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
Dr. Nolting Speaks with Dr. Nancy Sattler about Future AMATYC Initiatives, Technology, and the Current State of Developmental Mathematics
In anticipation of the upcoming 2017 AMATYC conference, Dr. Nolting recently reached out to past-president Nancy Sattler for an in-depth conversation about many of the issues that will no doubt dominate proceedings come November. The following post contains the bulk of this conversation, drawn from an email exchange last month. Enjoy!
Paul Nolting: Why don't you start by describing your educational background, as well as your history with AMATYC?
Nancy Sattler: I have a bachelor’s degree in pure mathematics with a minor in science. My master’s degree is in math education with an emphasis on post-secondary mathematics. My Ph.D. is in higher education with two minors – one in educational technology and the other in research and measurement.
I have worked as an adjunct faculty member at Terra Community College in Fremont, then a full time teacher, then department head for mathematics and science, a curriculum chair, then association dean, and then dean of Arts & Sciences and Business and later dean of Liberal Arts & Public Services. I began teaching part-time in 1983 and have taught continuously since then.
I have taught a variety of mathematics courses during those 34 years but have primarily taught developmental mathematics. I began teaching online back in the 90’s when I went into administration so I could continue to teach at Terra. Ten years ago, I began teaching at Walden University in their Mathematics Education Program. I am the lead faculty for two classes – Curriculum, Instruction, & Assessment, and the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics.
I helped start the Ohio Mathematics and Science Coalition and serve as its Treasurer. I also was a member of Ohio’s Educator Leader Cadre that was in existence for a number of years. Our job was to promote the Common Core Standards. I took part in national assessment meetings as well as state and local meetings.
I attended my first AMATYC Conference in Seattle in 1991. I presented the results of my Thesis for my Master’s degree which was on Placement Testing. I went to the Placement and Assessment Committee meeting that year and two years later became chair of that committee. After chairing that committee for three terms, I chaired the distance learning Task Force for AMATYC and then went on to become chair of the Distance Learning Committee. Soon after, I began Treasurer of AMATYC for two terms, then vice president of the Midwest region, and then was elected president-elect.
In December, I will conclude 12 years on the Executive Board of AMATYC. I have co-chaired the committee to revise the AMATYC Standards and am pleased that the delegate assembly will be voting on the document in November in San Diego.
Nolting: How would you describe the current state of college developmental mathematics and first credit courses on the national level?
Sattler: Some states use placement testing or ACT or SAT scores to determine college readiness. Other states are using state end-of-year tests or common core assessments to determine college readiness. In the last few years, there have been great changes. Many states have decided that students are taking too long to get to credit courses and have suggested finding alternative pathways.
The Dana Center has worked with many states, including my own state, to create alternative pathways recognizing that not all students will have a STEM career. The Carnegie Center’s Math Pathways program with Statway and Quantway are quite similar to the Dana Center’s.
Some states are using assessment results to place students in a first year credit course, but require that they take some type of bridge course in addition to the credit course. It might be that a student will take a 3 credit hour college algebra course but enroll in a five hour course. The extra two hours are used for “just in time” mathematics.
Many schools across the nation are changing the mathematics requirement to a quantitative literacy course for non-STEM majors. It is no longer college algebra for all. Three years ago, in November of 2014, the AMATYC delegate assembly passed a position statement that prerequisite courses other than intermediate algebra can adequately prepare students for courses of study that do not lead to calculus.
Now students throughout the nation have options of statistics or quantitative literature for their first credit course in mathematics and sometimes this is the only course that they are required to take.
Nolting: How has the national math redesign movement affected success rates in developmental math courses and first credit courses, and how can colleges/universities determine which math redesign (Modular, Emporium, Accelerated, Contextual, Co-curricular/requisite) is best for which type of student?
Sattler: Some states have legislated to do away with developmental mathematics courses in colleges or universities. Other states, such as Florida, have legislated to do away with requiring placement tests, allowing students to skip developmental mathematics courses in colleges. Ohio’s universities can no longer offer developmental mathematics courses and there is a movement to have developmental mathematics courses offered through Adult Literacy Programs.
