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Program in Course Redesign

Riverside Community College

Project Abstract

Riverside Community College (RCC) plans to redesign Elementary Algebra, a four-credit course, enrolling 3,600 students annually. Each year, the college offers 72 sections of Elementary Algebra with 50 students in each section. Elementary Algebra is both the College's lowest level math course meeting associate degree requirements and its highest enrolled math course. For the past decade, the success rate (a grade of C or better) for RCC’s Elementary Algebra students has hovered at about 50 percent. This, combined with the fact that the course is required for numerous degree paths, results in a 30 percent repeat rate. Compounding these factors is a very low retention rate, with many students simply giving up and dropping out. RCC attributes these problems to the purely didactic lecture format currently in use, which severely limits student interaction with materials, instructors or other students.

The solution is to create a completely new math learning environment. The redesign converts the current four hours of weekly lectures into participation in a Math Collaboratory and two hours of weekly Spotlight Sessions. The Collaboratory will make use of an interactive lab, where students will work with faculty, tutors, and other students about math topics. It will also make use of ALEKS, an artificial intelligence math program that generates individualized assessments, study plans, and active learning sets. Because ALEKS is Web-based, students will be able to access the program 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Spotlights will be intensely targeted vignettes on known student trouble spots. These sessions will be optional, with students attending as many or as few as needed for clarification of material. Finally, RCC's Tutorial Services will develop an extensive math tutorial and counseling support system.

The primary quality enhancement of the redesign relates to shifting the "locus of control" of the learning process from teacher to learner. In essence, the redesign requires students to take an active role in their own learning. Based on timely assessment, preferred learning styles, and faculty guidance, students will determine which Spotlight Sessions they should attend and how much Math Collaboratory and tutoring time is needed for subject mastery. When they have mastered material, they move forward. When material is unclear, students spend more time with math resources. The new benchmark for the course is "subject matter mastery," not seat time.

The plan to assess redesign impact will focus on three areas: 1) student learning, 2) student attitudes and perceptions, and 3) faculty perceptions. Student learning will be assessed, comparing traditional and redesigned formats with respect to Elementary Algebra course performance, performance in subsequent mathematics courses, and gains in knowledge as measured by pre- and post-tests. Qualitative aspects of the redesign will also be assessed, including evaluation of student attitudinal changes towards math and student/faculty perceptions of the new learning environment.

The course redesign will result in annual savings of $333,304 (or 45 percent) compared to traditional course costs. This savings will stem from increasing the students served per section from 50 to 75, thereby reducing the number of required sections from 72 to 48. Related per-student costs will drop from $206 for the traditional course to $113 for the redesigned course. These cost savings are conservative, representing only the leveraging of faculty time with increased class size. They do not reflect the potential of freeing classrooms for other classes, reducing student repeat rates or increasing retention rates.

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