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Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)

Morehead State University

Course Title: College Algebra
Contact: Dora Ahmadi

Status: This project was part of Round III of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2009 – 20010. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2009. 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 3/1/10)

Project Abstract

Morehead State University (MSU) plans to redesign College Algebra, a course enrolling ~550 students annually in 19 sections of 30 students each. College Algebra has the highest enrollment among all general education mathematics courses at MSU. The course is currently offered in the traditional format of 150 lecture minutes per week. A mixture of professors and instructors teach the course. While they follow a general outline of the curriculum to be covered, they are free to work through the material in whatever way they see fit, including creating homework assignments, quizzes, tests and other forms of assessment.

The College Algebra course faces two problems. First, the student success rate is less than desirable. A review of performance from spring 2007 to fall 2008 revealed that 60% received a grade of C or better. Second, there is a lack of consistency across sections. Although there is agreement about course content, there is no common assessment and there are differences in coverage from one class to another. College Algebra is a prerequisite for several science and technology courses and is required for degree programs in business administration, veterinary science, biology, environmental science, radiological science, imaging science, industrial technology, technology management and geology. Any student whose major requires a mathematics course higher than College Algebra but who is not ready for the required course also enrolls. Research has also shown that success in mathematics is highly correlated with success in college. Improving the performance of students in this course will support MSU’s strategic initiative to improve overall retention.

MSU will redesign College Algebra using the Emporium Model. Students will be required to spend a minimum of three, flexibly scheduled hours in a math laboratory. Class time will be reduced from three hours to one. Students will be actively engaged in learning mathematics, doing more independent problem-solving, working in small groups and accessing individualized assistance as necessary. The Hawkes Learning System software will be used for homework and assessment. It allows students to rework assignments as often as needed to achieve an 80% mastery level. The redesign coordinator will prepare course syllabi and tests to ensure consistency in course delivery across sections.

The redesigned course will enhance the students’ educational experience, making them active and engaged learners, and provide a consistent learning experience for all students. Prompt and automated feedback will improve the quality of their learning experience, actively involving the students who will be able to track their own progress, which will also be closely monitored. Personal, face-to-face assistance from faculty in the laboratory will also keep the students more connected to the course.

The impact of the course redesign on student learning outcomes will be measured during the pilot in two ways: comparing performance on common final exams and scores on pre/post-tests in parallel sections. By adding coherence and coordinated assessment to the redesigned College Algebra course, the team will pave the way for continuous improvement in future semesters.

The MSU team will reduce instructional costs by decreasing the number of full-time faculty teaching the course from three to two, while keeping section size the same. Because the software will do much of the work such as grading student homework and exams and because of the reduced lecture time, faculty will be able to handle three sections, whereas previously they had only handled two. The cost-per-student will decrease from $196 to $121, a 38% reduction. The cost savings will be used to increase the number of upper-level mathematics courses offered at MSU.

Progress Report (as of 3/1/10)

The fall 2009 redesign pilot consisted of four redesigned sections and three traditional sections taught by three instructors. All instructors taught at least one section of each. Student learning outcomes were compared by using a common final exam. The overall performance of the traditional and redesigned sections was about the same (70% average score.) The percentage of students successfully completing the course with a final grade of C or better was also the same.

The college algebra redesign was fully implemented in spring 2010. Data will continue to be analyzed, and steps will be taken towards continuous improvement.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

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

Active learning. Students worked on mathematics and problem-solving independently with support from tutors and instructors. They learned from their mistakes without fear of being judged. 

Individualized instruction. Both math tutors and faculty members provided individualized assistance to students in the lab when needed.
 
Ongoing assessment and prompt automated feedback. The Hawkes Learning System software provided immediate feedback to students. Students were engaged in working on math concepts and skills until they reached mastery, which was set at 80%.

Ensuring time on task. Since students were required to attend class and the lab, they stayed on task. Homework lessons were due weekly, and late homework was penalized. 

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Increasing the number of sections each instructor handled. The MSU team reduced instructional costs by decreasing the number of full-time faculty teaching the course from three to two, while keeping section size the same.  Because the software did much of the work such as grading student homework and exams and because lecture time was reduced, faculty members were able to handle three sections, whereas previously they had only handled two. In addition, faculty time was reduced by replacing individual development and delivery of each section with coordinated development and delivery of the whole course and shared instructional tasks and by replacing human monitoring of student performance and course administration with course management software.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Personnel. The people who were selected to initiate and work on this project were key to its success. 

Labs. Having a laboratory where students could work on mathematics and received on-demand, individualized assistance played an important role.

 

 

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