn State University.  Additional questions regarding course coordination should be directed to James Sellers, Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics (sellersj@math.psu.edu). 

 

Main Responsibilities

 

While the tasks to be completed by a course coordinator can vary by course and semester, the following are the main responsibilities of a course coordinator in the Penn State Mathematics Department: 

 

  • Syllabus preparation for the course
  • Communicating with instructors of the particular course in order to keep them “coordinated” with one another
  • Examination preparation for the course
  • Handling all matters related to examination grading and analysis
  • Handling student concerns and complaints about grade-related issues
  • Providing leadership in final grade preparation and submission

 

We now elaborate on each of these responsibilities. 

 

Syllabus Preparation

 

It is the responsibility of the course coordinator to develop the common course syllabus to be used by all sections of the course.  This syllabus should include detailed information about a variety of matters including the following: 

 

  • Breakdown of the graded “events” in the course (midterm examinations, final examination, quizzes and homework) and how much each of these events will be worth
    • In the typical 200-level MATH course, midterm examinations are each weighted 100 points, quizzes and homework 100 points, and the final examination 150 points.  This is not a required distribution of points but is the most typical. 
  • The dates and times of the midterm examinations (which are available from the staff in the department’s Undergraduate Mathematics office)
  • An explanation of the college’s Academic Integrity policy
  • A detailed explanation of how the final course grades will be determined (that is, how many points are needed to earn an A, to earn a B, and so on)
  • A tentative day-by-day breakdown of the lectures for the semester

 

It is extremely important to provide as much detail as possible regarding all of the above, especially as it relates to grade-related issues.  A great deal of work with the students at the end of the semester can be avoided at the beginning of the semester by spending some time to draft a detailed syllabus.  An example of such a detailed syllabus is provided at the end of this document. 

 

Each individual instructor will use this common course syllabus in their section(s) and will also need to supplement this common syllabus with their own personalized information.  This includes their own contact information (name, office location, office phone number, email address, etc.) as well as how they plan to determine the homework and quiz totals for their section(s).  (Some instructors will choose to only collect and grade homework, some will only utilize quizzes, and some will use a combination of the two.) 

 

Note that a copy of the course syllabus must be submitted to the Undergraduate Mathematics staff in 104 McAllister.  This can also be done electronically by emailing your syllabus to undergrad@math.psu.edu

 

The staff in 104 McAllister can supply syllabi from previous semesters.  Moreover, numerous examples of excellent syllabi can be found at the Undergraduate Mathematics website:

 

http://www.math.psu.edu/ug/

 

Communicating with Instructors

 

It is strongly suggested that the coordinator meet with all the instructors of the course a few days before the beginning of the semester in order to be sure all instructors are aware of the plans for the course (course content, examinations, quizzes and homework, etc.).  This meeting also allows the instructors to share questions with one another and the course coordinator.  This is extremely vital so that everyone begins the course at the same pace, level of difficulty, and so on. 

 

Such communication and coordination should not end with this meeting at the beginning of the semester.  The course coordinator should periodically meet with, or contact via email, all of the instructors of the course throughout the semester to confirm that they are all approximately at the same point in their lectures.  The frequency of these meetings is at the discretion of the coordinator and will be impacted by many factors; if the instructors in the course are relatively new to the course, meeting once every two weeks or so may be wise.  If the instructors are experienced at teaching the course in question, meeting once a month or once before each midterm examination may prove sufficient.  Moreover, face-to-face meetings may not be necessary; keeping in touch via email may be sufficient.  Such meetings allow the instructors to ask additional questions that may have arisen during their recent lectures.  These could include questions about the level at which the material ought to be taught (more theoretical, more applications, etc.) and can also include any clarifications that students have requested (such as matters stated in the syllabus). 

 

Examination Preparation

 

It is the task of the course coordinator to work with the instructors of the course to guarantee that midterm and final examinations are prepared at an appropriate level and in a timely fashion.  While a few course coordinators choose to simply write the examinations themselves and then share these with their fellow instructors, most will delegate the task of writing each examination to their colleagues.  This can take many forms, including having one group write the initial draft of each examination and then allowing the others to serve as “editors” with agreement on the final form of each examination reached at a meeting of all the instructors.  Or, this may mean asking each instructor to submit a small number of problems with the coordinator creating the examination by choosing a set of problems from those submitted.  Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the coordinator to ensure that each examination is appropriate (in terms of level of difficulty of problems as well as length of the overall examination).  It is also the duty of the coordinator to ensure that the examinations are developed in a timely fashion so that enough time is available for the typesetting, photocopying, and packaging of their examinations.   

