MyMathLab educator study measures student success strategies in Introduction to Algebra at Fort Lewis College

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MyMathLab educator study measures student success strategies in Introduction to Algebra at Fort Lewis College

Key Findings

  • Student persistence in Introduction to Algebra was statistically significantly higher when attendance at the campus tutoring center or increased MyMathLab usage were required.
  • Student level of completion of MyMathLab online homework was significantly correlated with their final course grade.
  • Student performance in the subsequent developmental math course, Intermediate Algebra, was statistically significantly better when usage of MyMathLab was increased in the introductory course.

School name
Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO

Course name
Introduction to Algebra

Course format

Fall 2013

Course materials
MyMathLab access code; Introductory and Intermediate Algebra through Applications by Akst and Bragg

Submitted by
Leslie Goldstein; Senior Lecturer, Freshman Math Program
Sandra Gilpin; Assistant Dean, Arts & Sciences; Senior Lecturer, Freshman Math Program
Brian Burke; Professor, Psychology


A public, four-year liberal arts college overlooking the Animas River Valley and historic downtown Durango, Fort Lewis College serves approximately 3,800 students hailing from all 50 states, 155 American Indian tribes and Native Alaskan villages, and 17 countries. Approximately 25 percent of the student population is Native American. The average class size is 23 with a student-faculty ratio of 19:1. Mid-range ACT scores are 1924 and mid-range SAT scores for math are 465565. The most popular majors include Art & Design, Biology, Business Administration, Engineering, English, Environmental Studies, Exercise Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Teacher Education.

About the Course

Introduction to Algebra, offered in the Freshman Mathematics Program, provides review and instruction in college preparatory mathematics for students with deficiencies or apprehensions concerning required entrance-level mathematics courses. Students with ACT Mathematics scores of 1718 are placed into Intermediate Algebra, whereas students with scores below 17 must first take Introduction to Algebra. The instructor uses a combination of lecture, problem-solving skills, and individualized assistance. Students are substantially involved in the instructional process through class participation, problem solving, completing homework, in-class activities, and group work. Student work includes writing, as well as doing calculations. Throughout the course, topics such as number systems, algebraic expressions, algebraic properties, and algebraic manipulations are learned to solve and graph linear equations. Applications are included. Classes meet three times per week for 55 minutes each as a standard lecture course. Credit for the class does not count toward graduation or GPA.

Challenges and Goals

After many years as a developmental mathematics educator, Goldstein wanted to address what she believed to be a key obstacle to student success: students repeatedly not doing enough work outside of class to hone their mathematical skills. She and her colleagues hypothesized that two interventions—increasing tutoring center use and online math homework completion—would improve student performance and success in the Introduction to Algebra course. They designed an independent study to research whether students in this first developmental mathematics course who spent more time working in a supportive tutoring center where live tutors or instructors could answer their questions or students who spent more time working online on their own using MyMathLab to provide immediate feedback would outperform students in the standard lecture course with no additional mandated support.


Three sections of the course were offered in Fall 2013, each taught by Goldstein. All three required the textbook, MyMathLab code for homework and end-of-week quizzes, and a scientific calculator. No instructional changes were made to the control group. The 32 students in this section were expected to complete twenty assignments and seven end-of-week quizzes in MyMathLab, and four written tests including a final exam.

Students in the second section of the course completed all of the assignments, quizzes, and tests as in the control section, but the twenty MyMathLab assignments contained nearly double the number of exercises with the expectation that this group would then spend two hours per week on online homework instead of one hour weekly. This section of the course enrolled 35 students and was referred to as the online or MyMathLab group.

The 30 students in the third section of the course, the tutoring group, also completed all of the assignments, quizzes, and tests as in the control section, but were additionally required to attend the Algebra Alcove a minimum of two hours per week. This target was chosen because it was more than double the number of hours that students in previous semesters of Introduction to Algebra spent in the tutoring center each week.

The Algebra Alcove is a free tutoring center that helps students in their developmental math classes by developing their confidence and skill sets. Students enrolled in any freshman math class may work with tutors just by showing up during posted hours. It is staffed by Freshman Math Program instructors and peer tutors having various levels of College Reading & Learning Association (CRLA) certification.

Students are placed into the Introduction to Algebra course by SAT or ACT score. Those wishing to challenge their placement may do so by taking the Accuplacer exam in the first week. For this study, students were not aware of the different treatments at the time of enrollment. Students in all three sections of the course had unlimited access to the Algebra Alcove and could certainly utilize MyMathLab more heavily by doing additional exercises on their own.


Three different indicators of student performance were examined to assess the full impact of these distinct Introduction to Algebra sections:

  • the extent to which students persisted in the course by comparing retention percentage and non-completers by section
  • student performance in the course by comparing specific and total grade components by section and by examining correlations of actual online homework and tutoring usage with final course grades
  • long-term effects of each intervention by comparing these students’ performances in their next semester’s Intermediate Algebra course

Results and Data

The effects of the treatments on student persistence were statistically significant (𝜒2 [1, N=97]=5.09, d=0.47, p=0.03] for both treatment groups compared to the control group, measured as the percentage of students who left the class and did not take the final exam. The walk-away rates, shown in figure 1, were 31 percent for the control group (10/32), but just 10 percent (3/30) and 14 percent (5/35) for the tutoring and MyMathLab groups, respectively.