The Ohio Mathematics Initiative (OMI) is a collaborative effort of mathematics faculty members from the state’s public colleges and universities and Ohio high schools that is revisiting and rethinking mathematics courses and curricula and the relationship of mathematics to other disciplines.
One catalyst for the initiative is the need to better align course options to students’ academic and career goals. In addition, OMI is a response to the establishment of Ohio’s Uniform Statewide Standards for Remediation-Free Status, which guarantees placement into college credit-bearing courses for all Ohio students achieving at or above a benchmark assessment score and matriculating to an Ohio public college or university.
Ohio has recognized that much of 21st-century science and engineering is going to be built on a mathematical foundation. Yet, the reach of the quantitative sciences doesn’t stop there. They are fueling innovation and discovery in many areas including Medicine, manufacturing, transportation, communication, finance and other economic enterprises depending on the mathematical sciences, which consist of mathematics, statistics, operations research and theoretical computer science.
Some schools mandate the type of redesign that is going to be used at certain institutions. I was a dean for a good number of years, and I recognize that teachers know their students best and should be the ones to decide any redesign. I do not prefer a top down approach, but rather collaborative discussion to determine what is best for the students and their success. Some students are self-directed learners and can work independently while others need a great deal of hand-holding and support. What works for one, does not work for all. Students are individuals who learn differently. Some are visual learners, others prefer to read/write while others are auditory learners or kinesthetic learners. There is no “one size fits all." Some students who are highly motivated can take an accelerated course while others will be discouraged and drop out.
Nolting: Has the redesign movement decreased the number of developmental courses? Have these courses been replaced by credited math courses? If so what do you think about this trend of co-requisite credit courses?
Sattler: At my own school we are having fewer developmental mathematics courses. We used to have an arithmetic course that could be taken in a semester or split into two semesters. Then we had a beginning algebra course and an intermediate algebra course. Students who did not have the proper skills had to take these courses before enrolling in statistics or college algebra, which have been the first transfer level college courses offered at Terra. It could take a student two years to take the prerequisite courses and Terra is a two-year school. We now have fast tracked the curriculum and combined courses. This is similar to what is being done across the country.
Some schools are now offering college level courses adding on a bridge course to help students fill in the missing gaps. Years ago, when I first began teaching, we used to offer a one credit hour course in decimals and a one credit hour course in fractions. Students would take a placement test and part of the test concentrated on decimals, and part on fractions. If students earned less than a 70% on one of these areas, but did well in the algebra portion of the placement test, they would enroll in a credit course but also take a one credit hour course in either decimals or fractions. My college discontinued this policy when we switched to the ASSET test because the scores were not broken down by decimals, fractions, whole numbers, and algebra. To me what is being done now is similar to what we did then with a great deal of success. I am not sure how the co-requisite idea will work now because it is not focused on one particular area. Institutions need to keep copious data to determine the effectiveness of this approach.
Nolting: Do students being placed into higher level math courses that move three to four times as fast as high school courses need to become independent learners? Why?
Sattler: Absolutely. I have had many high school students in my classes and they are surprised on how fast the course moves. Some teachers are using a flipped classroom approach with their students with some degree of success. More and more colleges are going to hybrid and totally online mathematics courses. Students taking these courses need to be self-motivated and independent learners to be successful.
Nolting: How can we help the lowest level developmental math students? Do we consider them lost souls? I have heard that some states, colleges and universities are writing these students off.
Sattler: I have always said that we need to be cheerleaders for our students, especially the ones who lack the confidence to do mathematics and do not have a strong mathematics background. I believe that all students can learn. Some students need more support than others. Many states will no longer accept students who need remediation. Students enrolled in Ohio universities must take developmental mathematics courses at community colleges. Some states have pushed down developmental mathematics courses to adult literacy programs.
Nolting: What are some support strategies to help all levels of developmental math and first year courses? PAL, SI, embedded tutors, math study skills, math lab, co-requisite courses? How has technology impacted what is being done in the classroom?
Sattler: Different states and different schools offer different levels of support to developmental and first year mathematics students. Some schools require that students take a study skills course if they are enrolled in a developmental mathematics course. Other schools embed student skills into the developmental course. Many schools provide students with a free Math Lab where they can go to get help in a particular topic or provide tutors to the students. Students may or may not take advantage of these services.
