The Pew Learning and Technology Program Newsletter
Vol. 3, No. 1
March 2001
Editor: Lowell Roberts, lowellroberts@excite.com
1. Redesigning Learning Environments

* Riverside Community College Adapts a Good Idea

Earlier editions of this newsletter described the Virginia Tech (VT) Math Emporium that opened in 1998 with the objectives of increasing both the amount of math that students learned and the content retained as they moved on to other courses, and serving more students with fewer resources. In the last issue, the lead story described the redesign projects at two other institutions-- University of Alabama and the University of Idaho--that modified the VT design and adapted it to suit the needs of their students. Since all three of these institutions are research universities, the question naturally arises as to whether this model can work in other settings. It can!

After careful investigation and consideration of their own situation, Riverside Community College (RCC) has established a Math Collaboratory for community college students taking Elementary Algebra. Enrolling 3600 students each year in 72 sections in the traditional model, Elementary Algebra was taught exclusively in 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 experience math actively in order to learn it.

The most significant academic problem in the course was the decreasing student success rate (defined as a grade of C or better), which had deteriorated to below 50% since fall, 1992. Simultaneously, the student repeat rate for the course had increased to at least 30%. Student retention was very poor, with many students simply giving up and dropping out. Two factors compounded this problem: 1) RCC 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. Like many institutions, RCC needs to educate the same number of students, increase their success rate, and decrease the repeat rate while teaching the course with fewer faculty

Launched in February, 2001, the redesign model at RCC incorporates many of the features of the Virginia Tech Math Emporium. RCC has eliminated the four weekly class meetings required previously and established computer facilities at each of the three participating campuses (Moreno Valley, Norco and Riverside). While faculty are offering two weekly Spotlight Sessions focused on areas that faculty know give students difficulty, attendance at them is optional. Any student who wishes may work through the material independently on a structured, but flexible, schedule without attending any classes.

Riverside has also developed some special features important to their setting. The Math Collaboratory will include audio-visual lessons on CD, a tutorial system designed particularly for RCC students, and links to online tutoring available through the textbook publisher. Because many of the students are new to the college experience, Riverside has incorporated an extensive math tutorial and counseling support system at the several sites involved. Students in Elementary Algebra will have the support of a dedicated counselor to work on college study habits and time- management skills. Those additional aspects offer a variety of human and technological resources to address different student learning styles and needs.

Part of the planning for this project involved review of commercial software products available for teaching math. The Collaboratory makes use of a Web-based artificial intelligence program (ALEKS) that generates individualized assessments, study plans, and active learning sets for homework. Students will take a midterm exam using Quzmaster software. Each lab also includes spaces for paper and pencil activities. To offer assistance to students, an instructor and tutors are always on duty in the lab.

The redesign project required that math faculty members standardize the Elementary Algebra curriculum. This was a monumental task, accomplished through a common final-exam committee and a common syllabus committee. The two committees rewrote the course outline of record, developed common midterm exams, standardized the final exam, developed a session-by-session outline of material for spotlight sessions that coordinate with ALEKS topics, and designed worksheets to be used by students as lab activities in the redesigned course. All instructors teaching redesigned courses have agreed to use the common materials. An assessment committee has prepared surveys and a pretest that will be administered to all students taking a redesigned course.

The goals of the redesign at RCC are to encourage students to take an active role in their own learning, building on timely assessment, preferred learning styles, and faculty guidance, and to move from a seat-time model to one based on subject matter mastery. The redesign will produce a 45% cost-per-student reduction from $206 to $113, an annual savings of $333,576. Additional savings will result from freeing classrooms for other classes, reducing student repeat rates, and increasing retention rates.

Riverside Community College is modeling this new learning environment on the success of the Virginia Tech Math Emporium while customizing the scale and focus of their efforts. RCC is leveraging the power of information technology to establish an individualized, learning environment suitable to students' needs. And it is reducing the cost-per-student, while increasing the quality of the learning experience.

The redesign project at Riverside Community College provides further evidence that “learning math by doing math” is a good model. While some of the attributes of this design differ from those at other institutions, the basic model of providing a customized, flexible learning environment works in multiple settings. For additional information about this project, visit www.center.rpi.edu/pewgrant/RD2%20Award/RCC.html or contact Anthony Beebe at abeebe@rccd.cc.ca.us.


* Twenty Round III Institutions Prepare Proposals

Twenty institutions have been selected by the Pew Grant Program in Course Redesign to move to the final stage of the Round III application process. These twenty institutions sent teams of three to a second workshop for applicants held in San Antonio, Texas on March 15 and 16. These institutions will submit full project proposals on June 1. From this group, ten will receive grants of $200,000 each.

