Redesigning the redesign…

Two African American male students working together on a laptop

If you’re like me, it’s so easy to concentrate on the one student. You know the one, the one who doesn’t come to class, the one who won’t do homework, the one who really needs your course to graduate but just won’t do it! I used to focus on that one…wait…who am I kidding I still do! I do it because, like you, I care!

One day, as I was looking back at the student success of our recent redesign, I was focusing on those students who just weren’t being successful and Tim, our Noel-Levitz consultant, drew me a graph and told me, “Chairsty!! You can’t do anything for these students or these students – so focus on those in the middle – those are the only ones you can help!”

Bell curve chart showing student performance

That statement really impacted me – and I remind myself of that fact often, focus on the students you can help, don’t spend so much time on those students you can’t help. So, how did my department use this idea to help improve our already successful redesign? If it was successful – why would we want to change it? While we felt that our campus class was really impacting students positively, our online course was a totally different story!

Online mathematics is hard! Especially for a developmental student. Sometimes students don’t realize the amount of work that goes into online learning – there is a lot of reading, you can’t always get your questions answered in real-time, and, let’s face it – it’s math! Our online introductory and intermediate algebra course had a robust offering of resources, we used MyMathLab, a computerized homework system, and our instructor maintained good communication with students – even giving them her home phone number! While students usually took the class online because it fit their schedules, some students who were struggling found themselves taking time off work to come to campus at least a couple times a week to get some help. We wanted to focus on these students – the ones who came to campus – because we knew they would use the resources, but how did we work with their schedules?

For round two of our redesign, we decided to create a hybrid course – one that is part online and part in-class. In our hybrid model, our expectation was that students would watch video lectures outside of class and come to class twice a week for two hours. During one hour, students would receive instruction and have the opportunity to ask questions to clarify what they learned in the videos. During the second hour, they would have assigned lab time where they can work on their homework and get help from an instructor if needed. Again, our goal is to accommodate the students who are willing to work, to focus on those students we can help so we to use our time wisely!

To that end, we focused on those students who opted to learn online because they couldn’t make it to campus five-days a week and tried to make math more accessible for them. Our first move was to inform the students who had registered for an online course that a hybrid model was available. We sent multiple emails to students who were enrolled in the online sections. We contacted students who lived in the area by phone as well. We gave them the grim statistics of failure rates in online mathematics and informed them of the general difficulty of taking the course online. With that, we encouraged students to take the hybrid section, if at all possible.

We have one semester under our belt, and it was a small group, but we found that those students who used the resources were the ones who were successful! Students who watched the online math videos before class were able to learn from a short lecture covering multiple sections, students who didn’t watch videos left class confused. We are still working on some of the kinks – course redesign is always a work in progress, a metamorphosis of sorts. We’re in our beginning stages of the re-redesign, but we are hopeful that this new endeavor will help our students continue to find success.

I participated in an educator study, which shows the statistical results of our original, face-to-face course redesign. View the full report.


About the Author
Chairsty Stewart

Chairsty Stewart

Chairsty returned to school as a non-traditional student, graduating from Montana State University Billings in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a teaching option. While earning her degree, she began tutoring and teaching part-time in the Academic Support Center at MSU Billings where she was first exposed to developmental education. Although her plan was to teach mathematics in a high school setting, she enjoyed teaching adults and began teaching for the ASC full-time in 2006, serving as the Assistant Director of the Academic Support Center in 2010. She earned a master’s degree in mathematics education from MSU Bozeman in 2011. She also attended the Kellogg Institute, earning a certification in adult and developmental education in 2012.

Chairsty is passionate about education and developmental education in particular. She enjoys seeing the “light” turn on for her students. She strongly believes that every student has the potential to further his/her education while recognizing that life challenges often mitigate against the traditional full-time education pathway for many students.

At present, Chairsty holds the position of the chair of the newly organized Developmental Education Department at MSU Billings.

Chairsty and her husband are currently in the adoption process and were recently matched with a sibling group of three children – two boys and a girl. They hope to travel to Ethiopia in the next year.