Technology has helped students receive tutoring at a time that is convenient for them. According to a recent survey published in Campus Technology, three out of four college and university students think technology has had a positive impact on their academic success. Their preferred tech tools are laptops and smartphones, and they look to their institutions to provide the software applications and resources they need. And most are satisfied with the variety of IT resources available to them.
Those findings and more came out of a SurveyMonkey Audience study of 601 U.S. adults ages 18–44 who are currently enrolled as students in two-year, four-year or graduate school programs. The survey was conducted from Sept. 9–11, 2017; respondents came from an online SurveyMonkey Contribute panel of people who volunteer to complete SurveyMonkey surveys each month in return for charitable incentives.
The survey revealed a wealth of insights into students' use of computing devices, attitude toward technology and awareness of campus resources. More than half (54 percent) of students surveyed bring at least two internet-connected devices with them to campus. Another 22 percent bring three to four devices.
Nearly all students (92 percent) use smartphones on campus; 72 percent use laptops, 23 percent use tablets. Notably, 53 percent of respondents took the survey on a mobile device (iOS or Android phone/tablet).
The majority of students (66 percent) said their overall technology experience at school has been excellent or good. What's more, most students (75 percent) said technology has had a significantly positive or positive impact on their academic success. Just 3 percent said the opposite.
When students were asked what technology issues have a negative impact on their academic success, they most frequently cited connectivity issues and internet access on campus. About one in five students (21 percent) rate their school's wireless network coverage as merely "fair or poor." (Fifty-five called the WiFi good or excellent.)
Out of all students who bring at least two devices with them to campus, 76 percent said their laptops contribute most to their academic success; 40 percent thought their smartphones were most important to their studies. Only 12 percent cited tablets, and 9 percent cited desktop computers. However, 24 percent of students said laptops are banned from one or more of their classes, while 38 percent are restricted from using smartphones.
I believe teachers should use the technology, not ban it. SMART phones can be used to take polls in class. Computers and/or SMART phones can be used to access the Internet and allow students to use real world data in mathematical problems. We need to make the technology work for us in the classroom.
Nolting: We have been focusing on concerns and discussing some solutions. Now let's focus on national solutions. AMATYC has had Crossroads One and Two as documents to help improve math success. Now it is working on a document called AMATYC IMPACT. Can you describe what this is all about?
Sattler: I am very pleased with the progress that we have made on AMATYC’s third standard’s document. AMATYC IMPACT stands for Improving Mathematical Prowess and College Teaching
The word “PROWESS” references extraordinary ability as well as distinguished bravery. AMATYC has created four pillars of PROWESS as an innovative way to enhance students’ mathematical ability and bravery through recommendations for continuous improvement of college teaching in the first two years of college. These pillars are:
SS student success
AMATYC IMPACT was designed to inspire educators to improve mathematics instruction by developing PROWESS in their students (Proficiency, Ownership, Engagement, and Student Success) and to assist instructors to view themselves as a key part of an extended educational community. We hope AMATYC IMPACT encourages fruitful conversation and productive dialogue on how to create an environment of learning that is supported by research.
This document does not only introduce the concept of the four pillars of PROWESS, but also the importance of the role of stakeholders and of research specifically targeted for mathematics education in the first two-years of college.
AMATYC is seeking input on the document until December 31. Feedback for the document can be given at www.amatyc.org/IMPACT
The document will be fine-tuned during the first few months of 2018. It will be printed and available to our members who attend our 2018 conference in Orlando. We will have an online version and hope to have a web-enhanced version of the document that will offer help to classroom teachers on implementing the suggestions of AMATYC IMPACT.
I am also pleased to tell you that AMATYC has created a “Mathematics Standards in the First Two Years of College” committee which will focus on promoting the AMATYC standards, as well as maintaining the digital products to support those standards. The goals of this committee are 1) to establish and implement a marketing campaign including but not limited to a series of regularized activities to promote widespread implementation of the standards in the first two years of college mathematics, 2) to establish and implement the web presence for the standards, 3) to submit articles centered on the standards for the AMATYC News and the MATHAMATYC Educator at least once a year, 4) to establish and implement a process of regular review of the standards in the same manner as the position statements are reviewed regularly, 5) to ensure consistency among the standards and other AMATYC documents, and 6) promote the standards beyond AMATYC members.
