MyLab Math with MyLabsPlus educator study looks at Contemporary Math course outcomes at University of Texas Arlington
- Despite more than tripling enrollments in one semester and experiencing a subsequent drop in ABC rates, success rates rebounded quickly and increased to a never-before-seen rate of 84 percent in Fall 2015, up 8 percentage points from 75 percent in Fall 2012 (baseline semester).
- Coordinators hope to create more consistency across sections by increasing the use of their math lab for the course but currently do not have the capacity to do so.
University of Texas Arlington, Arlington, TX
Face to face
MyLab Math with MyLabsPlus for A Survey of Mathematics by Angel, Abbott, and Runde
Fall 2012–Spring 2016
Shanna Banda, Learning Resource Director
Bobby Childress, Learning Resource Coordinator
Results reported by
Traci Simons, Pearson Customer Outcomes Analytics Manager
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. The Carnegie Foundation in 2016 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 Contemporary Math course covers material in a traditional algebra course together with real-world applications of mathematics. It develops problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Topics include the mathematics of dimensional analysis, mathematical logic, population growth, optimization, voting theory, number theory, graph theory, relations, functions, probability, statistics, and finance.
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 “gateway courses problem.” She started with College Algebra and Statistics, teaching them in a hybrid emporium format where students meet in small sections one time per week and in a larger lab section two times per week. However, due to the number of students that filter through the lab each day (sometimes upwards of 1,000), they quickly ran out of space and time for any other courses. Thus, Banda decided to implement some small changes in the Contemporary Math course with the hopes that eventually it will be taught in the same format as College Algebra and Statistics courses.
To accommodate the numbers and lack of space, the department decided to continue their face-to-face format, using MyLab™ Math as a supplement to the instruction. Students are still required to go into the department’s Math Emporium Computer Lab for their three chapter tests and their final exam. Banda hypothesized that having students in the lab for testing would maximize what little time and space is available for the course in the lab, create some uniformity across the course sections, provide immediate feedback on tests for students, and decrease the amount of grading instructors have to do.
Contemporary Math sections meet face-to-face with instructors in a traditional format. Outside of class, students are expected to complete homework and quizzes in MyLab Math. They can do this either on their own computer or at the department’s Math Emporium Computer Lab, which is staffed at all times by an undergraduate tutor—and 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. The lab is available to Contemporary Math students to get tutoring, but time in the lab is not required. The only time going to the lab is required is for the three chapter tests and the final exam. Most graded work in the course is completed within MyLab Math, with the exception of some in-class, paper-pencil quizzes.
Homework and Quizzes
All homework and quizzes are assigned in MyLab Math and are made 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.
- Homework assignments are set for unlimited access up until the due date. Students have three attempts per question before getting counted wrong and unlimited times to ask for a similar exercise; however, only two attempts are allowed on quizzes, which each have a 45-minute time limit and must be completed once opened. The best scored attempt is recorded for grading purposes. Quizzes cannot be saved and resumed later.
- Students may also have in-class paper quizzes and assessments. These quizzes may or may not be announced in advance, so students are encouraged and incentivized to come to class prepared.
- All homework assignments include learning aids to help students through the material. Quizzes do not include the learning aids, except in review mode once the quiz has been submitted.
- 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 easily installed through the Browser Check in MyLab Math.
Tests and Final Exam
There are three online, proctored chapter tests throughout the course of the semester.
- All chapter tests and the final exam are found within MyLab Math. Tests are comprised of questions that must be completed within 45 consecutive minutes, and the comprehensive final exam is timed at 135 minutes. Tests and the final exam cannot be opened, saved, and returned to at a later time.
- For tests, students may use one 3×5 index card with notes front and back, an approved calculator, approved formula sheets, and blank scratch paper, which is provided. For the final, students have access to all the above, and they are also allowed two 3×5 index cards.
- Approved formula sheets are supplied by the instructor and lab tutors for all tests.
- All exams are taken in the Math Emporium Computer Lab during the students’ regularly scheduled class time. Students must have their student ID with them on exam day and are required to sign in and out upon entering and exiting the lab.
Extra credit may be earned by correctly answering entry and exit quizzes given each class meeting. The entry quiz is based on a topic over 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 3×5 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.
In addition to the MyLab Math features noted above that students use, instructors also take advantage of various MyLab Math gradebook features, including Email by Criteria and Item Analysis. Banda says she may use Email by Criteria to find anyone 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, and you really aren’t. It’s a huge time saver.” 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. Equipped with information from the Item Analysis report, Banda and other instructors either address students one-on-one about where they’re struggling, or, if the entire class is having trouble understanding a concept, they use time in lecture to cover it. Banda feels that this helps students feel like they are recognized and not just another student, but rather their instructor knows them and cares about how they’re doing in the course.
