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The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning: Mississippi Course Redesign Initiative

The University of Southern Mississippi

Course Title: Intermediate Algebra
Redesign Coordinator: Janice Fletcher

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 3/15/10)

Project Abstract

The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) plans to redesign Intermediate Algebra, a traditional lecture-based course meeting five hours per week. Total enrollment during AY 2007-2008 was approximately 1000 students with ~30 students per section. In spring 2007, a partial redesign was implemented using the Emporium Model where a number of sections reduced the lecture time to one hour per week and required three hours in the mathematics learning center.

The traditional course suffers from course drift and a low, 45% success rate of C or better. Although there is a course coordinator and a common final exam which is graded using a common rubric, other tests and exams are created and graded by the instructors who are free to choose the questions and corresponding rubric.

USM’s course redesign will complete the conversion of Intermediate Algebra to the Emporium Model. All students will be required to spend three hours per week in the learning center working with MyMathLab. Homework, quizzes and tests will be completed online. The learning center will be staffed by a combination of instructors, graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) and advanced undergraduates to help students as they work through their assignments. All GTA and undergraduate tutors will have completed the homework and taken the quizzes, giving them familiarity with the content and the software. Finally, groups of 40 students will also meet in a classroom one hour per week.

The redesigned course will enhance the students’ educational experience, making them active and engaged learners and providing a consistent learning experience for all. Students will receive immediate feedback as well as individual assistance. Instructors will closely monitor student progress and take action in a timely manner to address deficiencies. Course drift will be eliminated as course delivery, assignments and tests become standard across sections.

The impact of the course redesign on student learning outcomes will be assessed by comparing baseline data from traditional sections to the redesigned sections. Performance on a common final exam graded with a common rubric will be compared. Pre- and post-test data in fall 2008 and spring 2009 will also be collected from both kinds of sections for a secondary assessment of student learning.

The redesigned course will reduce the cost-per-student from $96 to $76, a 21% savings. The savings will be achieved by reducing the number of sections from 25 prior to the partial redesign to 13 in the full redesign. Section size will be increased from 40 to 80, with each section split into groups of 40 for the class meeting. Two full-time faculty members will teach the redesigned course rather than the seven who previously taught the traditional course. The released instructors will teach other math courses, reducing the need for adjunct instructors. Savings will also be used for further redesign efforts and to provide tutoring for other course offerings.

Final Report (as of 3/15/10)

Impact on Students

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

Improved Learning

The team used both a common final exam graded using a common rubric and pre/post-tests to assess students’ learning.

In fall 2008, 231 traditional students had an average final exam score of 65.2 with a standard deviation 16.6. In fall 2009, the average score of 213 redesign students was 73.8 with a standard deviation 10.9. The overall final exam score average of redesign students was 8.6 points higher than traditional students. The final exam data from the redesigned course had a much smaller standard deviation, which reflects the overall quality of their performance. The percentage of students passing the exam with a grade of C or better increased by 27 percentage points (from 44% to 71%). The percentages of Ds and Fs earned on the final exam in the redesign were 18% and 11% compared to the 24% and 32% in traditional course. These differences in performance between the two groups of students are statistically significant.

In fall 2008, 230 traditional students took both pre- and post-tests. The average score increased from 3.0 (pre-test) to 12.5 (post-test), a gain of 9.5 points. In fall 2009, 203 redesign students took both pre- and post-tests. The average score increased from 5.5 (pre-test) to 14.6 (post-test), a gain of 9.1.  

Improved Completion

The percentage of redesign students earning a final grade of C or better was 26% compared with an historical rate of 34% in the traditional format.

Other Impacts on Students

Of the students who took College Algebra in spring 2010 after completing Intermediate Algebra in the redesigned format in fall 2009, 70% successfully completed the course. The rate from fall 2009 and spring was 40%.

A graduate student from USM Center for Science and Math Education collected responses from seven instructors who taught both traditional and redesigned courses. All seven instructors strongly felt that the redesign was better in training the students to be more independent learners and agreed that this was the greatest benefit of the redesign. 

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

The cost savings plan projected a reduction in the cost-per-student from $96 to $76, a 21% savings, and was successfully implemented. The savings was achieved by reducing the number of sections from 18 to 9 in the fall 2009 full implementation. Section size was increased from 40 to 80, with each section split into groups of 40 for the class meeting. However, the staffing plan was not implemented. Due to budget cuts, no graduate students were assigned to teach sections of Intermediate Algebra, forcing the full-time and adjunct faculty to teach multiple sections of 80, which proved to be extremely challenging.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

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

Mastery modules. Course content was divided into 10 modules consisting of two to five sections, depending on the material to be covered. Students were required to show mastery of each module before access to the following module was allowed. Mastery was shown by scoring 70% on the module quiz.  Mastery was also required on a comprehensive mid-course test.

Consistent content delivery. MyMathLab provided lectures that students could access online from anywhere. This allowed instructors’ time with students to be spent addressing specific content problem areas. All students received the same content information focused on the objectives selected for the course.

Immediate feedback and assessment. MyMathLab provided feedback on each homework problem so that students knew which techniques they had mastered and which ones needed further study. The software also graded quizzes and tests immediately and allowed students to review work submitted again to make them aware of what they had mastered and what needed to be studied further.

Acceleration. Students who were motivated and had a sufficient math background were able to work quickly and finish the course ahead of the deadline.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Online content delivery. MyMathLab provided lectures that students could access online from anywhere. This allowed instructors to manage the progress of two groups of 40 students.

Online quizzes and mid-course test. One instructor created all quizzes and tests. 

Redistribution of work. Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) ran weekly progress reports from the software which were given to each instructor prior to class so that instructors could address individual students’ progress. This freed instructors’ time to work in the learning lab with students on content issues.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Failure to enforce deadlines. Students felt the course was self-paced even though deadlines were set for each module and students were regularly reminded of missed deadlines during class and with emails. Many students did not meet the required deadlines since the team allowed them to work with no penalty after the deadline. This meant that many did not finish the course by the end of the semester, which accounted for the extremely high DFW rate.

Administrative buy-in. When the redesign began, the project was led by the department chair with strong support from the dean and upper-level administration. During the course of the project, the department chair left USM and a new dean and new provost were appointed. This left the full implementation in the hands of a single instructor without support from upper-level administrators.  

Too many students to manage. USM experienced severe budget cuts during the course of the project. The redesign plan called for a number of GTAs to teach the course. These GTAs were re-assigned to teach other courses, which meant that instructors had to teach multiple sections of Intermediate Algebra. One instructor taught three sections (240 students), which made monitoring student progress extremely difficult.

Student attitude. Students felt they were “teaching” themselves even though lectures were online and individualized help was available 65 hours per week in the math learning center.

Staff training. Tutor training consisted of giving the tutors an account in the software and having them work the homework problems they would be tutoring in the math learning center. Further and more detailed tutor training will be done in the future. No instructor training was done. Since the full implementation in fall 2009, weekly meetings of instructors have been held. At these meetings instructors discuss upcoming deadlines, emails to be sent to students as well as how to present the content. Inexperienced instructors needed help anticipating problems students would have with content.


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

The university has invested in a new, larger math learning center which includes a classroom to be used exclusively for math classes in the redesigned format. This eliminates the need for other classrooms on campus for these classes. This larger space also makes it possible for all Intermediate Algebra and all College Algebra to be taught using the redesigned format. Because of the changes in leadership at both the department and university level, however, it is questionable whether the redesign will be continued.



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