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The Roadmap to Redesign (R2R)

Wayne State University

Course Title: Beginning Algebra
Contact: Shereen Schultz

Project Abstract
Interim Progress Report (as of 4/15/06)
Final Report (as of 7/1/06)

Project Abstract

Wayne State University (WSU) plans to redesign its Beginning Algebra course. At WSU, all undergraduate students must demonstrate core competence in mathematics by passing a placement exam or by completing Beginning Algebra. Annually, 1700 students enroll in multiple sections of 30 students each. Beginning Algebra is a three-credit course that meets for four hours per week for 15 weeks. The course is taught by a combination of adjunct faculty and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) and is used as a mentoring/training assignment for new GTAs. Students spend two hours in lecture with their primary instructor and two hours in lab with a GTA.

Many students arrive at the university unprepared and therefore require greater attention. From fall 2000 to winter 2004, of the students who took Beginning Algebra, 28% withdrew and only 39% of the total passed. Of those who took the final, only 53% passed. Like other universities, WSU is facing decreased funding with increased enrollments. WSU anticipates that the freshmen class will be 12% larger in fall 2004 than fall 2003 and that further growth in the student body will be expected in fall 2005. The redesign will allow for growth in enrollment and increased student success while helping to maintain current course costs.

The redesign of Beginning Algebra will use the Emporium Model. One large (100 stations) computer lab will be established, and students will proceed through the course using MyMathLab, an interactive mathematics instructional software package. This proven software includes an online textbook, video lectures, online exercises and practice tests. The software also makes it easy to do minor customizations. On-site assistance will be provided by a faculty coordinator with a mathematics background, graduate teaching assistants and undergraduate assistants. Home access to MyMathLab will be available through a web browser.

In order to assure sufficient time on task, students will be required to spend a minimum of five hours per week in the lab but may do so at their convenience during the 65 hours per week that the lab is open. Students will be able to work ahead and complete the course faster than the regular semester schedule, but they will not be allowed to fall behind. The benefits of the redesign include individualized approaches to teaching and learning; ongoing, individualized assessment; and accommodation of different learning styles.

WSU will assess the impact of the redesign on student learning by comparing common comprehensive finals administered to students in both the traditional and redesigned formats. During the pilot phase, a comprehensive, multiple-choice final exam will be given to two traditional sections and two redesigned sections. During the full implementation phase, four years of exam performance in traditional sections will be compared with exam performance in all redesigned sections. From fall 2000 to winter 2004, a comprehensive uniform final exam was given; all exams were group graded (each instructor graded the same few problems on all exams) for uniformity.

WSU expects to reduce the cost-per-student from $185 to $106, a savings of approximately 43%. The number of students served will increase from 1337 to 1700. Adjunct faculty members will be reduced from 20 to three per year, and GTA numbers will be reduced as well. In addition, classroom space will become available for scheduling other university classes. The savings of approximately $134,000 from adjunct salaries will be returned to the central pool for part-time faculty in the university and allow WSU to move funds into departments that must increase sections in order to accommodate increased enrollments.

Interim Progress Report (as of 4/15/06)

In fall 2005, Wayne State (WSU) completed its fourth semester of full implementation, adding Intermediate Algebra to the lab. The 100-station lab served 1100 students in Beginning Algebra and 100 in Intermediate Algebra.

