MyMathLab educator study looks at correlations between assignments in College Algebra course at Richland College
- Data for this course show a very strong positive correlation between average test scores and students’ MyMathLab homework averages and a strong positive correlation between students’ homework averages and final exam scores.
- Data indicate that students who earned higher MyMathLab homework averages and study plan scores, showing mastery of course material by earning an overall A/B/C course grade, had average MyMathLab homework scores 49 percent higher and average study plan scores 72 percent higher than students who earned a D/F in the course.
- The instructor feels that MyMathLab’s quality, instantaneous feedback is its greatest advantage for student learning.
Richland College, Dallas, TX
MyMathLab; College Algebra by Trigsted
Yolanda Manzano, Professor of Mathematics
Part of the Dallas County Community College District, Richland College (RLC) has focused on teaching, learning, and community building for more than 40 years. In recognition of these efforts, the White House and the Department of Commerce named RLC a 2005 recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the only community college to have received this award.
Each semester, Richland serves approximately 20,000 credit and 4,800 non-credit students who come from more than 130 countries and speak 79 different first languages. Other demographics include:
- Female: 55 percent
- Male: 45 percent
- Anglo: 28 percent
- Hispanic: 30 percent
- African-American: 21 percent
- Asian/Pacific Islander: 14 percent
- Unknown: 5 percent
- International: 1 percent
- Native American: 0 percent
- Average age: 26
About the Course
The College Algebra course at RLC is a core curriculum course and requires that students be college-level ready in Mathematics. The course includes in-depth study and applications of polynomial, rational, radical, exponential, logarithmic, absolute value, and piecewise-defined functions, and systems of equations using matrices. Also covered are the graphing calculator, non-linear inequalities, sequences and series, circles, the Binomial Theorem and a review of the classification of the real number system.
Challenges and Goals
Teaching large enrollment courses like College Algebra has a number of challenges, and success in the course has traditionally been low at RLC. Some of the challenges instructors face include transparency in grades and grading, providing students personalized and immediate feedback and help, and allowing for diverse learning experiences. By adopting MyMathLab for her College Algebra course, Yolanda Manzano, Professor of Mathematics, hoped to provide students with a resource that would:
- Allow them to know their grades at all times;
- Provide assistance finding errors in problems while working them, thus promoting “productive struggle;”
- Provide access to a variety of help aids that are tailored to different learning styles; and
- Help students become more motivated to complete mathematics because of the software’s clear content support in a non-threatening, user-friendly manner.
The Fall 2015 semester was Manzano’s first semester using MyMathLab in the college algebra course. She and her colleagues chose to adopt the Trigsted book because it seemed to have the necessary resources to support student learning without a traditional, in-class lecture. With success in College Algebra having been traditionally low at RLC, Manzano was interested in understanding if there were specific features or tools in MyMathLab that correlated with student success so that she and her colleagues could build on that information.
At the beginning of the semester, students are given a course calendar with their syllabus that details all MyMathLab assignments. Students complete these assignments in MyMathLab outside of class.
Each class day in the calendar has a MyMathLab assignment listed. There are three types of MyMathLab assignments that students complete:
1. Homework: Homework is designed to prepare students for the next class period.
- The very first homework assignment is used as an introduction to MyMathLab and is started in class on the first day. It contains some MyMathLab orientation problems, videos to watch, and a few homework problems to prepare students for the next class period.
- Other homework assignments throughout the semester follow this typical structure:
- The first few problems are similar to what the instructor lectured on at the beginning of class. Manzano turns off learning aids to these problems so that students must work them with no help. Students are expected to take notes and use class time to obtain help as needed after the lecture.
- The next set of problems are homework from the sections covered that day. Manzano leaves the MyMathLab learning aids on for most of these problems to help students.
- The last section of problems are media, including videos and animated problems, that students are expected to review in preparation for the next class period.
- Manzano drops the three lowest homework grades, though she does not broadcast this in the syllabus because she wants students to put full effort into all homework assignments.
2. Exam Review: Exam reviews are assigned in MyMathLab and are due the period before the applicable exam. Exams are administered in class via paper and pencil and include a subset of problems taken from the MyMathLab Exam Review.
