MyLab Math with MyLabsPlus educator study reviews student performance in College Algebra course at University of Texas Arlington

EDUCATOR STUDY

MyLab Math with MyLabsPlus educator study reviews student performance in College Algebra course at University of Texas Arlington

Key Findings

  • After implementing a hybrid course redesign using MyLab Math, success rates (C or better) in College Algebra rose 17 percentage points, from 46 percent in Fall 2012 to 63 percent in Fall 2015.
  • Coordinators report—and student survey respondents agree—that the institution of flex time for required lab hours has helped students come to the lab when they are able, rather than skipping the lab because they are running late.

School name
University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX

Course name
College Algebra

Course format
Hybrid: one 80-minute class meeting and two 80-minute lab meetings weekly; fixed due dates; scheduled meetings with flex time allowed, plus optional open lab time

Course materials
MyLab Math with MyLabsPlus for College Algebra by Lial
My Notes custom workbook
Optional scientific calculator, as specified on syllabus

Timeframe
Fall 2012–Spring 2016

Educator
Shanna Banda, Learning Resource Director

Analyst
Bobby Childress, Learning Resource Coordinator

Results reported by
Traci Simons, Pearson Customer Outcomes Analytics Manager

Setting

The University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) is a public research university located on a 420-acre campus in Arlington, Texas. The campus is in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area and is adjacent to downtown Arlington. The university was founded in 1895 and was in the Texas A&M University system for several decades until joining The University of Texas system in 1965.

In Fall 2014, the campus student population of 35,000 was the second-largest in the UT System. In 2016, The Carnegie Foundation classified UT Arlington in the category of “R-1: Doctoral Universities – Highest Research Activity.” Only 115 institutions in the nation are listed in that category which is often referred to as “tier one.” The Chronicle of Higher Education named the university one of the fastest growing public research universities in the nation. UTA offers 81 baccalaureate, 71 masters, and 31 doctoral degrees, and the average gift aid package—grants and scholarships that do not have to be repaid—is about $5,700 per student. In addition, U.S. News & World Report has ranked UT Arlington fifth among national universities for undergraduate diversity: 22 percent Hispanic, 15 percent African American, 10 percent Asian, and 11 percent International.

The Math Department at UTA serves over 10,000 students annually and in 2013 was the winner of the American Mathematical Society’s AMS Award for an Exemplary Program or Achievement in a Mathematics Department for doubling the size of its doctoral program over five years and bolstering those ranks with historically underrepresented student groups, including women and minorities. Learn more about UTA’s 2013 AMS Award.

About the Course

The College Algebra course at UTA is offered through the Math Emporium, which is a part of the math department and is an academic and tutoring computer lab available to UT Arlington students currently enrolled in undergraduate or graduate math classes. The lab is open 8:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday and closes at 5:00 p.m. on Friday. It is open 9:00 a.m.–3:00 p.m. on Saturday. There are 154 seats in the lab, four of which are privacy booths, and a smaller lab across the hall houses 41 computers. The average lecture and lab class size is 150 students. The lab is staffed at all times by an undergraduate tutor and with graduate workers during peak times, with the goal of a student-to-undergraduate tutor ratio of 25:1. All undergraduate tutors must be STEM majors and are typically engineering or math majors, with some students coming from the school’s UTeach program, which consists of education majors with a strong math background.

College Algebra is designed as preparation for higher-level mathematics courses. Topics include the study of linear, quadratic, polynomial, rational, radical absolute value, logarithmic and exponential functions; relations and inequalities; graphs, basic characteristics, and operations on functions; real and complex zeros of functions; graphing techniques; and systems of equations and matrices. The material is designed to provide a firm foundation for a variety of future courses as well as teach students critical thinking and processing skills. Students who enroll in the College Algebra course are mostly STEM majors, as non-STEM majors and Business majors are encouraged to enroll in either Contemporary Math or College Algebra for Economics and Business Analysis, respectively.

Challenges and Goals

In June 2013, Shanna Banda was recruited to UTA’s math department as the Learning Resource Director with the goal of solving “the College Algebra beast problem” and fully implementing the new emporium model at the school. Because she came from a community college and had experience with the emporium model, UTA hoped she could help improve the course’s success rates. The department had already started an emporium course for College Algebra in 2012, but it wasn’t working as they’d hoped: the course sections had 200 students each in lecture that split into two separate labs of 100 students each; success rates were still too low for the administration. Banda and the faculty quickly realized that with this configuration, they were losing some collaborative work that could happen between students because students weren’t seeing the same classmates each meeting. “We were losing the sense of a cohesive unit,” Banda states. “I basically suggested that we reduce the class size in the lecture sections and then come together in a single lab. Class size makes such a huge difference.” Backed by that theory, the department hypothesized that by adjusting their old model, they would encourage collaboration between students and their instructors, and their student success metrics would improve.

