MyMathLab educator study documents homework and final course success in the Developmental Math sequence at Pulaski Technical College

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MyMathLab educator study documents homework and final course success in the Developmental Math sequence at Pulaski Technical College

Key Findings

  • Among students earning final grades in their Developmental Math courses, 78 percent passed Pre-Algebra Skills, 89 percent passed Elementary Algebra, and 94 percent passed Intermediate Algebra.
  • Students who passed the Pre-Algebra Skills course spent twice as much time per week working on homework in MyMathLab as those who did not pass.
  • Students passing the Elementary Algebra course earned 16 percentage points higher on MyMathLab homework than students who failed the course.
  • Using a coordinator course allowed faculty to see where students were struggling across the board and then evaluate where they needed to modify the curriculum.

School name
Pulaski Technical College, North Little Rock, AR

Course names
Pre-Algebra Skills, Elementary Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra

Course format
Face to face

Course materials
MyMathLab; Algebra: A Modular Approach, Martin-Gay (custom edition by the Developmental Mathematics Department at Pulaski Technical College)

Timeframe
Fall 2015

Educators
Ebony Conley, Interim Dean of Academic Success
Susanne Ashby, Assessment Coordinator
Rhonda Carroll, Dean of Academic Success (retired)

Results reported by
Julianne Labbiento, Pearson Customer Outcomes Analytics Manager

Setting

Pulaski Technical College (PTC) is Central Arkansas’s largest two-year college. With six locations throughout the state, the comprehensive two-year college offers associate degree and certificate programs for students who plan to transfer to four-year colleges and universities and/or for career preparation and advancement. In Spring 2015, the school’s population was comprised of 64 percent female/36 percent male students, 48 percent of whom were African American and 40 percent were Caucasian. The average student age was 30, and 53 percent of the students were enrolled part-time. For the academic year 2013–2014, the school served 10,528 students (represents the distinct count of students at PTC; students are only counted once for the academic year) and retained 56.3 percent of its full-time, first-time, degree/certificate-seeking undergraduate students from Fall 2012 to Fall 2013.

About the Course

The Pre-Algebra Skills course at PTC includes, but is not limited to, the following concepts: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of whole numbers; operations on integers, fractions, and decimals; exponents and order of operations on integers, fractions, decimals and variable expressions. Placement is determined by a COMPASS Algebra test score of 22 or less, or a score of 15 or less on the mathematics section of the ACT. This three-credit hour course requires MyMathLab as an online learning component, and the final grade can be A, B, C or NC (no credit).

The Elementary Algebra course includes, but is not limited to, the following concepts: solving linear equations and inequalities in one variable; graphing linear equations and inequalities in two variables; operations on exponents and polynomials; and problem-solving techniques. A grade of C or better in Pre-Algebra or a COMPASS Algebra placement test score from 2332 or a score of 16 or 17 on the math section of the ACT is a prerequisite for taking this three-credit hour course. The course also requires MyMathLab as an online learning component, and the final grade can be A, B, C, or NC.

The Intermediate Algebra course includes, but is not limited to, the following concepts: factoring polynomials, rational expressions, exponents, and radicals, solving quadratic equations and problem-solving techniques. Students must have either earned a C or better in Elementary Algebra, a COMPASS Algebra placement test score from 33 to 49, or a score from 18 to 20 on the mathematics section of the ACT. This course is also three credit hours and requires MyMathLab as the online learning component. Final grades are given as A, B, C or NC.

Challenges and Goals

When PTC first looked into adopting MyMathLab as its online learning component for the developmental math sequence, its enrollment was growing quickly. At one time, developmental math had anywhere from 145160 sections of classes and about 90 percent of students who came into the doors of the school needed at least one developmental math course. This meant that the department needed help assisting 9,475 students. In order to do this, the department knew it needed to make sure sections were consistent across the board and there was as little course drift as possible. They decided to implement a system where all homework, exams, final exams, and grade weighting systems were the same across the board. It was decided that MyMathLab filled that need. In addition, the department wanted to be able to assist students with their homework when the students needed it, or “just in time.” The learning aids and extra materials such as videos found in MyMathLab allowed students to get help, even if they were completing their work at midnight.

