Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R)

University of Central Florida

Course Title: College Algebra
Redesign Coordinator: Tammy Muhs

Status: This project was part of Round II of NCAT's FIPSE-funded Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) program, 2008 – 2009. Participants conducted a pilot of their redesign plans in fall 2008. 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.

Project Abstract
Progress Report (as of 3/1/09)
Progress Report (as of 7/1/10)

Project Abstract

The University of Central Florida plans to redesign College Algebra, the course with the highest enrollment in the department, with an annual enrollment of more than 4100 students. The course is currently taught in three modes: large lecture sections (~384 students); independent sections (~49 students); and reduced seat-time sections (21 students). The large lecture and independent sections meet three hours per week with an additional recitation hour for students in the large lectures. The reduced seat-time sections meet one hour per week with the rest of the instruction taking place online. While the reduced seat-time sections have a lower cost-per-student, they also have a withdrawal rate more than double the large lecture and independent sections.

In fall 2006 the whole course suffered a 35% DFW rate. The student population taking College Algebra is very diverse in academic goals, background, schedules and the abilities they bring to the course. During a fall 2007 partial redesign, some of the NCAT redesign principles were utilized which resulted in improvements in some areas of the course. Specifically, the issue of course drift was successfully addressed by using a coordinated effort across multiple sections of the course. UCF now wants to conduct a whole-course redesign to address the low rate of student success and to serve a large student population with decreased funds and available instructional personnel.

UCF will redesign College Algebra using the Emporium Model. Students will be required to spend a minimum of three hours each week in a computer lab working with MyMathLab software. The software provides videos, worked examples, quizzes and practice tests with automated feedback, homework assignments and tests. The lab will be staffed with graduate teaching assistants (GTAs), undergraduate teaching assistants (UGAs) and peer tutors, who will provide on-demand, individualized assistance. One face-to-face meeting each week conducted by the course coordinator will focus on areas of difficulty encountered by the students during the previous week, highlight the concepts to be introduced in the upcoming week, and address any technical difficulties students may be having.

The redesigned course will create a student-centered learning environment, making students active and engaged learners. Students will have the flexibility to choose when to access course materials in their three lab hours and which of the available instructional opportunities to utilize based on their individual study plans. This flexibility will accommodate individual learning styles, abilities, and scheduling needs. Immediate, automated feedback will identify problem areas that need further work. Student progress will be monitored to both encourage students and provide individual assistance when necessary. Individual assistance and tutoring will also be available in the computer lab when students are working on their assignments.

The impact of the redesign on student learning outcomes will be assessed by comparing scores on common final examinations from the fall 2006 traditional sections with the fall 2008 redesigned sections.

The instructional cost of College Algebra will be reduced by decreasing the annual number of sections from 65 to 13, increasing section size from 21 (36 sections), 49 (22 sections) and 384 (7 sections) to sections of 300 to 384 students each. The five tenured faculty, four adjunct faculty and ten GTAs currently teaching the course will no longer be needed. The non-tenured faculty will decrease from six to four. The number of GTAs will increase from 12 to 14, and 18 undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) will be added to work in the lab. These actions will reduce the cost-per-student from $70 to $49, a 30% reduction. The savings will be used by the department to offer additional math courses and to provide training and professional development. GTAs will be reassigned to other courses in the department, reducing the need to hire adjunct instructors. The reduction in hours for the GTAs involved in the course will provide additional time to engage in research and other academic work. Finally, both the department and the university will benefit by increasing the availability of much needed classroom space for other courses.

Progress Report (as of 3/1/09)

Students in fall 2006 traditional sections had a mean common final exam score of 63% whereas students in the redesigned sections had a mean common final exam score of 81%.

The student success rate (C or higher) in the redesigned sections was 74% versus 65% in the course as a whole and 51% in the reduced seat/mixed mode sections prior to redesign.

Prior to redesign, the course as a whole had an 8.4% withdrawal rate (the large and small lecture withdrawal rate was 7.4% and the reduced seat/mixed mode withdrawal rate was 14.1%.) The redesigned sections had a withdrawal rate of 7.2%.

The redesign effort has led to continued departmental interest in redesigning additional mathematics courses. In addition, other departments have contacted the team regarding the feasibility of completing a similar redesign in their introductory courses.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Using MyMathLab for homework assignments. The textbook adopted for college algebra included access to MyMathLab (MML). Students completed weekly homework assignments, receiving multimedia coaching before they submitted final answers to questions. The variety of resources available in MML allowed students to utilize the resources which were best suited for their personal learning styles. Submitted homework assignments were graded automatically by MML, which allowed students to instantly view their results.

Using MML for online quizzing. An associated quiz was created for each homework assignment. Using the prerequisite function in MML, each quiz was accessible only if the student had earned 70% or better on the associated homework. Students were allowed seven attempts per quiz and only the highest score counted. As a result of the seven attempts, instructors observed students completing more problems than they ever would have completed had they had a lower number of attempts for each quiz. To ensure the students were not merely completing the same quiz over again, question pooling and algorithmic generation were used to provide a unique quiz for each attempt.

Progress monitoring for students. Instructors used email to send progress monitoring messages to students. For example, following each test, students were sent an email encouraging them to seek additional assistance and reminding them of grading options or congratulating them on a job well done. Careful attention was used to word the emails in that they did not disclose the actual grade in order to adhere to FERPA guidelines. Student response to the encouragement and congratulatory emails was very favorable. It was not unusual for struggling students to respond that they would try harder on their next test or for students with high test scores to send thanks to the instructor for taking the time to notice and recognize their hard work and good test results. The progress monitoring and student interaction had such a positive effect on student experience that increased time and attention to these tasks are planned during the full implementation phase of the redesign.

