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Changing the Equation: Redesigning Developmental Math

Heartland Community College

Contact: Jeremy McClure

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 8/1/12)

Project Abstract

In the traditional format, Heartland Community College (HCC) offered five developmental math courses: Fundamentals of Math, Beginning Algebra, Intermediate Algebra for Business and Social Sciences, Geometry and Intermediate Algebra for Math and Science. The average annual enrollment in these courses was about 2,900 students. Four of these courses were taught using a traditional classroom approach. Intermediate Algebra for Business and Social Sciences was taught in a group-learning format designed to enhance mathematical communication and conceptual understanding. Many of the traditional sections used MyMathLab as a class supplement.

HCC students frequently placed in developmental math. Too often, they experienced boredom and frustration, repeating material already covered in high school. Many students dropped out or failed, adding to their frustration and diminishing their academic self-confidence. HCC belongs to the National Community College Benchmarking Project (NCCBP), which gathers comparative data among community colleges. Benchmarking showed that HCC ranked very low in developmental math completion and retention rates: in the 42nd percentile for retention and 32nd percentile for completion. The purpose of HCC’s redesign was to help the college break this cycle of failure. The college’s goal was to offer developmental mathematics courses in a format conducive to improving student success and persistence on to college-level courses.

To accomplish this, HCC modularized all five developmental math courses into one course. Modules consisted of pretests, video lectures, homework, progress checks and post-tests administered through MyMathLab to provide immediate feedback to students. Classes met in a computer classroom staffed with faculty, facilitators, tutors and testing assistants. The redesign met the needs of students with diverse learning styles and facilitated independent learning. Automated grading allowed instructors to review student progress closely since there was less need for tedious hand grading. Modularization also allowed students to progress at their own pace.  

HCC is confident that this course redesign will increase student success and retention in developmental courses, as well as enhance college level math success. The redesign meets the needs of students with diverse learning styles, and facilitates independent learning through videos, examples, and automated feedback. Automated grading allows instructors to review student progress closely with less need for tedious hand grading.

Faculty assessed student learning outcomes by comparing baseline data from sections offered in the traditional and the redesigned format. Common assessments and completion rates were compared. Success rates in subsequent courses will be tracked in the future with particular attention to success in college-level courses.

HCC’s cost savings strategy was two-fold: 1) increase the number of students in each section from 24 to 35, and 2) develop a new staffing model that employed more facilitators and reduced the number of full-time faculty needed to serve the same number of students. In the traditional format, 127 sections were offered at varying credit levels; in the redesign only 80 sections were offered, and all were four credits. The number of sections taught by full-time faculty declined from 27 to 15. These savings were somewhat offset by HCC’s decision to hire an associate director for the program. Overall the cost-per-student declined from a weighted average of $177 in the traditional format to $165 in the redesign, a 7% reduction. 

Final Report (as of 8/1/12)

Impact on Students

In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?

Improved Learning

The analysis of core content items in the form of common exam questions given to all students before and after the redesign showed significant increases in student learning and understanding. The following table shows the mean scores for each course in the two semesters before and after the redesign occurred.  Increases in learning ranged from about 20% to 50%.

 

Fall 2010
Traditional

Spring 2011 Traditional

Fall 2011
Redesign

Spring 2012 Redesign

Pre-Algebra

46%

47%

81%

82%

Beg. Algebra

52%

59%

79%

80%

Inter. Algebra I

64%

61%

92%

91%

Inter. Algebra II

33%

50%

86%

80%

Course-by-Course Completion

In order to compare individual course completion rates, one needs to look at the percentage of students who complete the same amount of material in the same period of time. In the redesign of their developmental math sequence, HCC collapsed what had been five different courses into one, modularized course. Consequently, it was not possible to calculate course completion rates for this project.

One cannot evaluate the success of this redesign project by looking at individual course completion rates. Completion of the developmental math sequence and success in subsequent college-level math courses are the two most important data points to use to compare student success rates in the traditional and redesigned formats. Unfortunately, the time period of the program was too short to collect that data.

Nevertheless, HCC’s completion and withdrawal rates appear to have been lower than desired. The team will continue to work on improving the curriculum and course policies to better serve students. For example, beginning in summer 2012, each course will meet four hours per week and will have a mandatory attendance policy. Students will be withdrawn if in violation of the policy. Though students can progress at their own speed, they must fulfill their required attendance hours each week.

Other Impacts on Students

  • Because students had the option of moving at their own pace and as well as the opportunity to place out of content areas, many students were able to finish more than one course in a semester (e.g., 46 students in fall 2011).
  • Students seemed more content with the courses after the redesign since they were able to move at their own pace. The option of individualized pacing eliminated the problem of students falling behind the pace of a class and getting frustrated or being held back by a faster class pace.
  • HCC’s completion and withdrawal rates have been lower than desired. The team will continue to work on improving the curriculum and course policies to better serve students. For example, beginning in summer 2012, each course will meet four hours per week and will have a mandatory attendance policy with the possibility of being withdrawn if in violation. Though students can progress at their own speed, they must fulfill their required attendance hours each week.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

HCC’s cost savings strategy was two-fold: 1) increase the number of students in each section from the 24 to 35, and 2) develop a new staffing model that employed more facilitators and reduced the number of full-time faculty needed to serve the same number of students. In the traditional format, 127 sections were offered at varying credit levels; in the redesign only 80 sections were offered, and all were four credits. The number of sections taught by full-time faculty declined from 27 to 15.  These savings were somewhat offset by HCC’s decision to hire an associate director for the program. Overall the cost-per-student declined from a weighted average of $177 in the traditional format to $165 in the redesign, a 7% reduction. 

Sustainability

Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?

In order for the developmental math redesign at Heartland Community College (HCC) to be sustained, there are several key issues that need to be addressed. First, the team will continue to work with HCC’s marketing team to develop a campaign for the newly redesigned developmental math sequence. This will provide potential students with information about the program before they enroll and give them an opportunity to hear testimonials from both students and faculty who are involved in theprogram with the goal of better preparing them for the new format. Second, to keep HCC’s math faculty up-to-date on procedure and policies changes, math administrators will hold a mandatory training each semester for anyone teaching/facilitating in the developmental math sequence. This will allow for faculty to acquaint themselves with the updates and give them time to provide feedback on the previous semester. Third, HCC’s administration is dedicated to sending full-time faculty, part-time faculty and administrators to different conferences around the country to learn about best practices. These representatives have had several opportunities to hear presentations covering redesign implementations, ways to improve student success, and to ask questions and share ideas. The college also has had several opportunities to host representatives from other colleges at our campus and visit other campuses, which provided the team with the opportunity to gain more insight into other implementation methods, best practices and future plans.

 

 


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