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Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)

Cosumnes River College

Course Title: Elementary Algebra
Contact: Mary S. Martin

Status: This project was part of Round I of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2007 – 2008. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2007. In the C2R program, NCAT’s role was to introduce the course redesign methodology to participating institutions, assist them in developing project plans and work with them through the pilot period. NCAT was not involved in full implementation; consequently, the project’s status beyond the pilot period is unknown. For more information, contact the project contact listed above.

Project Abstract
Progress Report (as of 3/1/08)

Project Abstract

Cosumnes River College plans to redesign its Elementary Algebra course which currently enrolls ~1200 students annually, in multiple sections of 40 students, taught by both adjunct and tenured faculty. This course is the graduation requirement for AA degrees in vocational programs and a gatekeeper course for students planning to transfer to baccalaureate programs.

The traditional Elementary Algebra course suffers from several academic problems. Success rates are significantly lower than overall course success rates at the college, discouraging these students from pursuing a variety of majors. High DFW rates contribute to high course repeat rates and lower graduation rates. This situation requires adding sections and a corresponding need to hire additional adjunct faculty. These factors contribute to a growing problem of course drift. Students arrive at the next course in the sequence with widely differing levels of course preparedness. These problems may be exacerbated by the move from 18 to 16 week terms and extended "block" scheduling with longer class periods over fewer class meetings per week.

The college's redesign plan will use the Replacement Model to convert the course from five hours of traditional lecture to a mixed mode of computer-based instruction and instructor/student class "workshops." Individual computer lab sessions will replace lecture time in order to reduce 5 scheduled class hours per week to 3 hours per week. The computer sessions will use MyMathLab to provide interactive student-focused instruction, including an online textbook, video lectures, topic animations, online exercises, immediate feedback and both practice and mastery quizzes and exams. The accompanying weekly course workshops will enable faculty to reinforce the MyMathLab instruction with in-class collaborative activities focused on critical thinking, synthesis and reinforcement of core topics.

The redesign will enhance quality by shifting primary course delivery from a passive, traditional lecture format to an independent, active learning format that is student focused. The software provides immediate feedback to the students, with instant assessment of skill competencies, forcing the students to become active participants in their own learning. Course standardization of computer-based material provides better preparation for students to progress to the next course in the sequence. The collaborative workshop format will improve the quality and frequency of instructor/student interaction. Instructors can work with students individually, recognize and address roadblock issues. Faculty will be able to identify problem areas earlier and provide students with timely, focused individualized assistance.

Assessment of student learning will focus on a set of faculty developed, common final exam questions to be administered in parallel sections of redesigned and traditional sections. Additional measures of comparison will include overall course success, course retention, and a comparison of results from general attitudinal surveys of overall course satisfaction from both faculty and students.

The redesigned course, with a 10% enrollment increase, will reduce instructional costs 9%, from $266 to $242 per student. The college is anticipating an additional benefit from the reduction of classroom hours over time. This will allow expanded use of current resources within space and scheduling constraints, translating into a 66.6% increase in the number of courses that can be offered.

Progress Report (as of 3/1/08)

In the fall 2007 redesign pilot, the average final exam score of 69.52% was only slightly higher than the 67.7% for students in the traditional format. However, the proportion of students who reached minimum competency (defined as a score of 70% or higher) was significantly higher in redesign pilot sections (51.2%) vs. 39.7% in the traditional format. CRC also experienced higher overall course success rates (passing grade of C or better): 42.2% in redesigned sections vs. 35.5% in traditional sections. The most statistically significant comparison was the reduction in overall DFW rates from 77.8% in the traditional to 65.4% in the redesign. This correlated to a significantly higher proportion of “non-repeat” students (students who do not need to repeat their course enrollment.)

Course redesign in Elementary Algebra will continue to expand at CRC. During the spring 2008 semester, the redesign team increased the number of pilot sections and the number of piloting instructors. This incremental expansion is expected to continue in the fall 2008 semester based on additional faculty who have expressed interest in becoming part of the project. The primary barrier to full implementation on campus is the difficulty of creating department-wide consensus, particularly the ability to embrace “uniformity” in a culture accustomed to “academic freedom.”

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Math journals. The math journals required students to record each objective in each section of the book, along with a problem they selected as a “good example” of each objective. The students would read through the examples provided in the text to choose the one (or more) example(s) they felt illustrated each objective. This was a key component because it encouraged the students to engage the material rather than go directly to the homework assignments. The team allowed students to use their journals when working on group activities and in-class quizzes, which they really appreciated, and which helped motivate them to write complete and well-organized journal entries.

Pencil and paper assignments. The pencil and paper assignments were short lists, usually 1-2 problems, from selected homework sections that were required to be turned in “on paper” with complete solutions. This discouraged students from trying to work problems “in their head” which seems to be a natural tendency when students first begin doing online homework. It also gave us an opportunity to see how well students could write up a complete and detailed solution. It enabled us to reinforce common problem areas and to assign problems that were not available in the MyMathLab problem pool for this first edition textbook.

Quick quiz. Workshop sessions regularly started with a short two-question “quick quiz”, generally taking approximately 5 -10 minutes. The quick quiz motivated the students to come to class (on time!) and was a quick assessment of student learning on key topics from previous assignments. Follow-up discussion of the quick quiz problems provided a starting point for in-class questions and discussion of current topics.

Collaborative groups. The group activities were essential to insure that students were seeing the bigger picture and integrating topics they were learning. It also enabled instructors to give some problems that were more challenging. Students working with similarly-prepared students really enhanced the functioning of the groups.

Coach in the corner. This provided extra one-on-one help for students on specific questions that they had missed on a quiz. Once they had completed this process, they were allowed to take the quiz an additional time to improve their score.

Experienced student aids serving as role models. Student aids in the classroom were able to express ideas and approaches in student-to-student terminology with a level of “one who’s been there” experience that provided significant credibility to their advice on how to navigate the course requirements. They were a great help in class when there were questions using the computer since they had often-times experienced the same difficulties.

Friday “Work at Home” passes. These allowed students to opt out of the Friday class meeting if they were caught up at the required level. It was another incentive to the students to keep up.

Friday “mini-lectures”. Students who wanted help on specific topic areas were able to attend these.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Increased section size. CRC planned to reduce the cost-per-student only slightly, from $266 per student to $242 per student by adding 3-4 additional students per section. However, this small increase in class enrollment did not materialize because the pilot courses were scheduled in our computerized classroom that had no additional room capacity. Future redesign courses will target some of our larger math classrooms if available.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Student non-participation. Too many students fall into this category. They may show up for the weekly workshops, but they have not done the work.

Mathematical Formatting. The computer is very limited as to what form it will accept mathematical results as the correct answer. Students were frustrated by this issue.

Overestimating acquired knowledge. Some students over estimated their own understanding of homework concepts because they were relying too heavily on mimicking examples within the technology

Homework workload complaints. Students complained about the amount of homework they had to do. It is clear that most of them have never put in very much time on homework in the past.

Condensed calendar attitude changes. Cosumnes’ conversion to a condensed calendar (18 weeks to 16 weeks, with no loss of instructional minutes) has negatively impacted student schedules by increasing back-to-back classes and reducing what they perceive to be extra time for outside jobs. This change seemed to leave significantly reduced time for completing assigned homework.

Challenges to learning-disabled students. Technology presented time management and learning modality challenges for the learning–disabled students. They found they needed to allow more homework time to avail themselves of online support in multiple learning modes.



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