Implementation

If you don’t have an attendance requirement there, they don’t come. Intrinsic motivation isn’t worth anything to students, but points are!

 

While taking attendance is not required at UTA, each faculty member is free to develop his or her own methods of evaluating students’ academic performance, which includes establishing course-specific policies on attendance. All sections of College Algebra have the following attendance policy:

  • Upon entry into the lab, students are required to log in to an attendance tracking system using their MavID card. They are also required to sign out when leaving the lab.
  • Over the course of the semester, in addition to lecture attendance, students are required to complete 36 hours of study time within the Math Emporium. Lab hours must be completed throughout the semester. Benchmark periods are designated in the table below and must be met in order to fulfill the course requirement. (NOTE: Time accumulated over the required 12 hours within each benchmark rolls over to the next benchmark.)
Lab Hours Complete upon Completion of Exam 1 12 Worth 25% of Attendance
Lab Hours Complete Between Exam 1 and Completion of Exam 2 12 Worth 25% of Attendance
Lab Hours Complete Between Exam 2 and the Last Lab Day 12 Worth 25% of Attendance
Total Lab Hours Requirement 36 Worth 75% of Attendance
Lecture Attendance (at least 12 lectures) Worth 25% of Attendance
TOTAL ATTENDANCE REQUIREMENT Possible 100% for Attendance
  • The attendance requirement is five percent of students’ overall course grade. By semester’s end, a student’s attendance grade is 0, 25, 50, 75 or 100 percent, depending upon the number of benchmarks met and lecture attendance.
  • If a student misses a lab time, he or she is allowed to make-up their time during open lab hours within the associated benchmark period.

Each section of College Algebra meets one time per week for lecture/discussion for 80 minutes and two times per week for 80 minutes together in the lab. If a section is scheduled for Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 9:00 a.m., then they would meet for lecture/discussion on Monday and then lab on Wednesday and Friday. Banda recommends that the lectures be treated as a flipped classroom, so the lab before lecture (Friday, in this scenario) is spent pulling up online resources and looking at what will be covered in class the following Monday.

Discussion sessions, as Banda calls them, start with the entry quiz (see below) that assesses whether students came to class prepared for the material. Instruction during class time covers two sections per meeting. Typically, this time is spent working problems on a doc camera or in small groups, as well as working problems in the My Notes student workbook, developed by Banda and her colleagues. At the end of the session, students take an exit quiz and then leave to return to class again on Wednesday in the lab.

While students are able to start their weekly homework assignment at any point, they usually finish up the MyLab Math homework assignment in lab on Wednesday, and it is due by midnight on Wednesday (see below for homework-specific policies and practices). In addition, students sometimes take a content quiz while in the lab (see below).

Besides learning new material and working on homework, quizzes, and tests in the lab, breakout sessions are also held during this time. One lab day per week has 30 minutes reserved as a breakout. The instructor chooses what to do during this time, and it is usually instructor-led where a topic is covered that everyone is struggling with or one the instructor would like to more deeply explore. Typically, instructors review their gradebooks to see where students may need more help, and that is what they spend some extra time on during the breakout.

The following is a detailed description of each component of the course:

Homework and quizzes
All homework and quizzes are assigned in MyLab Math with MyLabsPlus and are available to students on the first class day.

  • No late homework or quizzes are accepted, so students are encouraged to watch the due dates on the MyLab Math calendar. Students receive a zero for any assignments not submitted.  
  • There is a homework assignment covering each section of material. Homework assignments are set for unlimited access up until the due date; students have three attempts per question before getting counted wrong and then two times to request a similar exercise. All homework assignments contain some learning aids to help students through the material.
  • Students are assigned six quizzes, each with ten questions. Quizzes do not contain the learning aids, except in review mode once the quiz has been submitted. Two attempts per quiz are allowed; each quiz has a 45-minute time limit and must be completed once opened. The highest score is recorded for grading purposes.
  • The Lockdown Browser feature in MyLab Math is used for all quizzes, so students are encouraged to either complete their quizzes in the Math Emporium computer lab or make sure they have administrative rights to the computer they are using in order to install the program. The program is a free download and is easily installed through the Browser Check in MyLab Math.