Walk-away rates

Figure 1. Walk-away Rates for Each of the Three Groups; Control (n=32); Tutoring (n=30); MyMathLab (n=35)

Figure 2 illustrates the average Algebra Alcove usage (in hours) and average time (in hours) spent on MyMathLab homework during the semester. Usage rates for the Algebra Alcove tutoring center varied by section, as expected. The tutoring group spent a mean of 18.27 hours (SD=13.57) there during the 14-week semester compared to 5.07 hours (SD=8.34) for the online group and 8.70 hours (SD=17.36) for the control group. Results revealed a statistical significance between the tutoring group and the two other groups t(94)=3.92, d=0.85, p<0.001.

In a comparison of time spent in MyMathLab, Goldstein discovered that even though the online group completed roughly double the number of homework problems in MyMathLab each week compared to the other two groups, the time spent doing the online homework did not vary much by section. The online group spent a mean total of 12.68 hours (SD=5.37) on MyMathLab problems during the 14-week semester, compared to 11.21 hours (SD=7.00) for the tutoring group and 10.65 hours (SD=6.21) for the control group. Results were not statistically significant, t(94)=0.81, d=0.16, p=0.47. Average time spent on each of the twenty homework assignments was about 20 minutes for the online group (with roughly double the number of exercises) compared to 17 minutes or 18 minutes for the other two groups [t(94)=1.34, d=0.28, p=0.18].

Average Algebra Alcove usage and average time spent on MyMathLab homework

Figure 2. Average Algebra Alcove Usage (in Hours) and Average Time (in Hours) Spent on MyMathLab Homework During the Semester; Control (n=22); Tutoring (n=27); MyMathLab (n=30)

When final grades of the treatment groups were compared with those of the control group, the treatment group excelled (d=0.36), though the difference was not statistically significant [t(94)=1.69, p=0.09]. However, students’ level of completion of MyMathLab online homework across sections was significantly correlated with their final course grade, r(97) = 0.92, p<0.001. Students’ use of the tutoring center across sections was significantly, but less strongly, correlated with the final course grade, r(97)=0.32, p=0.002.

It was also shown that the MyMathLab online homework intervention also had “sleeper effects” the following semester in a student’s next level math class. Students in the MyMathLab group performed nearly a full letter grade higher in Intermediate Algebra than students from the other two groups, shown in table 1. This result was statistically significant, t(35)=2.11, d=0.72, p=0.04 on planned comparison.

Class Section n Mean Grade
Control Group 6 1.33
Tutoring Group 15 1.40
MyMathLab Group 16 2.25

Table 1. Mean Final Intermediate Algebra Grade of Students Who Took Intermediate Algebra One Semester After Introduction to Algebra, by Class. (Mean Grade in GPA Units, with A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, B+ = 3.3, B = 3.0, B- = 2.7, C+ = 2.3, C = 2.0, C- = 1.7, D+ = 1.3, D = 1.0, D- = 0.7, and F = 0.)

In addition, the students’ level of completion of the online homework in their first algebra class, regardless of which group they were in, was significantly correlated with their final grade in their next algebra class, r(41)=0.56, p<0.001 (figure 3).

Average MyMathLab homework scores for Introduction to Algebra students who earned A/B/C or D/F final grades in Intermediate Algebra

Figure 3. Average MyMathLab Homework Scores for Introduction to Algebra Students from Each Group Who Earned A/B/C or D/F Final Grades in Intermediate Algebra; Control (n=8); Tutoring (n=16); MyMathLab (n=17)

The Student Experience

For this study, students were not aware of the different treatments at the time of enrollment. Goldstein received the following comments from students enrolled in course:

  • “This course made me aware of some of the resources available to me on campus and online to help me with my math.  I learned valuable math skills.”
  • “The program [MyMathLab] itself was a little confusing at first, but once I got it it was easy to use.  I loved seeing “Good job!””
  • “I felt like the online assignments [in MyMathLab] really helped solidify the information we [went] over in class.”


Goldstein believes that the study has confirmed her working hypothesis. Students who are required to spend more hours outside of class time—either in the tutoring center or doing online homework—perform better in their classes than students who are left to their own devices. In general, data suggest these students persist longer, get help sooner, and do not fall behind at the same rate. But the specific type of help that students receive may make a substantial difference in the long run. Requiring more students to do more skill practice on their own, with a program such as MyMathLab, yielded a sleeper effect that may work on multiple levels. Not only do students get practice with foundational skills, but they also receive immediate feedback on their mastery of those skills that may boost their self-efficacy. MyMathLab was chosen over other available programs because of its feedback components.

Learn more about Fort Lewis College’s exciting study and all of its results here:
Boosting Tutoring or Homework in Introduction to Algebra Classes.

Read Leslie Goldstein’s blog post, Online homework helps students learn in ways traditional textbooks may not, published December 2016 on Pearson’s Teaching & Learning Blog.


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