NCCU sees results from math course redesign effort

Feb. 26, 2013 @ 05:27 PM

They are the two basic math courses students at N.C. Central University must take - Math 1000 (Introduction to College Algebra) or Math 1100 (College Algebra and Trigonometry).

The classes have more than 25 sections apiece and enroll a total of more than 1,200 students, most of them freshmen.

Many of those students were not doing well in the classes.

About 50 percent of them were receiving Ds, Fs or Ws - for withdrawing from the class.

“That’s pretty significant,” said Richard Townsend, an instructor in math and computer science at the university. “Traditionally, there’s a high failure rate for entry-level math courses. It’s not unique to N.C. Central. But we recognized we had a problem and we knew we had to do something about it.”

Over last summer, they started doing just that.

Associate Provost Bernice Duffy Johnson convened a STEM Faculty Summer Institute to redesign the two entry-level math courses at the school.

Townsend told NCCU’s Board of Trustees on Tuesday that the mission of the group was to “lower the high levels of Ds, Fs and Ws and improve student learning. We wanted to engage students through active learning.”

The group of educators determined to do that, Townsend explained, by “shifting the paradigm - we wanted to move from a teacher-center paradigm to a learner-centered paradigm. We wanted to redesign the classes to get students actively involved; get them engaged.”

Over four weeks, the educators tinkered with the redesign. They shifted the focus in the class away from lecturing, which in the past had been 80-90 percent of class time, and toward students interacting more with each other; sharing their experiences more. They looked for more ways to use technology, following suggestions from the National Center for Academic Transformation.

The goal was to make lecturing no more than 50 percent of class time, with the rest devoted to active learning.

Incorporated into the new course design was MathXL, an online homework, tutorial and assessment system that accompanies math textbooks. Instructors can customize the system to better meet students’ needs.

“It supports multiple learning styles and provides individual tutorial support,” Townsend explained. “And the students get instant feedback.”

The redesigned classes were implemented last fall. So far, the results have been generally positive.

At the end of the fall semester, 71 percent of the students in the classes scored 60 or higher on the final post-test. Sixty percent scored 70 or better.

“We’re continuing to hone the implementation of the redesign,” Townsend told the trustees. “We think we can do even better.”