Missouri Course Redesign Initiative

University of Missouri-Kansas City

Course Title: College Algebra
Redesign Coordinator: Eric Hall

Project Abstract
Final Report (as of 3/1/13)

Project Abstract

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) will redesign its College Algebra course, a three-credit course delivered in a standard lecture format. Classes meet for three 50-minute sessions per week, and each section typically enrolls 35-40 students. Total enrollment during AY 2010-2011 was 453, and enrollment is steadily increasing. A single instructor, usually a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) or adjunct instructor, is assigned to each section. This instructor is charged with managing nearly every aspect of the course except textbook selection and final exam creation. Full-time faculty members are rarely involved in the course beyond the role of college algebra coordinator, a position which involves general oversight of the instructors and the creation of a common final exam.

UMKC hopes to address two main problems with its course redesign. First, UMKC’s recent involvement in the national Access 2 Success Initiative revealed that students who enrolled and successfully completed college-level math during their first year are more likely to be retained for their sophomore year. Since the DFW rate in College Algebra is high and on the rise, averaging 30% over the last two academic years, a primary goal is to improve retention and later academic success by lowering the DFW rate. Second, due to the current state of Missouri’s economy, state-funded institutions such as UMKC are being asked to do more with fewer resources, so cost-reduction is also a key goal.

The redesigned course will be based on the Emporium Model. All three of the 50-minute lectures each week will be eliminated and replaced by two mandatory 75-minute lab sessions in an Interactive Math Learning Center and one 50-minute class meeting. Each lab section will consist of approximately 50 students who will work under the guidance of GTAs or adjunct instructors and undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs). The class meetings will be much larger, consisting of approximately 100 – 150 students. They will be conducted by the one faculty member who serves as primary instructor/coordinator for the course and will be a time to review key concepts and preview of upcoming material and tasks.

Replacing lectures will place more responsibility on students to actively engage in the learning process. Students in the redesigned model will learn math by doing math. In the lab sessions, students will work on interactive tutorials and activities in an online learning environment that promotes active learning and provides immediate feedback. The emphasis on participation in course activities and the ownership of one’s education that this fosters are critical to maintaining student motivation and overall success in math. This change in the course structure also places the instructor in a vastly different role, one focused on providing individualized guidance, another key to student success.

The impact of the redesign on learning will be assessed in the pilot implementation by comparing student performance on a common final exam in the redesign with that of traditional sections taught in parallel. In the full implementation, performance on the same common final exam will be compared with historical data. DFW rates, average grade points earned and success in subsequent courses will also be compared. The redesign team regards ongoing assessment of the redesigned course to be a critical component of its long-term success.

Using the Emporium Model will ensure substantial cost reductions by allowing UMKC to increase the number of College Algebra students taught by each instructor. Removing GTAs and adjunct instructors from the lecture setting and placing them in the lab setting means they will no longer spend time preparing lectures. Additionally, far less time will be spent grading student work. GTAs and adjunct instructors will more than double their College Algebra student load, from one section of 35-40 students to two sections of 50, without changing the number of total hours they dedicate to the course. By consolidating lecture sections, one primary instructor/coordinator will be able to serve the entire College Algebra student population each term with only two or three class meetings each week. These changes will reduce the cost per student from $103 to $67, a 35% decrease. The savings derived from this course redesign will be used to fund subsequent course redesigns.

Final Report (as of 3/1/13)

Impact on Students

In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared to the traditional format?

Improved Learning

Students in the fully implemented redesigned course performed significantly better on the final exam compared with traditional students during the previous three fall semesters. The mean on the final exam in the redesigned sections was 68, whereas the traditional sections had a mean of 55.

Improved Completion

Course completion (final grades of C or better) increased slightly in the redesign from 63.8% in previous fall semesters to 66.5% in the redesigned semester.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

UMKC carried out its cost reduction strategy as planned. The number of College Algebra students taught by each instructor was increased. Graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) and adjunct instructors were removed from the lecture setting and placed in a lab setting, which meant they no longer spent time preparing lectures. Additionally, far less time was spent grading student work. GTAs and adjunct instructors more than doubled their College Algebra student load, from one section of 35-40 students to two sections of 50, without changing the number of total hours they dedicated to the course. By consolidating lecture sections, one primary instructor/coordinator was able to serve the entire College Algebra student population each term with only two or three class meetings each week. Instructor time needed for interacting with students outside of scheduled class meetings, proctoring exams, grading and training was somewhat underestimated in the plan, however. These changes reduced the cost per student from $103 to $67, a 35% decrease.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

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

Using instructional software.  Students practiced mathematics using a commercial software package, both in the lab and at home. They received immediate, automatic feedback on their efforts, allowing for more effective use of their practice time.

Individual tutoring and support.  Lab meetings were mainly dedicated to providing one-on-one support for students. As students practiced mathematics, they could get the help that they needed from their lab instructor or other learning assistants. The main role of the instructor was to help the students to understand the mathematics, but instructors supported students in other ways. Freed from having to prepare and deliver lectures, instructors could identify struggling students and initiate conversations which might have been about mathematics, but might have been about “how to be a college student” issues such as study habits or study techniques. These conversations took place during the regularly scheduled labs, whereas in a traditional course such conversations often waited until a student came to an office hour to get help, if that happened at all.

Cost Reduction Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Grading and lecturing were greatly reduced by using an instructional software system.  This allowed each instructor to handle significantly more students per section with less time spent, reducing the cost of instruction per student.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Creating an active environment in the lab.  In the pilot redesign, the lab was very quiet.  Instructors were unclear about or uncomfortable with their role, and students were reluctant to talk with each other or with instructors or tutors. In the full implementation these issues were much improved. It is clear that early setting of student expectations will be important each semester, and effective instructor training will continue to be important as well. 

Student attendance.  Lab attendance is mandatory (points are awarded for attendance).  However, for students doing well enough after the fifth week, attendance became optional. This served very well a population of well-prepared, self-motivated students. It also led to some students, who may have had high homework scores but not done very well on the first exams and quizzes, to prematurely disengage from the course. In the second semester of full implementation, the definition of “doing well enough” has been made much more strict. 


Will the redesign be sustained now that the grant period is over?

The redesign has shown to be a cost-effective way to improve student learning and reduce course drift. There are no department faculty interested in moving back to the traditional format, and administration remains committed to the redesign effort. Students are reasonably content with the format---in the full implementation there were no complaints to the department chair. The redesign will be sustained.



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