Required lab hours. The mandatory weekly three lab hours guaranteed that students spent at least three hours each week working on the course material. The distraction-free environment of the lab (no cell phones, email, television, Internet surfing, etc.) kept students on task, resulting in improved study habits and facilitating more engaged learning. The redesign pilot provided on-demand assistance of up to 60 hours per week for the 941 students enrolled in the pilot. The use of computers dramatically enhanced the delivery of the course content by requiring more of the learning to take place within the classroom environment. By requiring students to spend more time doing math, instead of watching math, the course quality improved. Student comments included mention of the benefit of working in an environment that was conducive to learning and appreciation for the quick and individualized help they received in the lab.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Increasing section size. Costs were reduced by decreasing the number of sections and increasing section size, thus reducing the number of full-time faculty, adjunct faculty and GTAs needed to teach the course.

Additional savings. The computer lab used for the redesign was utilized as a testing lab for three weeks of the semester and during final exam week. During these three weeks, the lab attendance requirement was lifted, and the peer tutors, undergraduate teaching assistants and graduate teaching assistants were utilized as test proctors. Based on the typical lab hours, UCF was able to provide proctored online testing to approximately 3,600 students taking College Algebra, Finite Math, Trigonometry and Precalculus during each of the testing weeks. This resulted in printing and paper cost savings to the department, while realizing the benefit of 3,600 students gaining immediate feedback on their test performance. Without online testing, the class size of these other courses (172-384 students) would have required that the students be tested in a multiple choice/Scantron format as opposed to the free-response format that was used.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Collaboration among instructors. One of the unforeseen benefits of the redesign was a continual interaction among the six regular faculty instructors teaching the General Education Program (GEP) mathematics courses which was not previously present. This led to instructors making pedagogical improvements in other courses.

Need for student acceptance. The need for students to believe in the value of the redesigned course was an important implementation issue that the team faced. The students mentioned that they were working harder and longer than expected. The lab rules were enforced, which resulted in students losing their lab hour credit for the week when they chose to disregard the rules. When a student lost their lab hours, it was somewhat demoralizing, yet it set an example for the other students. Overall, enforcing lab policies was most problematic at the beginning of the semester when the students were determining their “limits” and at the end of the semester when the students were tempted to multi-task on other courses while in the lab.

Lack of a computer lab fully owned by the math department. Neither the mathematics department nor the College of Science controlled a computer lab suitable for the redesign pilot. With support from the administration, the mathematics department was able to use an existing general purpose computer lab that had been closed due to budget constraints. Although the team was very thankful for this arrangement, the lack of ownership created several obstacles during implementation: 1) monitoring software could not be installed on the computers; 2) a series of constraints were placed on MML resources; 3) additional payroll costs were required to support a computer consultant in the lab for 48-60 hours each week; and, 4) the computers were older, which created both reliability issues (the number of available working computers fluctuated between 85 and 102) and unplanned repair costs that were passed down to the department. Despite these problems, the project would not have been possible without the assistance of the department owning the lab.

There are current plans for a dedicated computer lab managed by the mathematics department to be operational by the spring 2010 semester. In addition, the successful pilot has led to support from the President’s Small Class Initiative (PSCI), which will provide funding for a lab in the math building and additional instructional personnel to facilitate the transformation of all College Algebra sections based on the redesign model.

Test scheduling software failure. The team deployed an online scheduler to schedule tests for approximately 3,600 students, including those taking College Algebra, which did not function as promised by the web developer. Modifications to the system were made, and the system was fully functional by the time of the second semester test. Ongoing improvements have been made, and now the system has been tailored to meet UCF’s specific needs. Students schedule their testing appointment during the week preceding testing. Reminder emails can be automatically sent through the system to all students who have failed to schedule an appointment as well as one sent the day before each student’s scheduled appointment.

Macintosh compatibility issues. Students with Macintosh computers had compatibility issues when using the MML software. Beginning in fall 2008, MML converted to a flash environment and was able to be accessed with Macintosh computers. There were, however, issues with freezing assignments and a TestGen plugin when using a Macintosh computer. Throughout the semester, technical reports were provided and a “Tips for Mac Users” handout was distributed to students using Macintosh computers, which resolved most of the compatibility issues.

Technology issues. Increased dependence on computers and use of Internet based software was problematic during periods of campus network disruption. This was especially problematic when Internet connectivity was lost while the students were taking online tests.

Holiday schedules. The Monday-only sections did not have class meetings for two weeks due to official university holidays. Holiday schedules need to be considered in the future since missing two of the 14 meeting days had a negative impact on the students involved.

Progress Report (as of 7/1/10)

At UCF, more than 4,000 students enroll in College Algebra each year. UCF piloted their redesign in fall 2008. During fall 2006, which provided the baseline, the success rate of 2,250 students in the traditional course was 65%. In fall 2008, the success rate of 941 students in the redesign pilot was 74%. In fall 2009, the success rate increased to 78%. The redesign has now been fully implemented. By fall 2010, the UCF MALL (Math Assistance and Learning Lab) had over 300 computers. Fall 2010 also saw the beginning of the redesign of Intermediate Algebra, and spring 2011 marked the onset of the redesign of Precalculus.



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