AMATYC will be seeking grants to enable us to provide standards-based professional development opportunities for our members
Nolting:The National Math Summit pre-conferences and workshops, sponsored by AMATYC and NADE, have provided solutions to math redesigns. What has your role been in these summits, and what are the plans for the next summit?
Sattler: I was aware of the first summit, which took place during our AMATYC board meeting, so I was unable to attend the summit. I helped plan the second summit and am chairing the group that is planning the third summit in Orlando in November of 2018.
The planning team has surveyed past attendees and asked them what information they have used from the 2013 and 2016 summits. The top answer (59%) said that they used information that they learned about Modes for instruction (Alternate delivery, hybrid, distance learning, face-to-face). 43% mentioned accelerated learning and 41% mentioned study skills. When asked what type of information they would like to see at the next summit, 62% listed assessment of redesign, while 56% mentioned that they would like to learn more about pathways.
We are looking at the data to determine where we should place the emphasis, and we are having a panel discussion at the AMATYC San Diego conference this fall.
AMATYC is happy to have you, Annette Cook from NADE, Julie Phelps from both AMATYC and the MAA, and Paul Wilhite, who chairs AMATYC’s Developmental Mathematics Committee. Participants have the opportunity to dialogue, discuss, engage, and question the four of you national leaders in the field of developmental mathematics education. The plan is to discuss outcomes from the National Math Summit 2016 and share preparations for the National Math Summit in 2018 in Orlando.
Because the focus of the summit is on pathways, credit courses will be discussed at the summit. The planning committee will discuss modifying the name so that college administrators realize that the summit is not just about developmental education.
Nolting: If you had one suggestion to improve math success what would that be?
Sattler: We need to make mathematics relevant to our students. They need to realize how mathematics can be used in their everyday lives.
I have been involved with TPSE Math - Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics, sponsored by Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. The aim of TPSE is to effect constructive change in mathematics education at U.S. community colleges, 4-year colleges and research universities.
The vision of TPSE is: Post-secondary education in mathematics will enable any student, regardless of his or her chosen program of study, to develop the mathematical knowledge and skills necessary for productive engagement in society and in the workplace. Its mission is to facilitate an inclusive movement to strengthen post-secondary education in mathematics by working closely with--and mobilizing when necessary--faculty leaders, university administrations, membership associations, and relevant disciplinary societies in the pursuit of mathematically rich and relevant education for all students, whatever their chosen field of study. TPSE Math will identify innovative practices where they exist, advocate for innovation where they do not, and work with and through partners to implement and scale effective practices.
I am proud to be part of this initiative as we work together to make changes in the way mathematics is taught.
We need to teach our students the four C’s of 21st-century learning that have been identified by the United States-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) as the most important skills required for 21st century education: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
The message that I would like to leave your blog readers is “be a collaborator and a life-long learner.” The Internet makes the world a much smaller place. We can meet Face-to-Face or electronically. We can share information through Google Docs, we can Skype or FaceTime to have discussions with our students and with our colleagues. I have spent the last two years working with a great group of AMATYC members to create our third standards documents. Most of the collaborative work has been done through Google Docs and Zoom meetings. It is easy to collaborate and learn from one another. All it takes is making it a priority. I believe that collaboration is key – we all need to work together for student success.
My 96-year-old mother told me that she learns something new every day. I also try to learn something new each day and encourage all teachers to do the same. Through life-long learning and collaboration we can make a difference in the lives of our students.
Dr. Paul Nolting Speaks with Dr. Julie Phelps about Stoking Student Curiosity and Helping Students Succeed in Modern Math Courses
Hello readers! Today, we are proud to present Dr. Nolting's interview with Dr. Julie Phelps. Phelps is an award-winning math professor at Valencia College. At different points in her career, she has worked with or assisted several national math organizations, including: AMATYC, the Dana Center, Achieving the Dream, and the Carnegie Foundation.
Dr. Nolting and Dr. Phelps discuss numerous topics, including math redesign, the role national math organizations play in student success, and the creation of the first National Math Summit. Most prominently, Phelps discusses her belief that motivation is central to student success and that modern math instructors must make students understand the real-world value of the math they learn in class. Enjoy!