Implementation

The developmental math courses at PTC are broken into 15 modules: Pre-Algebra Skills contains Modules 16, Elementary Algebra consists of Modules 711, and Intermediate Algebra contains Modules 1215. Students meet with their instructor in a computer classroom, and the instructor lectures on the objective for the day. If the lecture is finished before class, then students are allowed to work on homework inside MyMathLab; otherwise, students complete all MyMathLab assignments outside of class.

Each Module is structured the same way: Pre-assessmentHomeworkModule ReviewPost-assessment.

  • Pre-assessment: Each student takes a pre-assessment at the beginning of each module that then determines which homework problems they are assigned. Using the Personalized Homework function in MyMathLab, students do not have to complete homework for any objectives mastered during the pre-assessment. No learning aids are available on the Pre-assessment, and students only have one attempt to complete it.
  • Homework: Each module has about 5 homework assignments with no more than 20 questions each. Students must score at least 90 percent on each homework before moving on to the quiz for that module. All learning aids are available to students on the homework assignments, and they have unlimited attempts both on each problem and on the assignment itself.
  • Module review: After achieving at least 90 percent on their homework assignments, students then complete a Module Review that is set up as a Quiz in MyMathLab. This review serves as a study guide for the test. No mastery level is set on this assignment, although instructors do have the option to require a certain percentage if they choose. In addition, students can take the review as many times as they wish. Once students complete the Module Review, they can then take the Post-assessment.
  • Post-assessment: The Post-assessment has 20 questions and is timed and taken in class. In order to ensure that the assessment is testing basic understanding of the concepts, course coordinators utilize analytics provided in MyMathLab on the side of the bank of problems to choose medium-level difficulty problems. Harder problems are reserved for some homework questions. Students have one attempt on the Post-assessment, and, once complete, can move on to the next module. There is no minimum score required.

At this time, while students are encouraged and instructed to complete the modules as noted above, instructors do have the ability to allow students who have not completed the prerequisite assignments to take the module’s Post-assessment. The school believes that it is more beneficial to the student to keep them in the course and allow them to continue trying rather than have them get so far behind that they drop out and have no chance whatsoever of passing the course.

In addition to utilizing the pre-requisite and personalized homework feature in MyMathLab, instructors also use the Search/Email by Criteria function in the gradebook to reach out to students who are either performing poorly on the modules or to offer encouragement to those who are doing well. According to Ebony Conley, Interim Dean of Academic Success, the use of MyMathLab allows instructors the opportunity for early intervention. She notes, “As students are working, we can see what questions they’re spending the most time on and where they’re getting stuck on a regular basis.” She also appreciates the Coordinator Course functionality of MyMathLab, where the coordinator can see the gradebook across all sections of the course. “This allows us to see across the board where students are struggling and then evaluate where we may need to modify the curriculum.” Moreover, Conley feels that using MyMathLab has helped instructors feel less rushed during lectures: “They don’t feel like they have to get everything covered during lecture because they know that students have access to learning materials like the lecture videos when they get home.” Finally, Conley finds the Item Analysis function of the MyMathLab gradebook particularly helpful when she completes the end of semester course assessment. “We look at the Pre-diagnostic and the Final Exam and utilize the Item Analysis for hand-picked questions to tell us how the students did at the beginning and the end. That way, we can measure the learning gain for our selected learning outcomes. It saves so much time.”

Assessments

PTC’s developmental math courses stress that assessment is a valuable part of the overall success of a student. Assessments are used to determine areas of strength and weakness within the courses. While diagnostic pre-assessments do not count towards a student’s final grade, all other work completed does count as follows:

  • 50% Module post-assessments
  • 30% Final exam
  • 10% Homework assignments
  • 10% Module reviews

Letter grades are based on the following scale:

  • A: 90–100%
  • B:80–89%
  • C: 70–79%
  • No credit: 0–69%

It should be noted that failure to take the final exam results in a grade of NC (no credit) for the course. Everyone must take the final exam, regardless of their grade in the course.