3. Media Assignments: These assignments have the media, such as PowerPoints, videos, and animations, necessary for students to prepare for the next class period.
For the most part, each problem has four similar problems available; in other words, students are allowed four attempts per problem. For those problems where learning aids are available, students are cautioned to use the Help Me Solve This learning aid wisely. Manzano tells students, “If you click on Help Me Solve This before grading a problem, it uses up one similar problem. However, it is a very useful tool and is still accessible on a problem after it has been graded.” Students are also encouraged to make use of the View an Example feature. It is strongly recommended that students use the Study Plan and the e-book to learn the material.
Daily quizzes are given in class and intended as more of an attendance/participation grade that is entered as an offline item in the MyMathLab gradebook.
Exam 1: This 55-minute, in-class, written exam covers the content from MyMathLab assignments 1–3. If students are not satisfied with their grade on this exam, they may retake exam 1 prior to the due date listed in the calendar, or, if they feel it would be better for them, drop the course and move into the last developmental math course to have better preparation for this course.
In order to have the opportunity to retake this exam, students must:
- Complete the Exam 1 Retake assignment in MyMathLab with a 100 percent by the due date listed in the calendar. It opens after the exam is administered in class.
- Complete the Exam 1 Retake in MyMathLab. This opens for students once they have earned 100 percent on the Retake assignment. Students must show all work on the problems on the Exam 1 Retake in order to receive credit for the problems. Students provide that work to their instructor on the class day after they retake the exam; this way, students and instructors can see what mistakes may have been made and ensure that the student understands how to work the problem correctly. The grade recorded in MyMathLab is not final until after the instructor has reviewed the problems with the student’s work. The score can go up or down depending on the student’s work. If a student does not turn in any work, they receive a zero on the Retake. Students have only one opportunity for the Retake. The exam is set to use the Browser Lockdown feature so that it automatically submits for grading if a student strays away from the exam to another browser or screen. It is timed at 65 minutes and is available until the due date listed in the course calendar.
Exams 2–4 and the Final Exam:
- Exams 2–4 are administered via paper and pencil in class as scheduled in the course calendar.
- Final exam: This exam is administered via paper and pencil in class as scheduled in the course calendar. If the final exam grade is higher than a prior exam, it replaces the lowest grade of Exams 2–4.
In the event of a class cancellation due to inclement weather or instructor absence, students are expected to continue to follow the course calendar and submit assignments at the scheduled times. To do so, they are encouraged to use the textbook and MyMathLab features, such as videos, animations, and the Study Plan to gain an understanding of the material.
In addition to the features noted above, Manzano also utilizes the MyMathLab gradebook’s Search/Email by Criteria function frequently to give more personalized feedback after tests, major assignments or just generally to provide encouragement.
- 50% Unit exams (4)
- 25% MyMathLab assignments average (21% homework, 4% quiz)
- 20% Final Exam
- 5% Attendance*
*Attendance is taken each day. Students start with 100 points and three points are deducted for each entire class missed, one point for arriving late (five minutes or less) or leaving early (less than five minutes before the end of class), and two points for both.
Results and Data
Fall 2015 grades were analyzed with the exception of seven students who did not take the final exam but didn’t officially withdraw from the course. Figures 1–3 are correlation graphs; correlations do not imply causation but instead measure the strength of a relationship between two variables, where r is the correlation coefficient. The closer the r value is to 1 or -1, the stronger the correlation. The corresponding p-value measures the statistical significance/strength of this evidence (the correlation, or r), where a p-value <.05 shows the existence of a correlation between these two variables. For Manzano’s course, the following correlations were found:
- A strong positive correlation exists between students’ test averages and their average MyMathLab homework scores, where r=.78 and p<.001 (figure 1).
- A strong positive correlation exists between students’ final exam scores and their average MyMathLab homework scores, where r=.56 and p<.001 (figure 2).
