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Improving the Quality of Student Learning

The University of Alabama

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

The redesigned Intermediate Algebra course was taught during the fall 2000 semester in the Mathematics Technology Learning Center (MTLC), a 70-seat computer lab designated specifically for the course. The course enrolled 1,131 students during the semester. The success rate for the course was 50%, which was 10% higher than the rate for the traditional version of the course taught during the fall 1999 semester. While we saw improvement with the re-designed course, the success rate is still well below what we feel is acceptable.

Analysis of the grades showed that some groups of students did appreciably better in the re-designed course than others. While 56% of all freshmen who were taking the course for the first time were successful in the course, only 30% of students who had taken the course previously were successful. Among freshman, the success rate for females was 9% higher than that for males (60% vs. 51%). The success rate was substantially higher for African-American freshmen than for Caucasian freshmen. Seventy-one percent of African-American freshmen were successful in the course compared to only 52% of Caucasians. The success rate for African-American males was 9% higher than the rate for African-American females (77% vs. 68%)

During the spring 2001 semester two introductory mathematics courses, Remedial Mathematics and Intermediate Algebra, were taught in the MTLC. The MTLC’s capacity was expanded from 70 to 110 computers through the addition of a second classroom. This expansion addressed demand problems experienced during the fall 2000 semester and the addition of a second course in the facility. The redesigned Intermediate Algebra course enrolled 582 students, a decrease of almost 550 students from the fall 2000 semester.

In spite of the smaller enrollment, the success rate for the course was lower than in the previous semester. Only 36% of students enrolled in the course were successful. This figure is comparable to that for earlier semesters when the course was taught in a traditional manner. Unlike the fall 2000 semester, where the majority of the students in the course were taking college mathematics for the first time, the majority of the students enrolled in the spring semester had previously taken a lower-level college mathematics course (Remedial Mathematics) or were unsuccessful in a previous attempt in Intermediate Mathematics. It appears that these students, particularly the repeat students, require different types and levels of support in this instructional setting. The three-hour per week attendance requirement that was in place during the fall 2000 semester was eliminated for spring 2001. Overall student attendance in the lab declined significantly and there was an appreciable increase in the number of students that stopped taking tests.

To deal with the increased numbers of students and to provide students with greater flexibility in use of the facility, the MTLC was moved during the summer of 2001 into an expanded facility. This new facility, funded by the University and a Congressional award from the U.S. Department of Education, contains 240 computers, a 70-seat study room/classroom, and rooms for individual tutorial activities.

In an effort to enhance student success, a number of changes were implemented for the fall 2001 semester. The Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) was administered to all students enrolled in Intermediate Algebra. Test results were used to identify weaknesses in study skills and student approaches to learning. All students were required to attend a 30-minute class session each week. This class focused on student problems and allowed instructors to follow up in areas where testing has defined student weakness. It also helped to build community between students and instructors. Students were also required to spend an additional 3 ½ hours per week in the MTLC. They received course credit for this time and were penalized if their effort fell short of the requirement. Students were given the opportunity to remove failing grades on tests by spending a minimum of 10 additional hours in the lab completing assessments on the materials covered by the test. A semi-automated email system has been established to allow instructors to maintain contact with students and to provide encouragement when needed.

The changes implemented during the fall 2001 semester were accompanied by a significant increase in student performance. The new, more spacious MTLC facility provided a much more inviting setting for students. Student attendance in the lab was appreciably higher than in previous semesters (including the fall 2000 semester when attendance was required). Approximately 60% of the students who originally enrolled in Intermediate Algebra were successful during the fall semester. This is an increase of 10% compared to fall 2000 and a 50% increase over the spring 2001 success rate.

We are continuing to assess the performance of the re-design effort. The University's Institute for Social Science Research is taking the lead in assessing the second year of implementation and will be expanding on knowledge obtained from the first year's assessment.

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