|Program in Course Redesign
The University of Alabama
The Traditional Course
Intermediate Algebra, a pre-general studies course, enrolls about 1500 students every year. One half of all entering undergraduate students place into Intermediate Algebra, which essentially repeats material that students should have learned in high school. Faculty teach the course in a traditional lecture format using common syllabi, department-wide tests, and final exams that they develop collectively. Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), who undergo substantial training and supervision, support faculty and students in the course.
The most significant academic problem with Intermediate Algebra is poor student performance. Because students enroll in such high numbers, faculty cannot track homework assignments as carefully as needed due to staffing limitations. Inadequate student-progress tracking and delays in responses to student work also impact student performance. More than 50% of students receive D or F grades, and students often need to repeat the course several times. The scope of this problem can be seen when viewed in terms of student success toward graduation. Students in the 1993 freshman class, for example, had an overall six-year graduation rate of 55%, compared to a 30% rate for students who received a D or F in the Intermediate Algebra course.
To address the problem of student performance, faculty initiated a pilot redesign of Intermediate Algebra in 1997. The pilot project emphasized homework problems and quick, frequent feedback loops. The pilot was successful, but it had two main problems: 1) it did not use computer technology to provide feedback and thus was far too labor-intensive, and 2) it did not develop a truly learner-centered experience. It did, though, successfully prove the need to provide similar kinds of repetitive problem solving and quick feedback.
To address the problems of learner-centeredness and immediate response to student work, faculty have started another pilot program modeled on Virginia Tech's Math Emporium. The idea is to move the Intermediate Algebra course to a self-paced, computer-based learning environment. The Math Technology Learning Center, a 70-seat computer facility, will house the redesigned Intermediate Algebra course.
The Redesigned Course
The prime objective in course redesign is to use technology to create a self-paced, active learning environment that will engage students and thus increase student success rates in the course. The redesigned course will substitute capital for labor, offloading labor-intensive feedback, grading, and record-keeping from individual instructors to sophisticated software that can track and respond immediately to student work.
The goals for the redesigned course include the following:
In order to achieve these goals, Intermediate Algebra will be redesigned for delivery in the Math Technology Learning Center (MTLC), modeled on Virginia Tech's Math Emporium. The MTLC, open 65 hours over six days per week, will use commercial instructional software to provide basic instruction and testing. Through its diagnostic and record-keeping functions, the course software will provide quick feedback to students, instant assessment of skills competencies, and a steady flow of information to instructors and tutors. The interactive nature of the new teaching and learning process will require students to be active participants rather than passive observers. Faculty, graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), and undergraduate peer tutors will provide personalized instruction and tutorial assistance as needed.
The redesign of Intermediate Algebra will serve as a model for further redesign of all pre-calculus courses at the university as well as for some higher-level math courses.
Traditional Course Structure
Redesigned Course Structure
In summary, the redesigned course will implement the following changes:
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