|Program in Course Redesign
University of Idaho
The University of Idaho plans to replace its courses in pre-calculus mathematics with a learning center modeled after Virginia Tech’s Math Emporium. In its first phase, the center will redesign three pre-calculus courses, enrolling 2,428 students, that are taken by those not prepared for regular college mathematics courses. Temporary lecturers or graduate teaching assistants presently teach each course in sections of about 50, meeting three times per week in a didactic lecture format. Out-of-class assistance is provided by the Mathematics and Statistics Assistance Center (MSAC) and by the instructor.
Students’ varying levels of preparation and different learning styles are not well accommodated by the large lecture environment. About one-third of the students fail to receive a C or better in these courses, and many repeat the courses. Even students who receive good grades often fail to retain the material well enough to succeed in calculus courses or to apply mathematics in other courses.
The university plans to create a learning center named Polya to provide diverse ways to accommodate student learning and build confidence in their ability to succeed in mathematics. Streaming video lectures and tutorial exercises coordinated with a textbook will be delivered via computer. Just-in-time assistance by graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants will be available at all hours of the day and many evening hours. Quizzes and tests will be delivered mostly by computer; students will have the opportunity to re-take these up to three times after an interval of required study. The learning environment will encourage group study. Each student will belong to a focus group led by a faculty member serving as mentor and teacher-on-demand.
The primary academic goals of the redesign are to encourage students to become independent learners and to provide a successful environment for learning mathematics. The objective is for students to leave the course with confidence in their ability to succeed and the knowledge that Polya is a resource available to review and enhance their math learning at any time during their studies at the university. This invitation to return will be reinforced by partnerships established with instructors of downstream courses. The aim of these partnerships is to allow Polya to develop computer-based lectures and tutorials on subjects of common difficulty and to provide trained assistance to support the activities.
Assessment will use before/after comparisons of student performance in the traditional and redesigned settings. Direct measures of achievement will be based on common final examinations that have been administered for many years in the traditional courses. Linkages with subsequent courses will provide opportunities to track retention of students at the university and of math concepts via success rates, grades of A, B or C.
The redesign will involve both a change in faculty and TA responsibilities as well as a reconfiguration of the existing Math/Stat Assistance Center. Faculty, graduate and undergraduate TAs will work in the Polya with small student groups and with individual students as needed, rather than in the current lecture format. The active-learning model will reduce the cost of offering all three courses from approximately $338,000 to $235,000, a reduction of 31 percent. Additional savings are anticipated by reducing student failure and recidivism.
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