The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Course Title: Precalculus Mathematics
Redesign Coordinator: Charles Green

Status: This project originated as part of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Roadmap to Redesign (R2R) program, 2003 – 2006, and was successfully completed.

Descriptive Materials: In addition to the project description below, links for this project include a final project report, which describes the impact of the redesign on student learning and student retention; final cost savings achieved; techniques that most contributed to improved learning and reduced costs; and, an assessment of future sustainability.

Project Plan:
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) will redesign its Precalculus Mathematics course, which enrolls about 600-700 students annually in approximately twenty sections. The course is currently taught in the traditional lecture/office hour format with optional use of a Mathematics Department Help Center. Students who do not qualify to place into Calculus according to their SAT-IIC scores are placed into the course.

The course redesign will implement the following academic goals:

  • Increase student self-confidence in their math skills and satisfaction with their mathematics instruction by enabling them to become active learners and effective problem solvers.
  • Decrease the withdrawal and failure rates. Generally, withdrawals run 15% or higher while approximately one-third of the students enrolled fail to achieve a grade of "C" or higher.
  • Enable students to use their computers in their mathematics and science studies consistent with the university's student laptop requirement.
  • Instill a firm basis of mathematical skill and conceptual understanding that will enable students to succeed in subsequent mathematics courses.

The Math Department plans to reconfigure its multiple sections using the Emporium Model. In any given semester, there will be a single large section of Precalculus Math. Students will learn from a textbook, an online software package ( iLrn ) and instructional personnel. The instructional software will generate problems, weekly low-stakes quizzes and other examinations. A large emporium-style learning center with extended hours of operation and staffing will give students ample and flexible time to schedule periods of contact instruction, thereby providing increased access to instructional resources when students need it as well as more effective monitoring of their progress. Providing ample opportunities to "test out" of modules in a course will help students accelerate their progress. The redesign will greatly improve the delivery of instruction by offering more active learning opportunities, immediate feedback and personalized instruction.

Three objectively scored common exams developed by the math faculty and validated by the assessment team will be administered to compare the progress of students in the traditional and redesigned sections. Identical pre-tests and post-tests, objectively scored, will be administered to students in the traditional and redesigned sections during the pilot and again during the full implementation phase. Using retrospective surveys and focus group sessions, the team will also gather data on learning process components like time to learn, the application of concepts to new situations, and efforts to make course content more meaningful and enjoyable for students

Fewer personnel will be required in the redesigned course. Replacing traditional-size sections with a single large section will spread individual instructor and teaching assistant contact across a whole course rather than just a single class of 30-35 students. The redesign will, therefore, reduce the overall cost of the course from $95,310 to $74,990, a reduction in the cost-per-student from $162 to $127. By improving learning outcomes and increasing student satisfaction, additional savings are anticipated as student failure and recidivism are reduced. Savings will be used to reduce the workload of graduate teaching assistants who are overloaded and to redirect some of the graduate students currently serving as instructors in traditionally taught sections of these courses to the Math Help Center, thus making expanded tutoring and assessment resources available for other mathematics courses.



Quick Links:

Roadmap to Redesign Main Page...