The institutions selected to submit proposals are: Arizona State University, Brigham Young University, California State University-Chico, Drexel University, Florida Gulf Coast University, George Mason University, Iowa State University, Lehigh University, Northern Arizona University, Ohio State University, Portland State University, Prince George's Community College, Rochester Institute of Technology, Shoreline Community College, Tallahassee Community College, University of Kentucky, University of New Mexico, University of Southern Mississippi, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


3. Pew Project Updates

* California State Polytechnic University-Pomona: General Psychology
The Cal Poly-Pomona team has completed the final storyboards for the Cirque de Psycholodermia, the learning courseware. During the development period, they moved away from an animated interactive linear format to one of discovery and analysis. A number of operant conditioning and gaming techniques have been utilized to increase students' time on task. The voices of students from the Theater department are being used for the animated characters. Usability testing on the courseware will begin in approximately six weeks.

Cal Poly has also made good progress in the development of their random test generator. Since the campus has invested in the WebCT program platform for online courses, they plan to use it for this portion of the project. The test banks have almost been completed, and the team is now in the training stage of some of the more sophisticated operations of WebCT3.1.1. This component will be in place for the pilot period in late March. The team has also produced three new video streaming components for the project. Finally, Cal Poly is revising the student manual and course Web site to include all of those changes. For more information on Cal Poly -Pomona's redesign of General Psychology, contact Sonia Blackman at slblackman@csupomona.edu.

* University of Alabama: Intermediate Algebra

The redesigned Intermediate Algebra course was taught during the fall semester in the Mathematics Technology Learning Center (MTLC), a seventy-seat computer lab designated specifically for the course. The success rate for the course was 25% higher than the rate for the traditional version of the course taught during the fall 1999 semester, but the success rate is still lower than desired. Student perception of the course was mixed. Some students found the approach a great improvement over traditional instruction. Others, however, were uncomfortable with the student- centered nature of the course and were put-off by the increased demands of the computer-based instruction (i.e. the number of problems that they were required to work).

The record number of students enrolled in the course during the fall 2000 semester (1,131) stretched the capacity of the MTLC facility. Near the end of assignment and test periods, the computer lab was unable to handle demand and students were sometimes forced to wait to obtain a seat in the lab. This was a frustrating experience for many students, which reduced student engagement in the course and led to a decline in student success. To deal with the problem, a second classroom was added to the MTLC facility and the number of computers available was increased from 70 to 110. During the spring 2001 semester a second course, Remedial Mathematics, enrolling 87 students is also being taught in the MTLC. The increased capacity and smaller number of students enrolled in Intermediate Algebra (587) during the spring semester has diminished the demand problems experienced during the fall and allowed the faculty to focus on student success and issues related to presenting multiple courses in the facility.

A goal of the course redesign effort is to expand the use of computer-assisted instruction to all precalculus mathematics courses and to some courses at the calculus level and above. While some of the courses may be taught entirely in the MTLC, others will use the facility to supplement other forms of instruction. The Department of Mathematics is developing a computer-based version of Precalculus Algebra, a large- enrollment (2,100 students per year) course for engineering, science, and business majors. It hopes to pilot test the format in selected sections during the 2001-02 academic year. Obviously, a significantly larger facility will be required to teach additional courses using computer-assisted instruction. A proposal has been submitted to the U.S. Department of Education that would fund development of a 225-station computer facility that would accommodate multiple, large-enrollment mathematics courses. For more information on the University of Alabama's redesign of Intermediate Algebra, contact Hank Lazer at hlazar@aalan.us.edu.

* University of Idaho: Pre-Calculus

The University of Idaho is developing the Polya Mathematics Center modeled after the successful Math Emporium at Virginia Tech. Site development was delayed by a state safety project to install fire suppression sprinklers and elevators in the building in which Polya is located. That project was finally completed about six months later than its scheduled completion date. The university is now spending about $350,000 to remodel and air condition the site for Polya. Investment on development so far includes $200,000 from the Pew Course Redesign Grant, $100,000 from a State Board of Education grant for information technology support, and $350,000 in university funds for site development. The expansion of the project in summer 2002 will involve an additional investment of about $300,000, an amount to be raised from sources outside the university.

The team is now teaching Pre-calculus to a small class of 20 students in as near a simulation of the Polya atmosphere as can be achieved in an ordinary computer-equipped classroom. The simulations test student response to the computer-mediated exercises and tests provided by publishers Addison-Wesley-Longman and Prentice-Hall. The two software programs are similar and pedagogically sound, with only a few minor errors. Few students encounter difficulty in learning to use the programs, but they find them less elegant in presentation and navigation than they have come to expect from their experiences on the Internet.

An assessor is gathering data on success levels and student satisfaction with our traditional pre-calculus courses. The studies will provide baseline information to evaluate the Polya learning model. The team has completed the streaming media lecture series for both courses. Many of the lectures are now on a new Sun E450 server, which can deliver them in high quality MPEG format to more than 700 computers in student laboratories and dormitories. For more information on the University of Idaho's redesign of pre-calculus courses, contact Dene Kay Thomas at dthomas@uidaho.edu.