Dr. Paul Nolting: First of all, I’d like to thank you for doing this. I know that you have a long history of helping students, colleges, and organizations improve math success. Why don’t you start by telling me a little bit about your background.
Dr. Julie Phelps: Sure! After high school, I received an athletic scholarship and a music scholarship to attend Indian River Community College (now Indian River State College). I still remember my shock at how much I received for my tennis scholarship compared to the music one, because the athletic one paid so much more. They paid for my room and my books, whereas the music scholarship would have just covered my classes—so I saw certain inequities there.
When at community college, I tutored people from both of my networks: from the orchestra and from the tennis team. My college algebra teacher asked me, “Have you ever thought about teaching or tutoring at college?” I said, “You can get a job doing that?” And he told me, “Yes, a really good job.” I have to say, tutoring in college was a great growing experience. I realized that I loved teaching, and I loved “turning the light on.” There was something about those “Aha!” moments that had me hooked.
I grew so much more during community college than I had when I was younger; I started realizing the direction I wanted to go and that my ability to explain math to others was the best way for me to get there. I then went off to Florida Southern College where I was a math major. I taught for a few years after I graduated, and that was a really good experience. I did an internship at two different high schools, and anytime I was with a class full of students, I was always impressed by the diversity. I kept thinking about how the stories of these students had yet to be written—every student was an individual, and I remember thinking about where they were going to end up was really cool. I couldn’t wait to find out more.
I then taught high school for three years, and in my first year I was asked to present high school projects for high school students at the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia in 1994. This was a unique experience because I was in my early-twenties and people were coming up to me after my presentation asking about where I had found the activities I had talked about. This was funny, because I had really just looked around to figure out what students were actually interested in—where they saw algebra and geometry in real life.
Then I decided to go back to graduate school. I got my master’s in math, and I won a couple of teaching awards. I won an Athlete Selected Choice Teacher award as a teaching assistant after athletes at the University of Central Florida said that I had been one of the motivating factors for helping them earn good grades. I also won a graduate assistant teaching award at UCF, then an adjunct teaching award that next year at Valencia College.
In 2005, I got my doctoral degree in education and curriculum instruction, with a specialty in community college education and leadership.
Nolting: What are some of the organizations you are currently working with? I have always seen you as the glue between a lot of these organizations, because your expertise has allowed you a lot of input nationally.
Phelps: The biggest one right now is AMATYC. I have been working on their new standards document. They had two previously—ten years apart. The first one was Crossroads, and the second was Beyond Crossroads. This one will be called IMPACT, which stands for Improving Mathematical Prowess and College Teaching. Prowess itself stands for, proficiency, ownership, engagement, and student success. To improve college teaching, these are the pillars that need to be followed.
I’m also working with the Math Association of America on a document they are writing. It’s their instructional practice guide and it’s to help new teachers figure out teaching practices. The document focuses on classroom practices, curriculum design and assessment.
I’ve also worked with Achieving the Dream for many years. I was the director at Valencia College between 2005 and 2009. We are still known as a leader college. Our practices involved learning communities, where we decided to put developmental math within a student success course, and we used supplemental instruction, which we called “supplemental learning.” In order to have true ownership at an institution, faculty need to be really involved in conversations about changing initiatives. The faculty didn’t like the title, “supplemental instruction,” because they wanted it to directly address learning as opposed to instruction. We did this because of faculty input, and I believe that is why our program is just as successful now as it was when we started it in 2000-2001.
While at AMATYC, I was also the liaison to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as well as to the Charles A. Dana Center—so I was a technical assistant adviser to both organizations, working on math redesign. Several initiatives came out of these organizations—notably Statway and Quantway. The Dana Center, after further conversations at AMATYC panels, also [initiated] the new Mathways project.
Nolting: How has working with these groups been beneficial to you?
Phelps: At the University of Texas there is the Community College Center for Student Engagement—I am associate faculty for them. I have done state workshops with them talking about how to use and sense CCCSE data. I love this because it has allowed me to get familiar with other state-based organizations and their policies. Working with these, along with Achieving the Dream, AMATYC, and all the other organizations, has allowed me to look at states differently than an educator who is just in Florida or just in New York, which doesn’t give you the broad picture nationally of all the change initiatives that are taking place.