Extra credit: signature assignments
The College Algebra course contains three related concept assignments, which are completed within MyLab Math. Each of these assignments cover two of the six learning objectives and outcomes covered throughout the course. Students are required to complete a variety of short answer questions, and these assignments count as bonus points on a chapter exam based on the percentage score earned on each assignment. No more than five points can be earned on any given test. Extra credit is applied at the end of the semester and cannot apply to the final exam. The signature assignments assess the following skills:

  • Critical thinking skills, including creative thinking, innovation, inquiry, and analysis, evaluation and synthesis of information
  • Communication skills, including effective development, interpretation and expression of ideas through written, oral and visual communication
  • Empirical and quantitative skills, including the manipulation and analysis of numerical data or observable facts resulting in informed conclusions

Extra credit may also be earned by correctly answering entry and exit quizzes given during lecture meetings. The entry quiz is based on a topic on which students are expected to prepare before lecture, and the exit quiz is based on the lecture itself. The quizzes are answered on the required 3”x5” index cards that students bring with them to each class/lab meeting. Points accumulated by correct responses could add up to five points on the final exam.

Tests
There are three online, proctored chapter tests throughout the course of the semester.  

  • All chapter tests are found within MyLab Math and are comprised of 20 questions that must be completed within 75 consecutive minutes. Tests cannot be opened, saved, and returned to at a later time.  
  • Students may use one index card with notes on the front and back, an approved calculator, and blank scratch paper which is provided.
  • All exams are taken in the Math Emporium computer lab during the students’ regularly scheduled lab time. Students must have their MavID with them on exam day and are required to sign in upon entering and exiting the lab.  
  • Prior to taking each exam and the final exam, students must take an “Acknowledgement Quiz,” which is designed to stress the importance of reading instructions in MyLab Math. Banda learned this practice after having too many students request credit for problems when they got the answer “right” but didn’t enter it in the terms expressed in the problem’s instructions. The Acknowledgement Quiz consists of three questions: the first question is an orientation question, written by Pearson; the second question asks what model calculator the student is using, and the third question is, “I understand how important it is to read blue verbiage next to MyLab Math problems,” to which students must type in, “I acknowledge” or “I agree.” Since implementing the Acknowledgement Quiz, Banda reports that she receives little to no student complaints about students’ grades because they know she can point to the quiz as proof that they were supposed to read instructions.
  • Partial credit forms are available for the chapter tests, however. Upon completion of each exam, students are allowed to review their answers. At that time, they may fill out a partial credit form and request partial credit on up to three questions by turning the form into their instructor or a lab assistant in the Math Emporium. Those questions are then hand-graded, and partial credit is awarded based on the work shown by the student. Students cannot earn credit for any problems not originally attempted and answered during the exam, and partial credit is not available on any retake of a chapter exam.
  • Questions for tests are pulled from homework assignments and quizzes. The tests include about 18 questions plus an essay question, which the department implemented in Spring 2015. Students must write 3–5 sentences discussing a topic; the essay question is worth ten points (hand-graded by an instructor), and all other questions on the exam are worth five points (auto-graded by MyLab Math).

Final exam
The final exam is a comprehensive, proctored exam containing material from all 30 sections covered over the course of the semester.  

  • The final is found within MyMathLab and is comprised of 30 questions that must be completed within 140 consecutive minutes. The final cannot be opened, saved, and returned to at a later time.  
  • Students are allowed to use two index cards with notes front and back, an approved calculator, and blank scratch paper, which is provided.  
  • The final exam is taken in the Math Emporium computer lab.
  • There is no partial credit for the final exam; however, up to five bonus points can be earned by accumulating points throughout the semester from correctly answering entry and exit quizzes.

In addition to the MyLab Math features noted above that students use, instructors also take advantage of various MyLab Math gradebook features, including Search/Email by Criteria and Item Analysis. Banda says she may use Search/Email by Criteria to find any students who scored lower than a 30 on the exam to remind them that they have the option of retaking it. “It’s nice because students think you’re emailing them individually, but you really aren’t. It’s a huge time saver.” Banda believes that students who receive these emails realize they are not just another number in a sea of students, but rather their instructor is paying attention and cares about their success in the course. Exporting grades is also easily done in MyLab Math, according to Banda, and she does it all the time, as well as looking at the Item Analysis report from the gradebook to tell where students are struggling on each assignment. With this information, instructors go over difficult concepts during the class meeting, and Banda uses it to determine if a question is not valid or if they should modify their instruction as a whole department on the topic.

