|The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning: Mississippi Course Redesign Initiative
Mississippi University for Women
Course Title: Intermediate Algebra and College Algebra
Mississippi University for Women (MUW) plans to redesign Intermediate Algebra and College Algebra, the two largest mathematics courses at MUW, with annual enrollments of 165 and 300 students respectively. The current courses are taught in a traditional face-to-face format. Although the department as a whole determines the content to be covered, instructors are free to organize their own sections. Each has developed his or her own course materials, activities, assignments and tests.
Both Intermediate Algebra and College Algebra suffer from low student pass rates (a grade of D or higher.) The rate for Intermediate Algebra over the last three years has been 54%, 71% and 57%. For College Algebra over the same period, the pass rates have been 59%, 58% and 64%. The lecture format neither engages students nor accommodates the wide variety of students’ backgrounds, abilities and skill levels. Poor retention of course content makes success in subsequent courses more difficult for students. MUW’s general education curriculum requires all students to pass College Algebra or a higher level mathematics course, making it a gatekeeper course for student success.
MUW will redesign these courses using the Replacement Model. Students will meet each week for one 75-minute lecture and one 75-minute scheduled lab session, both with a faculty instructor. Both courses will also require 1.5 hours of additional lab time each week where students will work online, solving problems, completing homework, and taking quizzes and exams.
The student-centered learning environment created by the redesigned courses will enhance the quality of students’ learning experiences and improve their success rates. They will be able to self-test their level of understanding and receive immediate feedback on their homework and quizzes. The lab will be staffed with both faculty and undergraduate learning assistants (UGAs) to provide tutoring and individual assistance. Instructors will monitor each student’s progress and time on task, allowing for early intervention.
Student learning outcomes will be assessed by comparing performance on common final exams for each course. Additional performance indicators will also be compared, including grade distributions, drop rates and retention rates.
The redesign will decrease the cost of instruction in these courses. Both courses will increase section size from 25 - 30 students each to 35. The number of sections will be reduced from six to five for Intermediate Algebra and eleven to nine for College Algebra. Faculty changes include reducing the number of faculty for Intermediate Algebra from six to three, eliminating the need for an adjunct and an instructor. Faculty teaching College Algebra will increase from five to six. These actions will generate a 32% savings in the cost-per-student for both courses. The cost-per–student will be reduced from $206 to $140 for Intermediate Algebra and from $201 to $135 for College Algebra. The savings will be used to strengthen high-demand and upper-level courses. Faculty will also have more time to help students participate in undergraduate research.
The MUW redesign failed to improve student learning.
In Intermediate Algebra, students in the traditional course performed better than students in the redesigned course on a common final exam (mean = 65 in the traditional vs. 59 in the redesign), and the difference was statistically significant at the 5% level. There was no significant difference between the traditional and redesigned sections on pre/post-test gains in College Algebra.
In Intermediate Algebra, the percentage of students who earned a final grade of C of better declined from 46% in the fall 2008 traditional format to 37% in the fall 2009 redesign. In College Algebra, the percentage of students who earned a final grade of C or better declined from 56% in the fall 2008 traditional format to 44% in the fall 2009 redesign.
NCAT believes that this lack of success is directly attributable to MUW’s use of the Replacement Model rather than the Emporium Model in its redesign. At MUW, students attended one 75-minute lecture and one 75-minute scheduled lab session with a faculty instructor per week and spent 1.5 additional hours in the lab. There is no plan to alter the method of delivery in the foreseeable future.
MUW’s student success rate is so low (37% and 44%) that NCAT does not recommend this project as one to be emulated by others.