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Implementation Issues

Northern Arizona University

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

There were several features of the course redesign that worked well. The method of testing, whereby students could sit for a particular exam whenever they believed they were ready, was especially successful. Generally, the logistics of having students access course materials in the Algebra Computer Laboratory, other campus computing facilities, or from their homes or dormitory rooms worked well. The cost savings attributable to the substitution of capital-for-labor also occurred as expected.

December 2002 Update: There were virtually no student complaints about the MyMathLab software. Students generally found it easy to use and reliable. As was the case in the spring semester, the method of testing worked especially well. Also the logistics of having students access course materials in the Algebra Computer Laboratory, other campus computing facilities, or from their homes or dormitory rooms worked well. Required attendance and mini-lectures eliminated some of the difficulties encountered in the past.

What worked least well?

The aforementioned problems with how the ALEKS software was structured was easily the greatest surprise and biggest difficulty faced. In addition, the course was designed so that students were required to attend class in the Algebra Computer Laboratory during their regularly scheduled meeting time for the first three weeks of the semester. Afterwards, attendance was not required. We now believe it is better to require student attendance throughout the semester, at least for students not making a grade of A. Doing so might help weaker or less-motivated students make progress towards successful completion of the course. Finally, in our first-day orientation, we did not stress enough the self-paced, self-motivated, self-responsible nature of the class. Greater emphasis should have been placed on what it means for students to be independent learners.

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

Our goals for the course redesign have not changed; however, we see significant challenges ahead. As we look for alternative college algebra software packages, we are concerned that the attitudes of both new students and those retaking the class are adversely affected by the direct and word-of-mouth experiences of the spring semester pilot. Additionally, from the examination of available software packages we conducted prior to choosing ALEKS, we are concerned that we will have difficulty finding one that meets our needs, both in terms of adequate coverage of course content and in the manner of student response to questions (multiple choice versus free response).

December 2002 Update: The fall 2002 semester went far more smoothly than the spring 2002 semester. Student and faculty satisfaction was much higher. It is disappointing that more definitive results were not reached.

The biggest hurdle remains getting students to embrace the computer as the primary source of content delivery, which is surprising. Many students do not want to be in the redesigned sections and prefer traditional lecturing (where they felt they would have a better chance of success) to self-paced instruction, even though there is no evidence to suggest that superior teaching and learning occur there. Students who were more independent learners and were more comfortable in using a computer seemed to do better than their counterparts in the redesigned college algebra sections.

In the spring 2003 semester, the department is offering 12 sections of the redesigned course. A course release has been granted to a faculty instructor to work intensively with the graduate teaching assistants instructors. The department is also working to early-identify at-risk students and provide them with additional academic support for success. The department is also modifying its mathematics placement policy to ensure preparedness of students for success in the course.

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