Results and Data

Students showed great success in all three of the courses studied. The pass rates for students who earned final grades in the Pre-Algebra Skills and Elementary Algebra courses were 78 percent and 89 percent respectively, while the Intermediate Algebra course boasted a 94 percent pass rate. The final grade distribution for all three courses is shown in Figure 1.

Final course grade distributions

Figure 1. Final Grade Distribution of Pre-Algebra Skills (n=87), Elementary Algebra (n=171), and Intermediate Algebra (n=77), by percentage of students

In considering only the Pre-Algebra Skills course, data show that students who passed the course spent twice the number of hours per week working on homework in MyMathLab as compared to students who did not pass the course. Figure 2 illustrates this comparison.

Time spent on MyMathLab homework, in hours per week

Figure 2. Time Spent on MyMathLab Homework (in Hours per Week) for Students Who Passed or Failed the Pre-Algebra Skills Course; Passing (n=58); Failing (n=16)

Again, when focusing just on the Pre-Algebra Skills course, a strong correlation [r(72)=0.71, p<0.01] was found to exist between students’ MyMathLab homework scores and MyMathLab quiz scores. This relationship is shown in Figure 3. A correlation measures the strength of a relationship between two variables, where r is the correlation coefficient. The closer a positive r value is to 1.0, the stronger the correlation. The corresponding p-value measures the statistical significance or strength of the correlation, where a p-value <0.01 shows the existence of a positive correlation between these two variables. Note that correlation does not imply causation; it is simply a measure of the strength of the relationship.

Correlation between MyMathLab homework and quiz scores in Pre-Algebra Skills

Figure 3. Correlation Between MyMathLab Homework Scores and Quiz Scores for Pre-Algebra Skills Students (n=74)

In an analysis of the Elementary Algebra course, it was found that students who passed the course earned 16 percentage points higher on MyMathLab homework than students who failed that course, a result that is statistically significant with p<0.01. (Figure 4).

Average MyMathLab homework scores in Elementary Algebra

Figure 4. Comparison of Average MyMathLab Homework Scores for Students Who Passed or Failed the Elementary Algebra Course; Passing (n=152); Failing (n=19)

The Student Experience

At the end of the semester, students were asked to complete a post-semester survey (29 percent response rate). While 55 percent of students who responded identified as first-generation college students whose parents had never attended college, 73 percent had aspirations of completing at least a Bachelor’s Degree. When asked about their attitudes towards math at the end of the course, 62 percent of students responding to the survey agreed or strongly agree with the statement, “I get a great deal of satisfaction out of solving a math problem.” Approximately two-thirds of students surveyed said that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “I expect to do fairly well in any math class I take.”

Students taking the survey also responded to questions about MyMathLab. Some responses given to questions about impact and benefits were:

How has MyMathLab impacted your learning in this course?

  • “It gives you what you need to know right then and there, just in time. Students need to know how they are doing so they can know what is needed to improve. MyMathLab gives that.”
  • “It has allowed me to overcome my fear of math that I struggled with for a long time.”
  • “I like the Study Guides that are available throughout each module and that you can do as much studying as you like.”
  • “I was more involved and it was easier to go along with the instructor.”

What do you think are the benefits of using MyMathLab?

  • “Being able to do similar equations helps build confidence before continuing on in the course.”
  • “The tools and materials that help with math problems.  It gives students an option to choose the best tool that works for them.”
  • “The benefits are the videos that teach you how to do it and how the module reviews are similar to the test. The more I take it, the better I understand what I did wrong and learn to fix my mistakes.”

Conclusion

Conley relates that the modular implementation using MyMathLab in the Pre-Algebra Skills, Elementary Algebra, and Intermediate Algebra courses has addressed several key issues. First, it allows the faculty to more efficiently serve the large number of students who need the course. The structure of the modules, including the help features, just-in-time support, and learning feedback, consistently fills the individual gaps in each student’s knowledge of those course topics. Finally, by utilizing a coordinator course, the course drift that PTC was experiencing due to the large number of sections and instructors has been managed, and consistency in the curriculum across sections has been maintained.

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