- A very strong positive correlation exists between students’ MyMathLab study plan scores and their overall course scores, where r=.88 and p<.001 (figure 3). This is interesting because the study plan does not count towards the students’ final grades. The data suggest that effort and extra practice in the study plan may help to increase student performance overall. In fact, very strong positive correlations exist between students’ study plan performances and all other assignments except for quizzes: r=.91, p<.001 for study plan performance and homework average; r=.81, p<.001 for study plan performance and test average; and r=.64, p<.001 for study plan performance and final exam score. More analysis is needed to understand these results.
Correlation between test average and homework average
Figure 1. Correlation Between Test Averages and MyMathLab Homework Averages, Fall 2015 (n=44)
Correlation between final exam grade and homework average
Figure 2. Correlation Between Final Exam Grades and MyMathLab Homework Averages, Fall 2015 (n=44)
Correlation between study plan and overall course grade
Figure 3. Correlation Between MyMathLab Study Plan Scores and Overall Course Scores, Fall 2015 (n=44)
In addition, a strong linear relationship of the final course letter grade distribution per average MyMathLab homework assignment grade exists (figure 4). It should be noted that homework scores comprise 21 percent of the final course grade, thus influencing this relationship.
- Students earning a final course grade of A, B, or C scored 30 percentage points higher on homework in MyMathLab than those students earning a final course grade of D or F; A, B, or C students averaged 91 percent on homework while D or F students averaged 61 percent.
- Students earning a final course grade of A, B, or C scored 16 percentage points higher on the study plan in MyMathLab than those students earning a final course grade of D or F; A, B, or C students averaged 38 percent on the study plan in MyMathLab compared to students earning a final course grade of D or F, who scored an average of 22. Because activity in the study plan does not count towards the students’ final grades, performance in this space may be considered an indication of effort. One could argue that A students typically put forth more effort than the rest of the group. With that in mind, students earning a B or C in the course were compared to students earning a D or F. Students earning a B or C in the course averaged 36 percent in the study plan, 14 percentage points higher than students who earned a D or F in the course.
- Also interesting to note is the lack of a linear relationship between the MyMathLab quiz average and final course letter grade. One reason for this may be that the quiz average only accounts for four percent of the overall grade; another may be that students can retake the quizzes as many times as necessary until they earn a 100. An analysis of attempt data would provide more insight into the results, and more research is needed to understand the outcome.
This analysis does not include five students who did not take the final exam but did not officially withdraw from the course.
Final letter grade compared to MyMathLab assignments
Figure 4. Student Final Letter Grade Compared to Performance on MyMathLab Assignments, Fall 2015 (n=44)
The Student Experience
A voluntary, end-of-semester survey was distributed to Manzano’s College Algebra students in Fall 2015 (81 percent response rate). In that survey, respondents acknowledged that they understood the importance of doing work outside of class:
- 89 percent of respondents said it was somewhat or very important that they come to class having completed work outside of class.
- Only 19 percent of responders said they often or very often attended class without having completed the associated MyMathLab assignment.
In addition, respondents found MyMathLab to be helpful in several areas (figure 5):
Student survey responses
Figure 5. Student Responses to the Question, “How helpful was MyMathLab in the following areas?” Fall 2015 (n=42)
Some comments made by students about MyMathLab when asked, “How has MyMathLab impacted your learning in this class?” were:
- “MyMathLab has impacted my problem-solving ability and the ability to think outside the box to find the answers.”
- “It made it much easier, by allowing me to learn on my own and figure out where I made mistakes!”
- “MyMathLab has given me the encouragement to go to the next level in math.”
- “It made me be bold enough to ask questions in class if I didn’t understand something.”
By adopting MyMathLab for her College Algebra course, Manzano hoped to provide students with a resource that would allow them to know their grades at all times, have help finding errors in problems while working them, and provide access to a variety of help aids that are tailored to different learning styles. Manzano is pleased with the results thus far and feels that the students’ responses to the survey, especially, reflect that MyMathLab is doing what she’d hoped it would. She says, “The largest advantage of MyMathLab is that it provides quality feedback to students instantaneously. I appreciate that the students feel they are getting so much help from the program.”
Read Yolanda Manzano’s blog post, My top three misconceptions about digital learning (and why I was wrong), published October 2016 on Pearson’s Teaching & Learning Blog.