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Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)

Santa Fe College

Course Title: Intermediate Algebra
Contact: Steve Grosteffon

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

Santa Fe College ( SFC ) plans to redesign Intermediate Algebra, their largest math course, which enrolls ~2,760 students annually. The traditional course is predominantly lecture-based, meeting in either three 50-minute classes or two 75-minute classes each week. In its current format, the course is taught by both full-time faculty and adjunct instructors.

The traditional course faces a number of academic problems. First, students have a wide range of abilities, and the average success rate is ~50%. Second, there is a lack of consistency among sections. All sections use the same book and all students take the same common multiple-choice final exam. However, each instructor designs his or her own lesson plans, assessments, use of class time and part of the final exam. There is poor correlation between grades received on the final exam and grades in the course, as well as between grades received in the course and those received in subsequent courses for which Intermediate Algebra is a prerequisite. Third, initial lack of student success in and progression through their mathematics courses functions as an impenetrable barrier that keeps students from completing their program of study and graduating. Finally, the Community College Survey of Student Engagement has shown that 75% of Santa Fe students typically spend less than 10 hours per week preparing for classes, and they skip class more frequently than their peers at other Florida community colleges. The team wants to make the Intermediate Algebra course more engaging for students.

Santa Fe will use the Emporium Model to redesign the course. Each section will meet twice a week for 75 minutes. One meeting will be in the Math Studio where students will work on their online assignments using MyMathLab software. The second meeting will be in a classroom where the students will work in small groups, discuss concepts and receive the framework for the week’s materials. Students will also be required to schedule an additional 75-minute block each week in the Math Studio. All redesigned sections will follow the same course schedule and will assign the same homework, quizzes and tests created by the design team.

The redesigned course will enhance the students’ learning experience and improve the success rate by incorporating active learning through group work and practice time. The Math Studio will be staffed by instructors and tutors to provide individual assistance as needed, and the online assignments will provide immediate feedback. Progress will be closely monitored and students who do not pass the first test will be required to schedule a conference with their instructor to discuss the material and their approach to the course. The redesign will also achieve consistency across all sections, and all grades will be calculated in the same manner.

Santa Fe plans to assess student learning outcomes by comparing performance on a common comprehensive final exam given to both traditional and redesigned sections. In the fall 2009 pilot phase, eight redesigned sections of 40 students each and eight traditional sections of 30 students each will be compared. Each instructor teaching a redesigned section will also teach a traditional section. The team will also analyze the results question by question to determine if particular concepts or skills are better conveyed by either delivery method. Eventually, the college plans to track students through subsequent math courses to determine their success.

Santa Fe will reduce the cost of instruction by decreasing the number of sections from 92 to 69 and increasing section size from 30 to 40. The number of faculty teaching the course will decrease: full-time faculty will go from 21 to 10 and part-time faculty from 25 to 17. The cost-per-student will decrease from $117 to $86, a 26% reduction. These actions will enable full-time faculty to teach higher level courses. Savings will also be used to maintain the Math Studio, support other course redesigns and enhance and expand professional development opportunities.

Progress Report (as of 3/1/10)

Students (N = 220) in the redesigned course performed significantly better on a common final exam than students (N = 184) in the traditionally taught sections. The raw average score in the redesign sections was 61% but only 53% in the traditional sections. The results were lower than expected and inconsistent with performance throughout the semester so scores were scaled. After scaling, the average score in the redesign sections was 78% whereas the average score in the traditional sections was 72%. The department has shortened the exam, provided additional study resources and implemented a rubric for assigning partial credit so that future exams will not need to be scaled.

The percentage of students who earned a final exam grade of C or better in the redesigned sections was 78% compared with 59% in the traditional sections.

The percentage of students who earned a final grade of C or better in the redesigned sections was 60% compared with 53% in the traditional sections. 

