Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
Dr. Paul Nolting's Academic Success Press Blog: A Publication Dedicated to Math Success
Welcome to the Academic Success Press Blog! Part One of a Two-Part Interview with Learning Specialist Dr. Paul Nolting
Hello! Welcome to the brand new Academic Success Press blog! Academic Success Press, Inc., is dedicated to making the classroom, modular, and emporium model learning experiences less difficult, while improving student learning. We want to transform the classroom into a more successful environment where educators and students can use inventive learning techniques based on sound academic research.
Created by Dr. Paul Nolting, a national-expert on math study skills and learning disabilities, the Academic Success Press blog will focus on myriad issues, including: improving math success, learning disabilities, study skills, affective characteristics, helping Wounded Warriors, and many more. In the immediate future, we plan to pay particular attention to the developmental math course redesign movement.
With this in mind, we thought we’d begin with a two-part interview with the man himself.
Dr. Nolting was kind enough to get the ball rolling by answering a series of questions about what he plans to accomplish with this blog. He also answered questions regarding current trends in the world of collegiate mathematics. Feel free to return next Monday, when we’ll run the second section of the interview, which focuses predominately on disabilities, online math courses and outside-of-the-classroom support services.
Check back Wednesday (April 15) for the rest of this interview! In the meantime, check out our other posts, which will be updated at least twice a week.
ASP Blog: Good morning Dr. Nolting! I’ll start with the most obvious question: Why did you create this blog, and what are your plans for it in the near and distant future?
Dr. Nolting: Mainly, I wanted to give instructors resources that might help their students become more successful. [On this blog] we’re going to talk about different issues such as math redesign, disability issues, and how to help students become more successful through tutoring. It’s going to be an informational process. We’re going to have certain experts come on and talk about different topics: tutor training, improving math success, working with students with test anxiety, disabilities, etc. Hopefully readers can take this knowledge and apply it to their own classrooms.
ASP Blog: With all of that in mind, are there any trends within the world of mathematics and developmental learning you want to focus on specifically?
Dr. Nolting: The biggest thing right now is that many states have mandated redesigns for developmental math courses. Universities and colleges are already in the middle of these redesigns, even in states that have not mandated changes. They are looking at different ways to improve course success. When we look at the redesigns themselves—there are many different types—we have a lot of students that are having a hard time keeping up. Many universities and colleges have reached out to me to help with the redesigns because some students are doing better than others in these courses. That’s another major part of this blog: how to make redesigns more effective. We’ll specifically look at ways to supplement redesign efforts to make students more successful.
ASP Blog: Great! For the uninitiated, do you mind explaining exactly what these “redesign movements” entail? If I’ve done my homework correctly, they seem to focus on developmental math, no?
Dr. Nolting: Exactly. Redesigns involve having students get through developmental math courses faster, or they are designed to eliminate developmental courses all together. [Before the redesign movement] some students were required to pass two or three math courses before they could take credited math courses. This sometimes caused problems for students and colleges alike.
The other issue is that in non-algebra courses like finite math, students really didn’t need intermediate algebra to be successful. So if we could streamline the process and have students go directly from pre-algebra courses into these non-algebra courses, this eliminates developmental courses. The same thing was true with statistics courses. A lot of people were requiring college algebra for statistics courses. Florida, for instance required intermediate algebra courses for statistics. We found out that these statistics courses mostly involved learning concepts unique to the subject. So states such as California are now going straight from pre-algebra to statistics. So the big picture is fewer students taking developmental courses and more students getting into the math sequence for graduation.
ASP Blog: Right. A lot of these issues came up at the National Math Summit you co-chaired, correct? Can you tell me a little bit about this summit, maybe how it came about and what it ultimately accomplished?
Dr. Nolting: The National Math Summit came about in 2013, because instructors associated with NADE and AMAYTC and MAA felt that universities needed help finding success with redesigns. Many states were requiring these redesigns, and presidents of universities were coming down and telling math departments to change the system to make it more successful; however, they weren’t telling them how to change the system. Instructors did not have the input to give to the administration on how to become more successful with the redesign. So the math instructors who were a part of these organizations came to their officers and said that they wanted to have some sort of training. About five years ago, I worked with Hunter Boylan, who is the head of the National Center for Developmental Education. We talked about how to do a math summit. At that time, we had somebody ready to help us out, but that didn’t work out. Then I approached AMAYTC, and they were kind enough to host the first summit.
That first National Math Summit, we gathered all the national math experts in the area—from the Carnegie Foundation, the Dana Center, from NADE from AMAYTC, myself—and hosted a panel. We brought in 150 people to have experts explain to instructors the best way to go about redesigns. We developed plans of action. So now the instructors could go back to their presidents and say, “I’ve listened to the national experts on the subject, and we want to change the system to make it more successful.” Over the next couple years, we had another summit at AMAYTC, and two more at NADE. The idea again was to support instructors.
We’re having another one in 2016 at NADE. This one is going to be more about evaluating the results of the math redesigns. Currently, we are into these redesigns and there is not much research on how it is going. I’m particularly interested in figuring out what type of redesign works best with what type of math student.
ASP Blog: And what about these students themselves? What, exactly, do students need to do to become more successful in these redesigned, streamlined courses?
Dr. Nolting: We discussed this at length at the National Math Summits. We soon isolated a common theme: a lot of the redesigns made students learn math faster, more independently, and more on computer based systems. What this added up to was that students must become better independent learners. In fact, four of the six national panelists indicated that making students become better independent learners was the main focus of these redesigns. You may not be able to change the curriculum, but you can change the student’s ability to learn.
This involves teaching math study skills, not only in the math classroom, but also in the emporium model, in modular systems, and also in accelerated courses. Accelerated classes move twice as fast as regular math courses. They cover the same amount of material in eights weeks that most courses cover in 16, which is saying something because college courses move three or four times faster than high school courses. That’s one of the major themes. How do you make a student a better learner? And how do you construct redesigns to meet the needs of different types of students.
ASP Blog: What is the best redesign program? And which of them concerns you the most?
Dr. Nolting: What we’re finding out is that there isn’t one particular program that works best for everybody. In fact, the research says that colleges and universities should have at least two or three different designs for students because we have different types of student populations. Often what happens is that when students are going into say an intermediate algebra class in Texas, using different types of designs will better the chances that different types of students can find the courses that best match their learning profiles. Now, saying all that, in doing my consulting, I found that strict modular systems—where students work on their own in front of a computer with paper and pencil, usually with one instructor or tutor—got the least amount of results. This model is the one I’ve been ask to consult about the most. With those, you can still be successful, but you really need to do what we call “pull outs” where you pull students out for mini-lectures. This allows you to integrate math study skills and group work. Because what we know is that students learn in radically different ways. They have multiple learning styles.
One of the better designs I’ve seen is the co-requisite design in that you actually have a course attached to a course. In other words, if you have an accelerated eight-week math course and you attach a study skills course, which probably lasts about five weeks, they can use these skills immediately. A lot of colleges are going to this model because it is much more successful. The Dana Center, out of the University of Texas, recommends that your first math course should involve a co-requisite course on studying and learning. This makes it easier for students. We understand now that a lot of the variance with students and their grades depends on their motivation.
Dr. Nolting is a national expert in assessing math learning problems, developing effective student learning strategies, assessing institutional variables that affect math success and math study skills. He is also an expert in helping students with disabilities and Wounded Warriors become successful in math. He now assists colleges and universities in redesigning their math courses to meet new curriculum requirements. He is the author of two math study skills texts: Winning at Math and My Math Success Plan.
American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges presenter, Senior Lecturer-Modular