The University of Alabama
Looking back on the course pilot itself, what worked best?
We have been very pleased with the pedagogical quality of the software available for both the Intermediate Algebra and Remedial Math courses. The software is versatile and supports a variety of learning styles. We have also been impressed by the ability of the majority of the students in the classes to adapt to the computer-based instruction.
What worked least well?
The biggest problem we faced was instability of the hardware/software during periods of heavy use. System crashes were common (several per day), particularly during the fall 2000 semester. These frequent crashes were very frustrating to students; reduced student engagement in the course; and, we feel, had a negative impact on student success. Modifications made by Prentice-Hall during the spring and summer of 2001 greatly improved the stability of the software. System crashes were uncommon and student satisfaction with the software was much higher than in previous semesters.
We continue to have problems with the course management part of the Prentice-Hall software. The software is designed to provide a variety of different types of information critical to evaluation of student progress. While it works well in classes with small enrollments, it becomes very cumbersome when trying to deal with large classes. We continue to struggle to fully utilize parts of the course management software and have been forced to duplicates parts of the software function to obtain needed information.
What are the biggest challenges you face in moving from the course pilot to the project's next phase?
The results of the first year of implementation of the project have not changed our goals for the Intermediate Algebra course and for expansion of computer-based instruction to other courses in the precalculus math sequence. While the learning outcomes have been mixed, we continue to be convinced that this is a better way to teach mathematics in our particular situation. Students who have started their college math careers in a computer-based course are much more comfortable in subsequent computer-based courses, and many actually object to having to take a math course taught in a traditional format. We will continue to refine our methodology to enhance student learning and are confident we will see a significant increase in student success.
Since we are well into full implementation we have already experienced most of these challenges. Stability of the software during periods of heavy load has been a major problem. New versions of the Prentice-Hall software have reduced the impact of this problem. The record number of students enrolled in Intermediate Algebra during the fall 2000 semester (1,131) stretched the capacity of the MTLC facility. Near the end of assignment and test periods, the 70-computer lab was unable to handle demand and students were sometimes forced to wait to obtain a seat in the lab. To deal with this problem, a second classroom was added to the MTLC facility for the spring 2001 semester and the number of computers available was increased from 70 to 110. The construction of the larger, 240-computer facility alleviated this problem for fall 2001.
Training instructors, graduate teaching assistants, and undergraduate tutors to “teach” in the lab has been a major challenge. The one-on-one assistance the computer-based format requires is very different from the teaching format the instructors have used and/or experienced in the past. Each semester we have expanded our training for instructors to better equip them to provide assistance to students in the MTLC.
Finally, keeping students engaged in the course has been a major challenge. During the pilot phase of the project, a single instructor was responsible for individual sections of the course. This allowed the students to develop a student-teacher relationship with the instructor. When we moved to full implementation in the fall of 2000, a number of instructors were responsible for over 1100 students. The large number of instructors involved in the course and the fact that students could visit the facility at various times made it difficult for students to develop student-teacher relationships. The changes implemented for fall 2001 (required weekly 30-minute session and the email system) appear to have been successful in developing smaller “learning groups” that made students more comfortable in the MTLC learning environment.
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