|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
Harry S Truman College
Course Title: College Algebra
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.
Harry S Truman College plans to redesign College Algebra, a required course for all students enrolled in a mathematics, business, science or engineering curriculum. Students bring varied needs and a wide variety of skills to this course and it is a gatekeeper for many of them. The course enrolls ~200 students annually in eight sections of ~25 students each. Meeting four hours a week, the traditional course is taught in the lecture format.
The current course is not meeting the needs of the students. Over the last two-year period, 27% of the students withdrew and 4% were withdrawn by faculty for non-attendance. The success rate, defined as a grade of C or higher for those completing the course, is 53%.
The college plans to use the Replacement Model in the redesigned course. Student learning outcomes will be improved by using technology to engage students in active learning. Calculator Based Laboratories (CBLs) and other data gathering activities will be incorporated into the course requirements. MyMathLab and a new text have been chosen for the redesigned course. The software enables the students to assess their understanding of concepts, to review prerequisite material in a format that best supports their individual learning styles, and to revisit a concept as frequently as the student feels is necessary. It also supports early intervention if a student needs individual assistance. The course will continue to have a four-hour format, meeting twice a week. The redesign plans for one hour each session to be devoted to content development. The second hour of each session will be in the computer lab where students will work on the concepts either on their own or with another student. Peer mentors in the lab sessions will provide additional support.
The redesigned course will enhance quality by actively involving the students in their own learning, increasing their feeling of responsibility. They will retain more of the content and success rates will improve. The use of CBLs will provide the students with new technology tools and new skills. Providing real-world contexts for materials will help students make connections they might otherwise miss. The class management software provides flexibility in working on assignments and will help students with content questions as they arise so the student does not have to wait for an office hour for assistance.
The impact on student learning outcomes will be measured by analyzing a subset of core questions from a departmental examination at the end of the term. This will be done for each individual course section level and at the aggregate course section level. For significance testing on performance direct comparisons, the t-test will be used and the corresponding p-values will be calculated.
The operational cost of the course will be reduced by increasing the number of sections from eight to nine and increasing section size from ~25 students to 40 per section, resulting in a 67% annual increase in enrollment from 215 to 360 students. The redesign will reduce the cost-per-student from $246 to $140, an estimated savings of approximately 43%.
Based on the results of the fall 2007 implementation, the senior vice president and dean of instruction have renewed their strong interest and commitment to having the redesign move to full implementation. Administrators are rallying behind the creation of a dedicated math lab equipped with software as early as possible, perhaps by fall 2008. Math tutors that will be added to the mix are being identified and will be trained to perform redesign niche functions. Word is out. Even one faculty member who was reluctant to embrace the concept of redesign science has signed up to teach a redesigned section in summer 2008. Mainstream students have gotten excited by the combination of reduced lectures and increased hands-on practice. In due time, fringe students will be coaxed to enroll. This augurs well for future enrollment growth.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Using MyMathLab for homework assignments. A college textbook compatible with MML was adopted. Purchase of an access key enabled students to use MML’s numerous resources including an electronic copy of the textbook. For each homework exercise, students received multimedia coaching before they actually submitted final answers to questions. Multimedia enhancements allowed them to exercise their personal learning style while practicing a plethora of examples related to the question they were working on. Homework submitted from the student’s home computer was graded automatically by MML as soon as it was submitted. Students could view their results and see them in the grade book where all homework grades were permanently recorded.
Using MML for online quizzing. Two quizzes were composed for each chapter in the textbook. Students were allowed three attempts per quiz each lasting 30 minutes and only the highest score counted. Each quiz was accessible only if a prior quiz was submitted. The tactical goal was to keep the students on top of the material and reduce procrastination while allowing them the opportunity to increase their test score. Deadlines were used to help them schedule their attempts at a reasonable pace. Accommodations were made for students experiencing unusual or difficult situations. As a result, instructors observed a greater tenacity to succeed on the part of students to try to improve their last score.
Using MML to customize a personal study plan for students. MML can customize a personal study plan that students use to remediate their own any deficiencies identified by homework and/or quiz outcomes. As soon as the student’s quiz was graded, MML identified the student’s deficiencies and constructed a study plan consisting of sections to read from the text and a supply of exercises to perform with built-in coaching to help correct these deficiencies. Under the traditional format, students with deficiencies would not know how to start a remediation process unless assisted by an able tutor. In many cases, this would simply not happen.