The lab is now open seven days a week for a total of 79 hours. To prevent long lines for students, the team assigned different due dates for each of the 12 sections to encourage students to “spread out.” WSU also added a lab availability chart that let students know when the lab is very busy and when the lab is very slow to encourage students to rearrange their schedules to come when the lab is the least busy. These measures were very effective. During the first few weeks, students occasionally had a short wait, but students soon learned when the busy times were so that by the fifth week, there was virtually never any wait time

WSU is moving full speed ahead on preparing a new lab for the fall 2006 semester. They will move from a 100-station lab to a new 148-station lab sometime in August. When this lab is complete, WSU will be able to add additional courses. They are hoping for a fall 2006 completion date, but it’s beginning to look like they may need to postpone it for a semester. The new lab is in the shape of an L, which will allow a separate section for testing. Currently, 50 stations are roped off for testing. With 1200 students, this requires 24 testing times for each of the four tests and the final exam. The new lab will allow testing 72 students at a time and closing off the testing area, keeping out noise and allowing for easier proctoring. The team will have to vacate the lab over the summer to allow for construction and is currently looking for a lab that can be used to accommodate 300 summer students.

WSU finally seems to have worked out all of the orientation problems. The attendance rate was about 85% (the highest yet) at the required orientation for winter 2006. Two make-up orientations are held where the team hopes to pick up another 10%. When comparing this orientation to the first one in the fall 2004 semester, the team is amazed at the progress that has been made. The latest was very professional!

First-year results showed an 8% increase in the pass rate over the previous lecture/workshop method. The team was somewhat disappointed in the fall 2005 results. The pass rate for Beginning Algebra dropped a little from the fall 2004 semester. Overall, WSU shows an improvement of 7.8% when using the Math Computer Lab as compared with the previous lecture/workshop model. The drop rate remains in the low 30s for both modes of instruction.

WSU is continually striving for improvement. During the fall 2005 semester, the team changed the grading system from S/U to ABC/U in an effort to motivate students to work for the A. They also instituted a 60% minimum final exam score requirement in order for students to pass the course after discovering that those who scored less than 60% on the final exam had a 90% chance of failing the next course. An additional effort to make improvements was to institute a notebook requirement. Too many students were not learning good work habits. Now students must show all work neatly in a notebook. WSU hopes that these changes will lead to even greater increases in the success rate.

The Intermediate Algebra course met in the Math Computer Lab for the first time in fall 2005. Assessment results showed a 4.5% improvement over the previous lecture format. The team had expected even greater gains in Intermediate Algebra because the previous course was not as well designed as the previous course for Beginning Algebra. Upon further analysis, the team discovered that 18% of the students had overall scores in the 60-69% range, just missing the 70% required for passing. In the future, the team will concentrate its efforts on providing help for these borderline students earlier to get them successfully through the course. The drop rate in Intermediate Algebra changed from 42.5% to 26.3%, a significant improvement.

WSU will add an additional course, Finite Math for the Social and Management Sciences, in fall 2006. Their next project will be to add a homework and practice quiz component for their Intermediate Algebra with Trigonometry course.

Final Report (as of 7/1/06)

Impact on Students

In the redesign, did students learn more, less or the same compared with the traditional format?

Improved Learning

The team compared eight semesters of data from the traditional course to four semesters of data from the redesign using comparable, uniformly graded final examinations. The average score on the final exam increased from 64.6% to 68.6%. This difference was statistically significant.

The team also looked at success in the follow-on math course. The overall pass rate in the next course was only slightly higher for those coming out of the redesigned course (44.0% compared to 42.9%). However, comparable final exam scores seem to produce better results for students coming from the redesign. For example, of those students who scored 90-100% on the final exam, 86.7% of the redesign students passed the next course, while only 78.4% of the traditional students passed the next course.

Improved Retention

The student success rate increased from 35.5% in the traditional course to 42.8% in the redesigned course. Success is defined as an overall average of 70% for the course with a minimum final exam score of 60%. Approximately two-thirds of those who took the final exam passed it, compared to only about half in the traditional course. Unfortunately, the percentage of students who failed to take the final exam rose from 31.4% to 35.3%. This rise may be due to the fact that the computer constantly reminds the student just how poorly he or she is doing.

Other Impacts on Students

Nearly all people who visit the lab comment on student engagement. The atmosphere is similar to a library, and students are actively working on mathematics. There are no disruptive students. The only noise is the whisper of students receiving one-on-one help from an instructor or student assistant.

