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Implementation Issues

Riverside Community College

Looking back on the course pilot itself, what worked best?

From instructors’ viewpoints, five items were identified as working best:

  • Instructors’ ability to see what students were working on
  • ALEKS’ assessment aspects
  • Aid students received from instructors and tutors in lab
  • Topic-focused lectures (The lab eliminated time usually spent in lecture going over homework.)
    Reduced short-term remediation from one lecture to next.

In focus groups, students identified three items as working well:

  • Math Collaboratory (Students benefited from going to lab and receiving immediate feedback from tutors and instructors.)
  • Topic-centered lectures (Spotlight Sessions)
  • ALEKS (Instructors commented that ALEKS did work well for those students who actually spent the recommended time.)

What worked least well?

The consensus of the faculty focus group was that while students seemed to enjoy using ALEKS, there seemed to be a lack of correlation between the software, the textbook, and lab activities. Because ALEKS requires mastery of topics before students can continue, students who are not mastering material are not able to work on homework that relates to spotlight topics. Spotlight topics need to follow a set schedule to allow adequate course coverage. This problem could be partly resolved if students were spending more hours using ALEKS.

Another problem identified was that the students were not able to use the software to help them review for tests. Once a topic has been completed on ALEKS, students no longer have access to that material. Some faculty found that a CD-ROM, prepackaged with the textbook, could be used to help students for review and practice of material.

Students felt that the weakest points were:

  • ALEKS (About an equal number of students did not think ALEKS worked well for them. In particular, students felt assessments were too frequent and were unhappy with time required to “re-do” material.)
  • Insufficient lecture time
  • Insufficient lab hours

What are the biggest challenges you face in moving from the course pilot to the project's next phase?

The goals for the redesign have not changed as a result of the pilot. Although problems were identified, we are working to address them by altering some of the materials, improving feedback mechanisms, and making mandatory parts of the course that were optional in the pilot.

The biggest surprise from the pilot experience was the amount of time students spent on the ALEKS program. Although data analysis is not complete, it is clear that generally students are not spending enough time on task. Over the last three months, the server statistics for the online program indicate that 302 students have been active, averaging 2.0 hours per week in spite of the instructor-recommended 6 hours per week. The server statistics also indicate that the number of active students has dropped to 119 in the last week of the semester, each spending an average of 2.6 hours per/week. The ALEKS program was intended to replace traditional paper and pencil homework. Despite the lower-than-expected results in time spent, we cannot compare this to the amount of time that students spend on homework when enrolled in a traditional class. Since there is no tracking mechanism for traditional homework, it may well be those students in a traditional class spend comparable amounts of time on assignments. The technology provides us with useful information: knowing that students are not spending the appropriate amount of time on homework, faculty are hoping to improve feedback mechanisms and motivation techniques.

Based on information obtained from focus groups, faculty have made a number of changes in the course structure. One of the biggest was a move to require that students spend a minimum of two hours in math labs and two hours in Spotlight Sessions per week to increase the amount of interaction among students and instructors. This requires us to ensure that the lab facilities are open for a greater number of hours, which may be problematic in that finding the staff to work in the lab is a concern. Another change is to find ways to integrate the components better by augmenting the Web-based homework, which was not necessarily related to lecture topics, with homework each week that relates to the lecture material.

Student reactions to the pilot were somewhat tentative. Many of the redesigned courses had low enrollment in the pilot semester because students were afraid of the new structure. There was also some confusion on the part of many students in the beginning of the semester. An orientation to the new course is being planned to help with this issue. New workshops were developed to help students with math anxiety and study skills issues.

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