MyMathLab educator study looks at student performance in Calculus course at Wake Technical Community College

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MyMathLab® educator study looks at student performance in Calculus course at Wake Technical Community College

Key Findings

  • Students who earned an A, B, or C in a MyMathLab-supported Calculus course outperformed D and F students by 19 percentage points in MyMathLab.
  • Overall, 69 percent of Calculus students earned an A, B, or C in the course, compared to the national average of 63 percent.
  • The instructor learned that students want problems in MyMathLab homework assignments to model those they will see on their tests in order to be more prepared.

School name
Wake Technical Community College, Raleigh, NC

Course name
Calculus I

Course format
Face to face

Course materials
MyMathLab; Calculus: Early Transcendentals by Briggs, Cochran, and Gillett

Fall 2015

Joy Minster, Associate Professor of Mathematics

Results reported by
Traci Simons, Pearson Customer Outcomes Analytics Manager


Wake Technical Community College (Wake Tech) is North Carolina’s largest community college, serving more than 70,000 students annually with five campuses, two training centers, multiple community sites, and a comprehensive array of online learning options. Wake Tech is fully accredited and offers more than 200 associate’s degrees, diplomas, and certificates that prepare students for university transfer or immediate employment.

  • Of the 70,000 students served in 20142015, 29,000 were enrolled in curriculum courses, and of those, 16,000 were enrolled full-time.
  • About 22 percent of all students were awarded some form of financial aid.
  • Of the curriculum students, 44.8 percent were male and 55.2 percent were female.
  • 52 percent were White, Non-Hispanic, 26.4 percent were Black, Non-Hispanic, and 9.1 percent were Hispanic.
  • 48.9 percent of students were 24 or younger.

About the Course

The Calculus I course at Wake Tech is a four-credit hour course with students spending five contact hours per week in class. It is designed to develop the topics of differential and integral calculus. Emphasis is placed on limits, continuity, derivatives and integrals of algebraic and transcendental functions of one variable. Upon completion, students should be able to select and use appropriate models and techniques for finding solutions to derivative-related problems with and without technology.

In addition to teaching the application of mathematical skills, the course also strives to strengthen the student’s ability to work in a team, utilize technology as a tool, and to communicate mathematically. Therefore, students are required to work collaboratively and to work on team assignments outside of class.

Prerequisites for the course are a score of C or better in both Precalculus Algebra and Precalculus Trigonometry or in the combined Precalculus Algebra and Trig course or a satisfactory score on the mathematics placement instrument.

Challenges and Goals

In Fall 2015, Wake Tech’s Calculus instructors chose to adopt the Briggs Calculus textbook and MyMathLab. Prior to that, they had used a different online homework system. They felt that MyMathLab would help students go beyond doing just paper-pencil homework where they simply check their answer in the back of the book. In addition, they saw MyMathLab as providing more of an assessment feel than their previous product. Joy Minster, Associate Professor of Mathematics and course instructor, says they were looking for ways to have everyday practice that could provide feedback and help students learn. They were hoping MyMathLab would have a “formative assessment feel,” according to Minster.


Students are expected to complete all work in MyMathLab on their own outside of class. Minster assigns one MyMathLab homework per section, typically trying to have 1020 problems per assignment. She uses the difficulty level and problem-length metrics found next to each problem in MyMathLab to determine about how long she can expect her students to spend on the assignment. All learning aids are available to the students because Minster has seen students get “very stressed” when the Help Me Solve This and View an Example aids are missing. Students have ten attempts on each problem because Minster wants to make sure they have had sufficient opportunities to work the problem so they fully understand it. Partial credit is allowed on multi-part questions, and Minster drops two to three of the lowest homework grades. To keep formatting and answer tolerance issues from becoming a source of frustration and because Minster feels homework is a place where students should be able to make mistakes without penalty, she counts MyMathLab homework scores over 85 as a 100 in her gradebook.

While Minster does not assign the interactive figures available with the Briggs book, she does use them in class to illustrate concepts. In addition, the five hours of class time per week are spent lecturing to students and going over example problems. The course consists of four tests and the comprehensive final exam, which are taken in class and the use of calculators is not allowed (Note: This calculator policy was in effect at the time the data were analyzed; however, it has since changed. Students are now allowed the use of calculators on tests because the department wanted to be able to use more complicated functions on tests without the students being held back by basic computation.  The calculators that are now allowed are the same non-graphing scientific calculators that are allowed on an engineering exam many of the department’s students take later in their careers). No make-ups are allowed on any missed test or quiz; however, the final exam score can be used to replace the lowest regular test score.


