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Improving the Quality of Student Learning

Riverside Community College

Based on available data about learning outcomes from the course pilot, what were the impacts of re-design on learning and student development?

Mathematics faculty at Riverside Community College’s three campuses spent the fall 2000 semester preparing for the pilot of the course redesign for Elementary Algebra, including establishing lab facilities, lab activities, a common syllabus, and common midterm and final examinations. During the fall semester one course piloted the Web-based software ALEKS, a major redesign component. A week prior to the beginning of the spring 2001 semester, ten faculty members attended a two-day training session on the redesign and the ALEKS system.

During the spring 2001 semester, nine sections (two on the Norco campus, three at Moreno Valley, and four at Riverside City) piloted the redesign with approximately 300 students. We have processed the surveys that were collected at the beginning of the semester: pre-tests on subject matter, attitude surveys and learning style inventories. By the end of August 2001, we processed post-tests on subject matter (our common final exam) and surveys on attitudes and use of services. Data were also collected on attendance in spotlight sessions, attendance in labs and attendance in optional workshops. Focus groups were conducted with students and with faculty. The consensus of the faculty was that the redesign worked best for students who were disciplined, motivated, and independent learners.

Analysis of learning in the redesigned courses focused on data gathered from the administration of the common final exam (a 45-question test given to both traditional and redesigned-course students) and from the pretest (a 20-question subset of the common final exam given to both sets of students at the beginning of the course). We defined “learning gain” as the difference between final exam and pretest scores on the 20 items. One question asked was “Among the data, what are the best predictors of learning gain in Elementary Algebra for the pilot semester?” A multiple-regression was run using the free-entry stepwise method. When gender, age and course-type (traditional or redesigned) were used as independent variables, no variables entered the regression equation as significant predictors of gain. We ran an additional regression to predict the score on the common final exam using the same independent variables as in the previous regression. The only predictor that entered was that of gender, predicting only 2% of the variation in score for pilot students. Overall, female students were more likely to earn higher scores than males on the common final.

Analyses comparing redesign and traditional means on the common final (by ethnicity and gender) resulted in the following table:

Math 52 Common Final Resultsa
Riverside Community College - Spring 2001

Group Redesign Mean Redesign n Trad. Mean Trad. n p
All 20.86 143 22.23 125 .12
Males 19.24 55 21.56 52 .12
Females 21.88 88 22.71 73 .44
Asian 25.17 6 26.20 5 .82
African American 17.87 15 21.31 16 .12
Latino 20.34 44 20.92 37 .72
Anglo 21.38 53 23.03 52 .26
Asian Males 27.50 2 27.00 2 .97
Asian Females 24.00 4 25.67 3 .79
African American Males 14.50 4 17.71 7 .45
African American Females 19.09 11 24.11 9 .04
Latino Males 19.83 18 19.92 13 .97
Latino Females 20.69 26 21.46 24 .71
Anglo Males 17.52 21 23.09 23 .01
Anglo Females 23.91 32 22.97 29 .60

aThese data are based on students who took the common final in sections taught by full-time faculty.

It is important to note that these results are for the spring 2001 pilot period. For the larger groups, there were no significant differences in common final scores for redesign and traditional courses. Although some of the detailed analyses by ethnicity and gender suggest that there may be differences for specific subgroups, these analyses are based on small n’s and, as we are making multiple comparisons, the interpretation of the p values is more complicated. Following the pilot period and resulting focus group analyses, several design changes were made. Thus, in addition to the above comparisons, we will be comparing fall 2001 and spring 2002 common final scores to traditional common final scores. These comparisons will allow us to study the subgroup issues further. Additionally, we will be doing analyses to study the effects of variables such as initial math placement and use of services on common final scores.

An analysis of common final responses grouped by learning objectives was also performed for courses in the pilot semester. The six objectives from the course outline mapped to specific pre-test and post-test questions were:

  1. Perform arithmetic operations on real numbers and polynomial, rational, and radical expressions;
  2. Evaluate algebraic expressions;
  3. Solve equations involving linear, quadratic, rational and radical expressions;
  4. Graph linear equations and inequalities given the equation and find equations given the graph;
  5. Factor polynomials
  6. Use the symbols and vocabulary of algebra to clearly communicate mathematical concepts.

The results of that analysis are given in the following table:

Learning Objective
# of Test Questions
Redesigned Mean Redesigned N Trad. Mean Trad. N t
p
1 9 6.43 106 6.45 125 -0.05 .96
2 1 0.48 106 0.38 125  1.48 .14
3 3 1.50 106 1.62 125 -0.92 .26
4 2 0.98 106 1.23 125 -2.48 .01
5 3 1.36 106 1.33 125  0.23 .82
6 2 1.58 106 1.57 125  0.22 .83

The only learning objective that showed a significant difference was learning objective #4. For traditional students, the mean for learning objective 4 was significantly higher than that for redesigned students. The reason for this may have to do with shortening the amount of lecture time. The last topic covered in the redesigned courses was objective 4 and if instructors were not keeping up with the course outline, this topic may have been omitted from lecture.

Overall, during the pilot of the redesigned course that took place in the spring 2001 semester, it appears that, based on the available data about learning outcomes, students were learning approximately the same as under traditional structures. For both groups significant gains were made in learning as evidenced by pre-and post-test scores.

During the fall 2001 semester all Elementary Algebra course sections in the Riverside Community College District were taught in the redesigned format: altogether 26 sections at the college’s three campuses with an enrollment of over 1800 students. Pre-tests, common finals, attitudinal surveys and use of service surveys were again administered. We plan to perform analysis of data similar to that of the pilot, comparing data collected in fall 2001 for those collected for traditional classes in fall 2000.

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