Northridge Math

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October comments

The project:
This project focuses on improving passing rates in Math 103, mathematical methods for business.  Our method is to implement a hybrid lab course, Math 103L, to run parallel with math 103 for students who fail the mathematics placement test (MPT). (In Fall 2007, roughly 90% of students failed the MPT.)  This lab attempts to connect, in a concrete way, the prerequisite material for the course to the course material.   We also give students the opportunity to fill in any gaps in their background.  The format, starting Spring 2008, will be a hybrid lab course with the following structure:
•    Online: They run through a commercial online learning system that takes them through the prerequisite material in an individually tailored way.  This is done by repeated assessments that then direct students to the next topics that they are ready to learn.
•    In class: Students have a scheduled one-hour weekly meeting with a graduate assistant.  In this session, they work in small groups through modules that are correlated to the material in math 103.  The GA will facilitate the groups, but no lecturing will be done.

The modules will be based on the extensive list of practice problems for the final that was developed this term in collaboration with all the math 103 instructors.  This can be found at:
http://www.csun.edu/~kfs4816/103/Exams/practice_final_problems.pdf
An easier way to get there is to go to my website for math 103:
http://www.csun.edu/~kfs4816/103
And click on the link at the top that says:
"click here for practice problems for the final"

Lessons learned from fall 2007:  
In fall 2007 we implemented the online part of this lab as an experiment. The students were assigned to GA’s who were responsible for holding 5 hours a week of in lab office hours and keeping track of the progress of each of their students. The majority of the students are now progressing well through the system.  However, the following issues came up as we started the term.
1.    The logistics of assigning 400 students to GA’s by hand was a nightmare.  We did it this way in the fall because we did not know how many students we would be handling.  Never again!
2.    Completely online courses for first-time freshmen are very problematic.  Getting students set up and working on the course too much longer than we wanted, thus limiting the effectiveness of the online program in helping the students pass math 103.  Specifically the logistical problems were
a.    Contacting students via csun emails to give them instructions is a problem because many students do not even know that they have a csun email.  However, we have no other way of contacting them, so in many cases we had to wait for them to contact us.
b.    Getting students to focus time on the online lab when we are competing for their time with traditional, “face time” classes.  Clearly it is harder to ignore a class where you are forced to SEE your instructor weekly.
c.    Dealing with students who “did not know” that they should have been in the lab.  In many cases these were students who signed up for the lab in order to be able to register for math 103 and then turned around and dropped the lab.
3.    More work needed to be done to connect the prerequisites to the learning goals of math 103, so that students could directly see how their work in the lab related to the course.
4.    More cooperation and coordination is needed from instructors to make the lab work effectively.
a.    Instructors need to be knowledgeable and informative regarding math 103L.  Then need to have the attitude that the lab is part of their class even if it is not directly linked to their section of the class.  This is a matter of training and coordination.
b.    Instructors need to check periodically, that students who should be in math 103L are enrolled, and before adding ANYONE to math 103, they must get a confirmation of enrollment in math 103L where appropriate.  In the spring the eligibility form will include the MPT and/or Math103L requirement.

Solutions to be implemented spring 2008:
1.    Students will sign up for sections of math 103L via the registration process.
2.    The course will be hybrid so that it is easier to help students get started on the online part of the course and to keep track of their enrollment and progress as the term progresses.
3.    Make up the 103L modules to bridge the gap between prerequisites and course material.
4.    Require that all instructors attend a pre-term meeting where the lab is explained in detail.  This was done in the fall but many instructors were unavailable to attend.  In the future, if teaching math 103, instructors will be required to attend this meeting.

Work still to be done before spring 2008:  
This winter we will have a student work on converting these problems into webwork problems (where appropriate).  They will make up the modules for math 103L as well as being incorporated into next term’s homework assignments for math 103.

Plans for the future:
We may ultimately run a few completely online sections of math 103L to provide our, very busy, students with more options.  However, this will require a lot of work on the computer savvy of our students as currently very few have the technical abilities, the equipment, and the maturity for a completely online lab.

Unexpected windfall of consistency across multiple sections:
The project of making up the modules has had an unanticipated windfall for the consistency of the class.  Math 103 has a common final, which is commonly graded.  At the end of the term each instructor’s class grades are plotted on a box and whisker plots graph (see example below).  As a result instructors are very eager to be sure to make their course consistent with the course goals.  Having the problem modules available to the public allows the instructors to know what to focus on in their class.  Having the GA’s work through the modules according to a common schedule will motivate the instructors to follow along with that schedule.  We have also made the source code from the problems available to all instructors.  This is a .tex document with pdf's embedded.  The idea is that they will find it useful for making up their exams by simply modifying the problems.

Sample of Box and Whisker plot for final exam.
 
Figure (1)
Box and whisker plots for Instructors 1 through 10.
The first and third quartiles are shown at the lower- and upper-ends of the boxes.
The horizontal line inside the box shows the median.

In spring 2007 only Sections 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, and 9 were commonly graded.  In fall 2007 all sections will be commonly graded.



 
 
 
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