Instructors observed students in the redesign working consistently throughout the semester, which led to the improved performance on the common final.  Students also voiced a new found confidence in their math skills that came through their ability to rework similar problems and receive instant help until they mastered concepts. 

Santa Fe is on track to fully implement its cost savings plan. The number of students in each section of the redesigned course was raised from the traditional norm of 30 to 40, thus reducing the number of sections being taught. During the pilot, primarily full-time faculty taught the redesign sections but over time, because of the standardization of the curriculum, the College plans to use more adjunct faculty to teach the redesign sections.

The sustainability of this project is not in question. Santa Fe is following a five-year phase-in schedule, supported by a Title III grant, so that the transition can go as smoothly as possible. Preliminary results show that the redesign is positively affecting student success, and after each semester, the college will re-evaluate and adjust as needed to continue to make gains in this area. The college is also implementing course redesigns for Prep Pre-Algebra, Elementary Algebra, Integrated Arithmetic and Algebra, and College Algebra.

Lessons Learned

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

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

Using the Emporium Model. Santa Fe required students to be in the math lab once with their class and once at a scheduled time of their own choosing. This gave the students some freedom to set their own schedule but retained enough structure to help them be more focused and successful. Santa Fe also used a full 75-minute period for a focus group meeting, which emphasized the classroom community and connection with their own teacher. Requiring attendance in both the lab and focus group seemed to help students stay on task.

Providing instant feedback and assistance on weekly assignments. Students no longer complained of being unable to do their homework, partially because homework was completed within the class structure but mainly due to the use of computer software to provide feedback and help as students worked through assignments. Having weekly deadlines helped students work more consistently and helped instructors identify students who were falling behind.

Using a required course pack to help with note-taking and writing of mathematics. The team developed a course pack to help students know what they were supposed to be learning and to help with their note-taking skills during focus groups. Each week, there were places for students to fill in information that corresponded to the week’s lesson. Instructors developed worksheets for their students to do each week as well. The worksheets were intended to make sure that students were learning how to think about and write mathematics even though the majority of their work was done on and graded by the computer. The worksheets also provided a good review before each test.

Setting minimum proficiency scores during the semester. Santa Fe chose to require all students in the redesign to pass each test (three per semester) and the last quiz (covering new material after the last test) with a 70% or better. Having these assessments graded by computer, as well as having a well-staffed computer lab available, made this logistically possible. Review components were required before retakes were allowed. This gave instructors more opportunities to connect with students and provide help on particular concepts and insured that students continued to work on problem areas rather than ignore them.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Increasing section size. Because the majority of grading was done by computer, sections could be increased from 30 to 40 students.

Shared resources. All assignments, outside of classroom worksheets, were designed by the team prior to the start of the semester and were used by all sections.  As the redesign continues, the team plans to have all materials, including the worksheets, available for all instructors, freeing up considerable instructor time.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Student use of technology. Instructors were initially concerned that it would take students some time to get used to the software system, but this turned out to be a non-issue. The first class day was spent introducing students to the system and style of the class, and tutors in the lab were able to help students with any individual questions that arose later.

Record-keeping. The system developed by the team has several safeguards built in to insure student success, but these all require particular attention to detail by the instructors involved. Santa Fe is working on streamlining its system to make it more manageable for the instructors while retaining the same encouragements for student success. Introduction of a separate system to track attendance has helped tremendously.

Partial credit. The software used to grade assessments takes an all right/all wrong approach, which caused problems with student satisfaction and grade reliability.  Instructors are now examining tests for specific cases to award partial credit. This has reduced student complaints but increased instructor workload.  As the redesign moves forward, Santa Fe seeks to find the right approach for its students that can be sustainable as different instructors begin to teach the course.

Use of the focus group time. Instructors have found that teaching in the redesign can be tricky, and the team is developing a handbook for future instructors to use. The instructors teaching in the redesign are meeting frequently to discuss their use of focus group time and are becoming more comfortable as they become more used to the new format.



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