|Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)
Course Title: Introduction to 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.
DePaul University plans to redesign Introduction to College Algebra, which introduces students to topics ranging from linear equations and inequalities to radical expressions. The course enrolls ~850 students annually in about 27 sections of ~40 students each. The course currently is offered in a traditional lecture/discussion format, meeting three hours each week during a ten-week quarter. Students complete homework assignments, take several quizzes and at least one midterm exam. The final exam includes at least 20 common questions. A committee chooses the textbook and then each individual instructor writes his or her own exams, incorporating the common questions. They also determine how heavily to weight various assignments and the exams to generate the final grade.
The most significant academic problem this redesign plan addresses is the negative cycle of students' engagement with course concepts. Too often, students spend inadequate amounts of time on task, failing to come to class as well as failing to complete their homework. Approximately 25% of the students do not master the material and consequently reinforce prior negative experiences with math, resulting in a negative attitude toward the subject and their own abilities.
In the planned course redesign, students will attend a traditional lecture/discussion for 1.5 hours each week and will then be required to spend an additional 3 hours in a new math lab, working with MyMathLab software. A math instructor and a team of tutors will staff the lab. Specific concepts will be introduced in the lecture/discussion sessions and students will practice them using the software in the lab and at home. The redesign, using the Supplemental Model, will take place in stages beginning in fall 2007 because of pre-existing schedules. Full implementation, using the Replacement Model, is planned for winter 2008.
The redesign will enhance course quality and improve learning outcomes by requiring students to spend more time practicing the math concepts they are learning. They will receive automatic feedback through the online program as well as personal feedback from the instructor and tutors staffing the lab. Students receiving more feedback on their work in progress will result in improved student learning.
The direct impact of the course redesign on students' learning will be assessed by comparing scores between the redesigned sections and the parallel traditional sections on common questions in the final exam. Historical data from the traditional format is also available for comparisons. The team is considering attempting to track how students who have taken the traditional and redesigned course perform in courses that have this one as a prerequisite.
The traditional course consists of 27 sections with 40 students each. It is taught by 13 full-time faculty and 14 part-time faculty. When fully implemented, the redesigned course will offer 14 sections, each with 80 students, taught by 7 full-time and 7 part-time faculty. The operational cost of the course will be reduced from $190 per student to $140 per student, a 26% reduction.
Not only is DePaul planning to sustain the course redesign, the team is planning to expand it. They are now experimenting, in selected sections, with redesigned versions of the courses which directly precede and follow College Algebra in the pre-calculus sequence. They are also piloting a new course, which would replace College Algebra as the prerequisite for their quantitative reasoning courses, using the same redesigned elements. DePaul will continue to offer the redesigned College Algebra, with the understanding that all of its students are part of the pre-calculus track.
The team may also re-evaluate the number of hours per week that our developmental math students spend in the computer lab and how many hours they should spend with their instructor or with supplemental instructors. Changes such as these are only in the discussion phase, but they have the potential to simultaneously reduce class size and generate course savings.
The university is also planning to build a computer lab on the Loop Campus which, for a certain number of hours per week, can be used for redesigned mathematics courses. Therefore, the course redesign will be extended to students at the Loop Campus.
Pedagogical Improvement Techniques
What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?
Engaging students during class time. Students in College Algebra have had difficulty succeeding in the traditional lecture format. They tended to passively watch the lecture and were not doing mathematics. The redesigned format forces them to spend large amount of time, during every class, working problems.
Providing students with 24/7 assistance and feedback. The MyMathLab software immediately grades student work. Various tutorial aids are always available, provided the student has internet access.
Providing students with an almost unlimited supply of practice problems. Whereas a textbook has only a limited number of problems of a given type, the software can continually generate more and more problems of that type to assist a struggling student.
What implementation issues were most important?
Regaining the attention of students. The physical set-up of the computer lab made it difficult for the students to watch what was taking place at the front of the lab. Therefore, once the class began working with the computer, it was very difficult for the instructor to regain the attention of the class. To deal with the issue, the team is installing software which will allow the instructor to darken all computer screens while a lecture is taking place.
Determining how much time should be spent lecturing. The redesigned sections of College Algebra met for three hours per week, all in a computer lab. The team continues to struggle with determining how many hours should be spent lecturing and how many should be spent on other activities.
Determining other activities for the students. Students in the redesigned course spent some time listening to a lecture and spent the remainder of the class solving problems and working with MyMathLab. However, some of the MyMathLab activities could be done outside of class. Perhaps other activities, such as group projects, might be a more efficient way of spending the time in class.
Using supplemental instructors to assist students. It is difficult for one instructor to move around a computer lab and try to assist a class of 40 as they work with MyMathLab. One can also wonder whether this is the most efficient use of an instructor’s time. Students might benefit more from having two or three "supplemental instructors" or super-tutors assist them at various times in the computer lab.
Faculty buy-in. Instructors are very good at delivering traditional instruction. Teaching in a computer lab, limiting the amount of lecture time, and integrating a web-based tutorial/grading system into a class are huge changes for many faculty. It takes many hours of training and practice to make this transition. Some faculty might not be willing to make this transition.
Macintosh problems. Students with Macintosh computers had difficulty or were unable to access MyMathLab on their computer. This represents a significant hardship for these students.