Nolting: What about the National Math Summits, how did you get involved in those?
Phelps: I know it is hard for you to take credit for this, Paul, but I remember you walked up to me at NADE in Orlando in 2012, and you said something like, “with all of the changes going on in the nation, it is time for us to move on this. It’s now or never. We have got to get all of the stakeholders involved in this conversation, and we have to see how quickly we can get together all these people and faculty who are capable of figuring out how to make a difference, and talk about all of these movements and help those who aren’t as familiar with education make appropriate decisions.”
You were really passionate about it.
Nolting: I appreciate that. A lot of us worked together, and you were one of the key team members who managed to pull it off, twice. What do you think the summits have achieved so far?
Phelps: So, I want to use a story about a teacher from Maryland who was a mentee of mine, and I believe yours, at one of the summits. She presented with us a year later, and she said, “I was one faculty member, and the summits gave me the courage to try something in my classroom, then take it to my administrators and make a large-scale change at my institution.” She went on to say that, “I would never have had the courage or the knowhow and wouldn’t have understood what my administrators were looking for, if the National Math Summit hadn’t taken place.”
Another person stated how much it had impacted her, and we asked her to be a mentor and a design tech. She is at a four-year college, and she researches developmental math, and she has been a part of AMATYC for as long as I can remember. Her research is on self-efficacy, and I recently wrote a paper with her. She talks about how she can influence future educators and help people make an administrative impact. She says that a lot of teachers don’t know the research behind learning. They are math majors and haven’t taken education courses. She believes [the summits] influence those at universities that focus on teaching to help people understand the large changes that are happening in the nation, and gives [people like her] a chance to influence future educators.
As for me, yes, I was a member of the group in this, but it really gave me a new network of connections. As you know, Paul, around the time of the first summit, our state was passing a law, Bill 1720. The law stated that any student who started and finished at a Florida high school no longer had to take a placement exam and could start in college-level courses. That network of people from the summit gave me an opportunity to reach out to other experts. It is hard to be a prophet in your own land; in Florida, I am just Julie from Valencia College. But I could reach out to you, to Uri Treisman (executive director of the Dana Center), to Rikki Blair (past-president of AMATYC), and grab research papers, and say, “Here is what people are saying nationally about creating appropriate pathways for students to get through college and earn a degree in a meaningful fashion.” Does this mean that every student must take intermediate algebra? I think not, but the summit allowed us to have rich conversation because of the connections we made.
Those are just three examples. I could keep going forever.
Nolting: Getting back to the redesign movement itself, what has it accomplished, and what do you think will come next?
Phelps: One, I think AMATYC’s statement about intermediate algebra not being a gatekeeper course and that students should choose pathways according to their major is a huge accomplishment in terms of policy. But policy hasn’t quiet made it as far as it needs to go yet. Community colleges can make so many changes, but we can’t do it without the four-year institutions and universities following suit in seeing that pathways are significant. I think we are starting to see major changes in this in California and Ohio. Florida has got some great things going on, also Utah and Texas. But there are still obstructionist states. The big picture is not completely there yet.
I think that with all the redesigns, the other thing that is really cool, is that we are finally getting research that deserves attention at the community college level. People are paying attention to it. I do also believe that community college faculty and people who love community colleges and the students who need us the most, they are getting involved now in the research. We have seen that at AMATYC, having a research committee that has grown significantly since the first math summit in 2013. Since then, I can say that that committee has quadrupled in membership. Research institutions are partnering with community colleges to get a better sense of learners at community colleges, particularly math learners and developmental learners.
I really do think we are finding some things that are working. Have we found a silver bullet? No. Is there a silver bullet? No.
Nolting: Right. I’ve been looking for one for years. First, I thought study skills might be it, and it helped a lot of people. Then I had a lot of students with disabilities, and I researched that, which helped a lot of people. There are a bunch of what we call “bronze bullets,” which leads us to the next question. With everything changing—both in terms of the technology we use and the way in which we offer classes—what remains constantly important for student success?
Phelps: The inspiration and motivation of students. If a student is not ready or doesn’t really want to learn, it is near impossible to help them. I keep saying this because it’s a gut feeling I have about redesign. We always have to keep in mind that motivation is key. Any redesign we do, we need to help students recognize that they want to learn.
