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Program in Course Redesign

Riverside Community College

The Traditional Course

Elementary Algebra is the lowest-level math class that fulfills the general education requirement for an associate degree, and it is also the College’s highest-enrolled math course. Elementary Algebra is a prerequisite for students pursuing coursework in physical, behavioral, and life sciences. Approximately 3600 students enroll in this four-credit course annually, spread evenly among the three campuses of Riverside Community College. The College offers 72 sections of 50 students each annually.

In the traditional format, Elementary Algebra is taught exclusively in a didactic lecture format with minimal student-faculty interaction. Although lecture permits presentation to a large group, it does nothing to address the students’ diverse learning styles, their widely varied preparation, or their need to actively engage in doing math in order to learn it. Part-time faculty teach half of the sections; there are no teaching assistants, no established tutorial system, and no technology components in the traditional course.

The most significant academic problem is the decreasing student success rate (defined as a grade of C or better), which has deteriorated to below 50% since fall 1992. Simultaneously, the student repeat rate for the course has increased to at least 30%. Student retention is very poor, with many students simply giving up and dropping out.

Two factors compound this problem: 1) Riverside Community College offers open admissions and attracts a significant population of students who need remedial help (e.g., in fall, 1999, only 4% of entering students could do college-level math), and 2) part-time faculty, who traditionally are not as available to students as full-time faculty, are now even less available due to a new calendar structure and a strong local economy. Riverside Community College needs to educate the same number of students, increase their success rate, and decrease the repeat rate while teaching the course with fewer faculty.

The Redesigned Course

Elementary Algebra will be redesigned as a student-centered course incorporating new teaching strategies, technology, and tutoring. The goal of the redesign is twofold: 1) to encourage students to take an active role in their own learning, build on timely assessment, preferred learning styles, and faculty guidance, and 2) to move from a seat-time model to one based on subject matter mastery.

The learning goals for the redesigned course will require students to

  • perform arithmetic operations on real numbers, polynomial, rational, and radical expressions;
  • evaluate algebraic expressions;
  • solve equations involving linear, quadratic, rational, and radical expressions;
  • graph linear equations and inequalities given the equation or inequality and find an equation given a graph;
  • factor polynomials;
  • apply algebraic principles and techniques to the solution of applications; and
  • use algebraic symbols and vocabulary to clearly communicate mathematical concepts.

In order to achieve these learning goals, faculty will redesign Elementary Algebra around a web-based software package (ALEKS) that generates individualized assessments, study plans, and active learning sets. Through modeling each student’s "knowledge state" of Elementary Algebra, ALEKS creates customized learning sets that identify exactly what the student is most ready to learn at a given moment. Students then work through the customized sets, building momentum, confidence and, ultimately, subject mastery. The software includes a computer-based testing system that allows free-response answers and a built-in student management system for maximum student control over their progress. ALEKS also reports collectively on students in all classes, pointing out common problem areas to be addressed.

Spotlight Sessions and a Math Collaboratory will supplement the use of ALEKS and complete the course redesign. Faculty will offer Spotlight Sessions—intensely-focused vignettes on known student trouble spots—several times each week to groups of up to 75 students. Students will attend two or more sessions each week based on their needs. Faculty, tutors, and other students will staff a Math Collaboratory—an interactive lab for active, hands-on, individual and collaborative learning. Students will spend at least two hours per week in the lab. The Math Collaboratory will include audio-visual lessons on CD, a tutorial system designed particularly for Riverside Community College, and links to online tutoring available through the textbook publisher in order to offer a variety of human and technological resources to address different student learning styles and needs. All testing will be done by computer in the lab.

Additionally, because many students at Riverside Community College are new to the college experience, students in Elementary Algebra will have the support of a dedicated counselor to work on college study habits and time management skills.

Students in Elementary Algebra, as redesigned, will have the freedom to learn what they need when they are most ready through activities most suited to their learning styles. The redesigned course will increase the percentage of students who receive a C or better, increase retention rates, and increase student success rates in subsequent math classes.

Traditional Course Structure

  • 16-week term
    72 lecture sections of 50 students each
    4 contact hours per week
  • Nine full-time faculty and nine adjunct faculty each teach two sections of the course per term. They develop and deliver four lectures per week, diagnose skill levels of students, attend staff meetings (full-time only) and orientation sessions, create and grade tests, and hold office hours.

Redesigned Course Structure

  • 16-week term
  • 48 sections of 75 students each
  • 2 contact hours per week in Math Collaboratory (plus optional attendance at Spotlight Sessions)
  • Eighteen full-time faculty and seven adjunct faculty each teach one section of the course per term. They prepare and deliver two Spotlight Sessions per week, work in the Math Collaboratory 35 hours per term, attend staff meetings (all faculty), and monitor student progress.
  • Various math, reading and counseling faculty at each campus assist students with time management, reading and study skills through optional weekly workshops.
  • Part-time clerks at the three campuses assist with generating student reports, contact students as needed, and schedule appointments.
  • Graduate students from the University of California – Riverside conduct two campus workshops per week on topics identified by the faculty and assist instructors as needed in the Math Collaboratory.


In summary, the redesigned course will implement the following changes:

  • Use interactive software (ALEKS) instead of a traditional lecture format as the basis of the course
  • Institute optional Spotlight Sessions to address problems common to the group of learners, with students attending as many or as few as needed
  • Create a Math Collaboratory with tutors and various learning technologies to support different student learning styles
  • Use a counselor to help students who need to strengthen their college success skills
  • Decrease numbers of course sections while serving the same number of students with fewer faculty
  • Increase interaction between student and instructor
  • Increase learning flexibility by moving toward an asynchronous learning environment



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