Isn’t a Course Redesign Supposed to Increase my Pass Rates?

Liberty_University Students

You’ve seen the numbers, schools that have drastically improved their pass rates after implementing an emporium model of teaching, some even going as high as doubling their pass rate. Well, when we first started our Math Emporium, we saw a 22% decrease in our pass rates! We knew long before we saw the numbers that things were not going well. There’s not too much you can change in the middle of a semester, but we knew that we were going to have to significantly change what we were doing for the future.

How could we tell it wasn’t working? For one thing, many students just weren’t showing up. They might come for the weekly class meeting, but many were not earning their full “required” hours in the Emporium. We could tell by looking at their work that they weren’t working on the assignments outside of class time. Their test scores were terrible since they didn’t know the material because they hadn’t done the homework to learn it. But we couldn’t seem to do or say anything to get those students to show up and do the work, and it was reflecting badly on us. We had to come up with something better.

Liberty University Students

A tutor is responding to a student’s question as the rest of the students work on assignments in the Math Emporium, a large computer lab dedicated to math instruction, with faculty and tutors available for immediate assistance.

The first thing that we knew was that we had to figure out how to make the students come more frequently so they would be working on assignments more often. They needed better structure, so we scheduled some of their Emporium time for them. Students who met in the classroom on Mondays had to go to the Emporium on Wednesdays and Fridays at that same time; Tuesday students had to go to the Emporium on Thursday, and so on. They wouldn’t meet with their teacher those other days, but they would be in the Emporium, working, and there were tutors and other teachers there to help them.

We had thought that the threat of zero’s would make them do their assignments, and that losing points would get them to come for their hours, we were wrong. Students were doing poorly on tests because they hadn’t learned the material so we decided to require them to complete all homework assignments, even if it was after the due date. They would earn a late penalty if they took an assignment after the due date, but this would require them to see all of the material. Also, they had to earn at least an 80% mastery level on each homework or quiz before the program would allow them to move to the next lesson, and we required them to get a 70% on each test before they moved on.

Obviously, this led to a lot of decisions that needed to be made. How many attempts do we allow them on quizzes and tests? What do we do if they reach that maximum number of attempts, but haven’t gotten the required score yet? And, maybe the most important one, what do we do at the end of the semester when a student has not completed all of the assignments?

We decided on three attempts for the quizzes and two for the tests. MyLabsPlus version of MyMathLab, which allows homework to be personalized to topics a student missed on a quiz or test, helped with remediation after the first attempt, and students who run out of attempts without achieving the required score must meet one-on-one with a tutor or instructor to review their attempts. They also must retake the quiz to prove mastery of the topic.

We didn’t come to all of these decisions on our own; we researched what policies other Emporiums used to help us make an informed decision, especially when deciding on what to do with students who do not complete the course. After talking with instructors from other Emporiums we decided those students would receive a failing grade, but we would allow them to begin after the last test that they passed if they took the course the following semester.

Our pass rates did increase to higher than they had been in the traditional setting once we made all of these changes. However, we weren’t done there. We have not gone a single semester without making some kind of changes to our Emporium. Some examples of these additional changes are increasing the late penalty, redistributing points to weigh more heavily on tests, changing due dates, and changing mastery requirements.

We’re not done making changes either. I’m pretty sure that we are never going to be finished making changes. Currently we are focusing on how to better help the students who have failed the course in the past, and we are always looking for ideas on how to get the students to stay on schedule. So there will be more brainstorming, research, and changes in the near future.


For more detailed information about how Hope and Dr. Spradlin worked with their students, read the full case study.