  • 60% Tests (4)
  • 15% Final exam
  • 10% In-class work
  • 10% Project
  • 5% MyMathLab homework and quizzes
Letter Grade A B C D F
Number Grade 100–90 89–80 79–70 69–60 59 and below

Students must earn a C or better in order to move forward to Calculus II.

Results and Data

Data from Fall 2015 were analyzed with results showing a 69 percent A/B/C rate. Wake Tech data prior to switching to MyMathLab were not made available because too many changes were made during the switching of materials to make the comparison equivalent; however, according to insights gleaned from a Mathematical Association of America (MAA) study, approximately 63 percent of Calculus I students at two-year colleges earn an A, B, or C.

Figure 1 depicts Fall 2015 students’ average scores on various assessments grouped by course letter grade. Of note is that students who did better in MyMathLab on average also did well on summative assessments and overall in the course. It should be noted that performance in MyMathLab counted for five percent of each student’s final grade, thus affecting the overall course performance relationship.

Average assessment scores by course letter grade


Figure 1. Average Course Assessment Score Grouped by Course Letter Grade, Fall 2015; A (n=11); B (n=14); C (n=10); D (n=7); F (n=9)

Because Wake Tech requires students to earn a C or better in Calculus I before moving to the next part of the course sequence, students were grouped into A/B/C and D/F groups. Figure 2 shows each of those groups’ average performance on course assessments. Students who earned an A, B, or C in the course outperformed D and F students by 19 percentage points in MyMathLab.

Course assessments by A/B/C students vs. D/F students

Figure 2. Average Course Assessment Score Grouped by A/B/C and D/F Students, Fall 2015; A/B/C (n=35); D/F (n=16)

Correlations were run to see the relationship between student performance in MyMathLab compared to the summative assessments in the course: test average and final exam. Data show that a moderate, positive relationship exists between MyMathLab performance and test average, r=.49, p<.001 (figure 3), as well as between MyMathLab performance and final exam performance, r=.51, p<.001, (figure 4). 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 or relationship. The corresponding p-value measures the statistical reliability of this evidence, where a p-value <.05 shows the existence of a reliable correlation between these two variables.

Correlation between MyMathLab homework average and test average

Figure 3. Correlation between Test Averages and MyMathLab Homework Averages; Fall 2015 (n=51)

Correlation between MyMathLab homework average and final exam

Figure 4. Correlation between Final Exam Scores and MyMathLab Homework Averages; Fall 2015 (n=51)

The Student Experience

A post-course survey was distributed to Minster’s students in Spring 2016 (25 percent response rate).

  • 71 percent of responders said MyMathLab was either “helpful” or “very helpful” in providing adequate practice to understand the concepts.
  • 71 percent of responders said MyMathLab was either “helpful” or “very helpful” in preparing them for exams.
  • 71 percent of responders said MyMathLab was either “helpful” or “very helpful” in providing different ways to learn.
  • 71 percent of responders said MyMathLab was either “helpful” or “very helpful” in providing a positive learning experience.
  • 71 percent of responders said MyMathLab was either “helpful” or “very helpful” in preparing them for success in their future courses.

When asked, “How has MyMathLab impacted your learning in this course?” students responded:

  • “MyMathLab had a positive impact by making me practice doing problems.”
  • “[MyMathLab] allowed me to practice concepts outside of class by forcing me to set aside time to learn through homework.”


In conclusion, Minster’s goal in adopting MyMathLab was to give students something that would allow them to practice concepts every day while receiving automatic feedback. Data from this case study indicate that students who did better in MyMathLab did better on summative assessments and overall in the course. Minster believes this is due to students taking MyMathLab seriously and using it as the tool she had intended. She states, “Those students who didn’t do well in MyMathLab likely didn’t put the effort in. Had they done so, they probably would have done better on assessments because they would have been able to practice the material more.”

While Minster feels that students are relatively positive towards MyMathLab, she does plan to make some changes based on their responses to the end-of-course survey. Specifically, she is considering assigning more difficult problems in MyMathLab homework so that students will see a closer resemblance to questions on tests. This will hopefully correspond to better preparedness and performance on tests and the final exam, thus tightening the correlation between the two. In addition, Minster plans to use the insights gleaned from the data analysis to speak to her students about the importance of taking MyMathLab assignments seriously and using it as a tool to really test their understanding of the material in a low-stakes environment.


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