- 50% MyLab Math chapter tests
- 30% MyLab Math final exam
- 20% MyLab Math homework/quizzes
Two of the 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, they 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
A summary of student success rates for the Contemporary Math course since tests started being taken in MyLab Math in Fall 2012 (UTA’s “baseline” semester) was provided. Results are compared to similar semester type, i.e. Fall to Fall and Spring to Spring.
One major change the course experienced was a dramatic increase in enrollment from 2014 to 2015 (figure 1). Bobby Childress, Learning Resource Coordinator, 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.” Thus, more students were advised to take the Contemporary Math course than ever before.
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.
Contemporary Math enrollment
Figure 1. Contemporary Math Enrollment, Fall 2012–Fall 2015
Figure 2 depicts the course’s ABC rate. The ABC rate in Fall 2012 was 75 percent. Fall ABC rates have increased on average since that beginning semester, rising as high as 83 percent in Fall 2015, an 8 percentage point increase from Fall 2012. For Spring semesters, the ABC rate has fluctuated, rising from 60 percent in Spring 2013 to 67 percent in Spring 2014, only to fall to 54 percent in Spring 2015. The spike in enrollment may be one explanation for the dip in student performance (ABC rates) in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015. Childress explains the results: “We have attributed the drop in Fall 2014 and Spring 2015 to the enrollment increase due to advising practices, which came about in Summer 2014. Students who were likely going to fail in College Algebra now failed in Contemporary Math,” explains Childress, “There unfortunately wasn’t a way to avoid that. However, the ABC rate rebounded for Fall 2015 to a level yet unseen, which is encouraging.”
Contemporary Math ABC rate
Figure 2. Contemporary Mathematics ABC Rate, Fall 2012–Fall 2015 (n=2,887)
In addition, the department assigns each section of the course a numerical score (0–5 scale) each semester. Each student in the section is assigned a score based on their course grade (A=5, B=4, C=3, D=2, F=1, W=0), and then that score is averaged to arrive at the section’s score. Childress explains, “We have found that modeling 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 as withdrawals and assign them a zero.”
Figure 3 depicts the average course rating of all Contemporary Math sections from Fall 2012–Spring 2015. In Fall 2012, the “baseline” semester, Contemporary Math sections averaged a score of 3.48. Fall semester ratings have fluctuated, dipping to 3.26, but most recently climbing to 3.72 in Fall 2015. Spring semesters have also fluctuated, moving from 2.84 up to 3.10 and then down to 2.48, again, Childress posits, due to the influx of more students.
Contemporary Math course rating
Figure 3. Five-Point Scale Contemporary Math Course Rating, Fall 2012–Fall 2015 (n=2,887)
Childress explains, “To me, the data demonstrates that our efforts are working and substantiates all the long hours and difficult projects our office has endured to effect the necessary changes and bring our programs to their current level.” He continues, “Above all, as long as data are trending in the positive direction, we feel positive about our efforts. I do not think we ever feel complacent about our success rates either, and we are always trying to find areas upon which we can improve in each course and respective modality.”
The Student Experience
In a voluntary, end-of-semester survey written and distributed by UTA, Contemporary Math students reflected on MyLab Math and its merits. Selected responses to that survey include:
- “The online homework helped me to really understand the course materials, and it helped that the textbook was available right there on certain problems.”
- “I really liked having all of the homework assignments that helped make sure we could solve it, but they had the information there to help solve the problems.”
- “MyLab Math was very helpful for preparing for exams.”
- “The Study Plan in MyLab Math was very helpful in preparing me for my exams.”
- “MyLab Math helped me learn the material more than anything else.”
- “The online homework and quizzes helped a lot to for my time management.”
- “I love MyLab Math with MyLabsPlus. I have never had a online homework system like this, and I am so happy with it. Being able to view examples and step-by-step solutions really helped me. I expected to struggle in my math class, and instead it is my highest grade.”
When Banda first came to UTA, she was tasked with improving outcomes in the gateway courses: College Algebra, Statistics, and Liberal Arts. However, those course enrollments are so high, that there is not enough room in their Math Emporium Lab to allow all courses to use it for instruction. Thus, Banda decided to implement a requirement that all exams for Contemporary Math would be taken in the lab with the intentions to decrease hand grading for instructors, provide immediate feedback for students, maximize time/space in the lab, and create consistency across sections.
Banda and Childress are happy with the results in the Contemporary Math course. Even though they had a large influx of students, their results are still higher than they were prior to implementing MyLab Math and testing in the lab.
Banda looks forward to letting the shift in course enrollment settle before implementing any more changes to the course; however, she says that implementing a full-scale hybrid method where students are required to spend three hours per week in the lab “isn’t off the table yet.”
MyMathLab is now MyLab Math. New name. Same experience.