Assessments

  • 50% MyLab Math chapter tests
  • 25% MyLab Math comprehensive final exam
  • 20% MyLab Math homework/quizzes
  • 5% Attendance

The two lowest homework grades and one quiz grade are dropped at the end of the semester.

In the event a student is not satisfied with one of their three chapter exam scores, he or she may ask their instructor for a retake. Only one retake on a chapter exam of the student’s choosing is allowed, and it must be taken on a specific retake date as well as completed prior to the final exam.

Results and Data

We have significantly more Algebra completers than ever before           as a direct result of guiding students to the most appropriate Algebra class.

A summary of student success rates for the College Algebra course since its inception in Fall 2012 (UTA’s baseline semester) was provided. Results are compared to similar semester types, Fall to Fall and Spring to Spring. Figure 1 depicts the course’s success (C or better) rate. The success rate in Fall 2012 was 46 percent. Fall success rates have steadily increased each Fall semester, rising as high as 63 percent in Fall 2015, a 17 percentage point increase. For spring semesters, the success rate has remained fairly steady with a slight increase, going from 39 percent in Spring 2013 to 42 percent in Spring 2015, a three percentage point increase. Bobby Childress, Learning Resource Coordinator, attributes Fall’s increase both to the course redesign and to the change in population that occurred in Summer 2014 (see figure 3 and preceding explanation). He also stipulates that Spring’s lack of change is simply because those students who take College Algebra in the spring are typically either repeaters or had to take a remedial course in the Fall, so, therefore, may not be as academically prepared for the course.

College Algebra success rate

MyMathLab_UTArlington_CollegeAlgebra_Figure1

 

Figure 1. College Algebra Success (C or Better) Rate, Fall 2012–Fall 2015 (n=4,629)

In addition, each semester, the department assigns each student a 0–5 score based on their course grade (A=5, B=4, C=3, D=2, F=1, W=0), and then those scores are averaged to arrive at each section’s score. Childress explains, “We have found that modelling the data in this way gives us a greater idea of the success of each course or semester. A flat ABC/DFW rate can at times be too broad to identify incremental success in a course.” The difference, he says, is accounting for the withdrawals. “A student who works the whole semester but fails the course is different than a student who doesn’t show up after the first exam but never actually withdraws. That student fails the course, too, but shouldn’t receive the same score as the one who worked all semester. Therefore, we consider those students withdrawals and assign them a 0.”

Figure 2 depicts the average course rating of all College Algebra sections from Fall 2012–Spring 2015. In Fall 2012, the baseline semester, College Algebra sections averaged a score of 2.3. Fall semester ratings have consistently climbed, most recently scoring 2.9 in Fall 2014—while just a .6 percentage point change, this is nonetheless a 26 percent increase. Spring semesters have stayed relatively the same at 2.0–2.1.

College Algebra course rating

MyMathLab_UTArlington_CollegeAlgebra_Figure2

 

Figure 2. Five-Point Scale College Algebra Course Rating, Fall 2012–Fall 2015 (n=4,629)

One major change the course experienced was a drop in enrollment from 2014 to 2015 (Figure 3). Childress explains that in Summer 2014, the department strongly encouraged a shift in advising patterns across campus to guide the students to the most appropriate Algebra course for their degree plan. “Looking at the majors of those students in historical sections of MATH 1302 (College Algebra), we found large numbers of non-STEM degree seekers. While most non-STEM degree plans continue to require at least six hours of math credit, the College Algebra course was never intended to be a terminal course. Instead, it is designed as a precursor to higher-level math courses: Preparation for Calculus, the Calculus series, etc.) for those degree plans requiring additional math credits. As such, a much better alternative Algebra course for non-STEM degree seekers is our Contemporary Mathematics course, MATH 1301.” Childress maintains that while they have fewer students in the College Algebra course, they are the more appropriate students to be in there, thus affecting overall course performance metrics and the course ratings.

The Fall 2014 semester saw the beginning of this change, and Childress says the department continues to see its effects, as demonstrated by the population changes, even in Fall 2015: “We have significantly more Algebra completers than ever before as a direct result of guiding students to the most appropriate Algebra class.”