Impact on Cost Savings

Were costs reduced as planned?

Two minor modifications were made in the initial Course Planning Tool (CPT). WSU initially planned section sizes of 50 students with each graduate teaching assistant teaching two sections. They found it easier to increase section size to 100 and have each GTA teach one section. This had no impact on the cost-per-student. A second change was that the lab manager did not have time to teach as many sections as the team anticipated. The original CPT showed her teaching 11 sections per year, but she was only able to teach two. This would have increased the cost-per-student, but it was more than offset by a large enrollment increase in the course. The enrollment in the traditional course was 1337 annually, while the planned redesign enrollment was 1700. However, during full implementation, the enrollment rose to 1994, 294 students more than anticipated. Because of the expanded capacity and use of the emporium model, the additional students could be easily accommodated. With these changes, the overall savings were slightly greater than expected; the cost-per-student dropped from $185 in the traditional course to $105 in the redesign.

Lessons Learned

Pedagogical Improvement Techniques

What techniques contributed most to improving the quality of student learning?

Commercially available software. The MyMathLab software provided multiple resources for learning and addressed all learning styles. Immediate feedback on each homework problem let students know when they were wrong before bad habits were reinforced.

Awarding credit for attendance. Awarding credit for attendance motivated students to spend more time in the lab. More time on task led to greater learning as indicated by WSU’s attendance data. During summer 2006, the team was unable to track attendance because the lab was moving. Therefore, attendance did not count toward the grade. As a result, attendance dropped off significantly, and the team expects that the pass rate will also drop. Beginning in fall 2006, the team has decided to increase the amount that attendance counts toward the grade in an effort to get students to spend more time in the lab.

Availability of immediate help. When students were working in the lab, they could ask for one-on-one help by placing a red cup on the top of the computer screen. Because help was immediately available, questions were answered at the point of confusion rather than hours or days later.

Cost Savings Techniques

What techniques contributed most to reducing costs?

Increased section size. Each instructor in the redesign was responsible for one section of 100 students compared with two sections of 25-30 students in the traditional course.

Increased reliance on undergraduate student tutors. Undergraduate students related well to the student tutors. The tutors were excellent at helping other students with math.

Implementation Issues

What implementation issues were most important?

Technology issues. The team had no plan for what to do if the computers went down. The first semester was chaotic. They now have a plan that allows things to work as smoothly as possible.

Attendance tracking. The team started tracking attendance without having a reliable attendance program. It took more than a year to work out the bugs.

Due dates. Students only come to the lab when they have something due. The team has now spread out the due dates to even out attendance.

Orientation. The university had a mandatory orientation for the course during the first week, the first of which was long and boring. The team has worked hard to improve the process by having students actively involved. They have improved their directions for registering so that students can do so without needing as much help. Students take a paper quiz on navigating the software, take an online quiz about the syllabus, and are required to send email to their instructor. Now the team is confident that students begin the course knowing how to start, knowing the course requirements and having a working email account to be able to receive messages from the instructor.

Registration. It was possible for students to register for the class without ever seeing anything about the required orientation. The team has worked with the registration office to fix this. The team now sends email reminders to all students telling them about the orientation, which has increased attendance significantly.


Will the redesign be sustained now that the R2R program has concluded?

The redesign has produced both improved learning and cost savings. Based on this result, the university has made a commitment to build a new 150-station computer lab (to be completed by fall 2006) that will allow the team to expand the redesign to additional courses and to accommodate increased enrollments.

Will you apply the redesign methodology to other courses and programs on campus?

By fall 2006, WSU will have redesigned three courses: the original Beginning Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, which was added in fall 2005, and Finite Math for the Social and Management Sciences. The team’s next project is to add homework and quiz components to some other math courses that will not be fully redesigned. In fall 2006, the old 100-station lab will be taken over by computer science to be used in the redesign of their introductory level courses.



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