Involving two student mentors to identify nonacademic issues affecting student performance. Many students appreciated having a peer with whom they could discuss their concerns and any issues that might be hindering their progress. Students also received advice and clarification on a number of things that could not be addressed item-by-item in the course syllabus.
Using non-symbolic graphical calculators for functions modeling and complex number-crunching. The TI-82, TI-83, and Ti-84 models were used in class to investigate 10 common functions and reduce the drudgery of computational schemes. Without the aid of calculators, it would have been virtually impossible to have students investigate a wide class of mathematical problems typically accessible only through calculus techniques.
Using student mentors for repetitive instructional tasks. One student mentor was proficient enough to conduct two workshops on how to use the various functionalities of the graphical calculators, some thing many students needed. This freed up the instructors and allowed to focus more time and energy on more meaningful instructional routines such as sharpening their in-class presentations.
Students’ ability to track their own progress. Instructors observed that students were consistently on task, both in class and away from class. Based on student reports, the convenience of being able to complete homework assignments online with coaching from MML and live online tutors helped them meet deadlines. Students liked being able to see their homework and quiz outcomes instantaneously posted on their active screen as well as in the online grade book.
Cost Reduction Techniques
What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?
Publicity campaigns to increase enrollment. A collegewide campaign and classroom visitations were conducted to inform students and other interested parties about the redesigned college algebra course. The team also publicized it on the college web site. Although fall 2007 enrollment was stable, spring 2008 enrollment has shown signs of growth in that two sections have exceeded the enrollment cap of 35. This has not happened in a long time prior to the redesign. The team believes that students-driven word of mouth may be causing this trend.
Hiring more adjuncts. The redesign of college algebra involved increasing the ratio of adjunct instructors to full-time faculty. The math department will select and train a pool of adjuncts available for instant rehiring and will arrange class scheduling to increase the likelihood of more adjuncts teaching under the redesign format.
What implementation issues were most important?
Training instructors and students on MML. The Pearson MML specialists provided workshops to train the redesign coordinator and all the redesign instructors on how to use MML. They were on hand to help the instructors get the students up to speed during MML registrations. This step in the implementation process was very critical in helping all concerned learn to navigate new software. Instructors also invited the MML specialists to demonstrate MML in each section on the second or third class meeting. In subsequent weeks, the coordinator involved the specialists in trouble-shooting technical issues such as installing MML plug-ins on home computers and learning data entry operations peculiar to MML conventions.
Dealing with a non-existent computer lab dedicated to redesign. There were simply no space and funds to create a lab while the redesign was being conceived. Pre-existing “math” labs could not be shared with other departments that had reserved them well ahead of the redesign implementation. Therefore, the team made a decision to use a hybrid version of the course. Since there was no lab where the functions modeling experiments could be run with Vernier instruments, a group activity was created to replace at least one hour of lecture time using TI- graphical calculators. The senior vice-president has now vowed to construct a dedicated math lab by renovating a pre-existing facility. All math courses will benefit from a fully equipped math center.
Departmental support. Many members of the math department are openly cautious about the redesign and feel that redesign has to prove itself by operating smoothly. Some believe that technology should not be used to teach mathematics. These are honest concerns that will be offset a successful redesign implementation that produces measurable results in student success, student retention, cost savings and other institutional efficiencies. One positive development is that a new young faculty member will teach a section in the fall 2008 term. This is important because full-time instructors, unlike adjuncts, have the time available and a vested interest in helping the redesign become a smashing success.
The team at Harry S. Truman College continues to report success in their redesign of College Algebra. From fall 2005 through spring 2007, the average success rate (grade of C or better) in the traditional format of the course was 47%. From fall 2005 through spring 2009, the success rate in the redesigned format was 65%. The retention statistics are equally compelling. The traditional retention rate was 63% compared with 76% for the redesign. Course enrollment in the traditional format was 361 students whereas enrollment in the redesign format has grown to 474, yet Truman still offers the same four sections with the same resources.