 

Note that Julie Reighard in the Undergraduate Mathematics Office provides assistance in typesetting examinations (if desired by the coordinator or instructors), as well as examination photocopying and packaging.  She also obtains any needed proctor assistance for midterm and final examinations.  Julie requires that an examination which she is to typeset is provided to her at least two weeks before the date of the examination.  If the examination is to be provided to her by the coordinator in a form ready for photocopying, then she must have the examination only one week prior to the date of the examination (as required by Wayne Barger, our department’s printer, who oversees the photocopying of common examinations). 

 

The coordinator should work with their fellow instructors to develop a common grading plan for partial credit questions on examinations.  Two methods that are often utilized are the following:

 

  • Each problem can be graded over all sections by one person, or perhaps by a small team of people using a common partial credit grading scheme (assuming there are many sections of the course)
  • An answer key with prescribed and detailed partial credit guidelines can be provided by the course coordinator to all instructors who then grade their own students’ examinations

 

Conflict and Makeup Examinations

 

To accommodate student scheduling issues in our lower-level, multi-section courses, conflict and makeup examinations are scheduled in addition to the regular examination.  A conflict examination is given on the same day as a regularly scheduled evening examination, except the time of the conflict examination is typically given during the 5:05pm-6:25pm period.  A makeup examination is given the week after the regularly scheduled evening examination and usually on a different day of the week than the regularly scheduled examination. The makeup examination is typically given 6:30pm-7:45pm.  Students must pre-register for a conflict or makeup examination with their instructor at least 48 hours in advance of the examination date.  Students registering for the makeup examination have to provide their instructor with a valid, verifiable reason for missing the regular examination.  Students need to obtain the location of their makeup examination at the time they sign up for the examination. Note that students are not to leave the conflict examination room until 6:25pm even if they finish early. No reason will be acceptable for leaving a conflict examination before the scheduled ending time.  For more information on conflict and makeup examinations, coordinators and instructors are encouraged to contact Julie Reighard

 

Handling All Matters Related to Examination Grading and Analysis

 

Once an examination is completed by the students in the course, it is the responsibility of the coordinator to handle all the details related to the grading of that examination.  This may involve organizing the grading plans for the exam (setting up a common meeting time when the instructors will grade together, writing a rubric which will be used by all when grading the examination so that partial credit is handled fairly and judiciously, etc.)  For those examinations which have been completed using ScanTron forms, it is the responsibility of the coordinator to deliver the forms to the Scanning Services location (or to assign another instructor of the course to perform this delivery). 

 

Handling Student Complaints and Concerns

 

One of the ongoing roles of the course coordinator throughout the semester is to serve as a liaison between the department and the students in each section of the course.  When students have a question or concern about a grade or a course-related issue, their first contact should be their individual instructor.  However, if this proves unsatisfactory for any reason, the next person they should contact is the course coordinator.  In this way, the course coordinator serves an “adjudication” role for the department.  This will often take the form of a student concern about a particular grade on an examination or a quiz, and often occurs at the end of the semester when a student wishes to better understand how their overall course letter grade has been calculated.  Such issues are the primary responsibility of the course coordinator; however, if the student is still not satisfied once the coordinator has attempted to resolve the matter, then the course coordinator should refer the student to the department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies.  Note that any student complaints about teaching should be immediately directed to the Director of Undergraduate Studies; these issues are not the responsibility of the course coordinator. 

 

Providing Leadership in Final Grade Preparation and Submission

 

It is imperative that the grading of final examinations, as well as the setting of final course grades, be performed in a timely fashion.  The University mandate is that final grades are submitted to the Registrar’s Office within 48 hours of the completion of a course’s final examination.  The course coordinator can provide key leadership to guarantee that these tasks are completed satisfactorily.  Note that, in almost all cases, the course coordinator calls a meeting of all instructors after final examinations have been graded in order for all involved to agree on the final grade cutoffs for the course.  Therefore, much work must be done within these 48 hours after the final examination is completed.  More information on Penn State’s electronic grade submission process can be found at the following address: 

 

http://www.math.psu.edu/ug/how_to_enter_grades.htm

 

Note that each instructor submits the grades for his or her section(s) of the course using the system as outlined above. 

 

Closing Thoughts

 

The Undergraduate Mathematics Office staff and, in particular, the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the department, James Sellers, stand ready to serve you in any way possible.  If you have any questions about 200-level MATH course coordination, please feel free to email James at sellersj@math.psu.edu