College Algebra enrollment

MyMathLab_UTArlington_CollegeAlgebra_Figure3

 

Figure 3. College Algebra Enrollment, Fall 2012–Fall 2015 (n=4,629)

The Student Experience

According to Banda, students had mixed reviews about the course set-up at first: some appreciated it because it offered them free tutoring, while others didn’t understand why they had to come to the lab when they could do the same thing on their couch at home. Now that faculty are focusing on coaching and mentoring, Childress reports that the students are seeing more of a benefit of being in the lab. Student quotes from feedback surveys written and deployed by UTA in Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 confirm Childress’s beliefs. In particular, survey respondents understand the benefits of required time in the lab:

  • “I appreciate having a good and steady place to work and learn math.”
  • “This is one thing that I really enjoyed about this math course. By giving students a set time to work on homework and providing help in the math emporium really ensures that students are keeping up with their work and understanding it.”
  • “Having a great environment to focus on math like the Math Emporium was very helpful.”

Quotes from the survey also reveal that respondents realized the importance of the instructors and teaching aids being in the lab to help them:

  • “Anytime a student in the lab had a question, the professor would be really good at answering their individual questions. Same goes for the student helpers. All were very well-educated in their subject and helped as best as they could.”
  • “The helpers truly live up to their name, because they will answer any questions that you have on the math course.”
  • “Having student helpers (TAs) that had already gone through the same course was very helpful towards feeling more comfortable asking questions and how reliable their help was.”

Additionally, the institution of FLEX time, where students can come to the lab at any time has met the department’s goal of making the lab available to students when they are able to come, as evidenced by student quotes from the survey:

  • “The fact that the professor would use this time to communicate any news to the class was great. I liked that you could kind of meet the hour requirements at your own pace, and not necessarily the assigned times; this made it easier with work and other classes. I think the emporium hours is an adequate way to make sure we are actively doing homework.”
  • “Flexible lab hours helped to accommodate my busy schedule as an adult student with a full-time career.”

Finally, selected quotes from the survey regarding students’ thoughts on MyLab Math are:

  • “The homework and quizzes helped a lot, and the examples of some of the questions really helped me understand what the question was asking for.”
  • “The amount of homework was perfect and with it all being on the computer it removed mistakes that could be made on paper.”

Conclusion

We work together as a team more now than before. Before, people worked alone as islands, for the most part. Now we talk and work through course issues together.

 

While Banda, Childress, and the department are very pleased with the improvements made thus far to the course, they continue to evaluate and modify their course. One example of a change they’ve made recently is allowing the option of flex time. “Flex time really helped,” says Childress, “We want to be able to work with [students] if need be. If they have a class across campus and can’t stay in the lab the whole time, we’d rather them come for a little bit than not at all. Flex time allows them to get credit for the time they are there.” In fact, Childress says requiring attendance in some way is his best recommendation for anyone considering an emporium or hybrid model, “If you don’t have an attendance requirement there, they don’t come. Intrinsic motivation isn’t worth anything to students, but points are!”

Banda says one change they are contemplating making in the near future is using Learning Catalytics for the entry and exit quizzes instead of pencil and paper. “That would give us instant information, and we could use it throughout the discussion session to increase the active learning in the classroom.” Childress also plans to further research and analyze students’ academic history in order to plot out what kinds of students will have the most success in the program. By doing this, Childress hopes the department will be able to see which students are struggling and what they as instructors and a department can do or change about the implementation to help those students succeed.

In conclusion, Banda believes that even though they’ve realized their goal of increasing student success, they still haven’t realized the true impact of the new format, though she thinks they’re on the right path. “It was a tough transition for our faculty—three new faculty were hired at the same time to try to get everyone on board, and I was one of those new people coming in, telling them we needed to change things. Those faculty who were willing to do whatever it takes to help students were the ones who really made a difference. They had open minds and saw the benefit of fixing what was broken.” To help get faculty on board, Banda has instituted team meetings where instructors teaching the course meet on a bi-weekly basis, plan how to tackle topics, and discuss what is working and what is not. “We work together as a team more now than before. Before, people worked alone as islands, for the most part. Now we talk and work through course issues together.” She continues, “It’s had an impact on our faculty for sure. Some took a year or more to buy in, but those who stuck around—the other course coordinators, especially—are seeing the benefits.”

Learn more about UTA’s instructors and listen to them talk about their experiences with MyLab Math.

 

MyMathLab is now MyLab Math. New name. Same experience.

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