I was watching Talking with Chris Hardwick the other day, and Neil deGrasse Tyson was on. He talked about how his love of learning started as a child, and he said that what always makes him sad is that when students graduate from high school, their books pile up. Most of them think, “I never have to look at these again.” Don’t they understand that lifelong learning is part of their journey? Don’t they understand that curiosity shouldn’t be killed?
He said that curiosity needs to be stoked. I love that idea, because with math particularly, it is often all about step one, step two, step three—where is the curiosity in that? How do we motivate students to ask the right questions? Innovations only happen when people think outside the box and think bigger. That is really where my gut feeling is. To have a society of individuals, we need to figure out ways to get students to start asking questions again.
I always think about how when you are in first grade, you are like Macaulay Culkin in the movie Uncle Buck—you ask questions rapid fire. [In that movie] John Candy asks him, “What is your record for most questions asked in a minute,” and [Culkin] says something like 94. Candy says, “Well, I think you just beat it,” and [Culkin] answers, “I know.” Having taught different grades, having worked as a camp counselor and everything else, I have watch the hands go down as children get older. When you ask Kindergartners a question, they make guesses—they’re curious. By fifth grade, you see the hands go down a little bit more. By high school they don’t want to look like they don’t know the answers already, or they don’t want to be viewed as a nerd. Finally, by college, students believe they aren’t as smart as one of their classmates and that [this smart student] should ask all the questions. It’s just a bizarre way that we have trained our society on education, and I would really love it if we could come up with a design that promotes creativity and innovation and gets people outside of the box again.
Math is fun! Let’s figure out how to keep it fun. So that is the message I feel most strongly about. I don’t know that we talk about this enough from that perspective.
There is a message on this that I learned in the fifth grade, a poem, actually. I have students who walk in and literally say, “I can’t do this.” I think that mindset is a big piece of the puzzle, so I always go back to this poem. I know it as “The Winner,” but apparently it is known as many other things across the Internet. I’ll just do three verses of it:
If you think you’re beaten, you are.
If you think dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but you think you can’t,
It is almost certain, you won’t.
If you think you’ll lose, you’ve lost.
For out of the world we find,
Success begins with a fellow’s will
It’s all in the state of mind.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man,
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the fellow who thinks he can.
That to me is the message students need to hear. They need to be their own cheerleader, their own motivator. If they aren’t, we need to find a way to give them confidence, that ability, that structure, that belief.
Nolting: That leads right into the article you recently wrote with Linda Zintak on self-efficacy—that the new designs and new technology can only help so much. Until we work with students on self-efficacy, until we help them deal with anxiety, with learning strategies and techniques, we can’t give them everything they need. I personally see this as our main function now. In some cases, this plays a bigger role in success than does instruction itself—especially in modular and emporium models where instructors act more as supervisors. I’m glad this is entering the conversation, as people like you and I have been working on this stuff for nearly 20 years now. Modern students simply must become better independent learners.
Phelps: I’m working on a NSF grant, which involves “utility values”—the value of the math students [are being taught]. If they don’t see value in it, they don’t want to learn it. There are all sorts of conditions that can hinder that. We are also looking at Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset." It is interesting how many students have a fixed mindset. Many students simply don’t think they can do math.
I also just finished reading Jo Boaler’s fantastic Mathematical Mindsets book again. These things that we are talking about that seem intangible in some ways, people are starting to be able to put their finger on it, putting into words answers to questions like: what is the mathematical mindset, what does building self-efficacy look like, how do you make a student see the value of mathematics?
Some people call this the science of learning. Like you said, you’ve been doing this for years—but now there are more people paying attention to it and researching it. It is an exciting time to be a part of this.
I’d like to refer back to what you said about modular and emporium models. Many national organizations are openly saying that this is not the best way to teach students. So it is interesting to see that we are still mentioning them. I think it does still work for some classes that are extremely skills based, but if you are learning skills in the absence of where they are actually used, are you really learning? That is my main question. I don’t want to criticize any particular curriculum, but if students don’t attach value to where they are going to use math, then are they truly learning these skills? Or are they just memorizing them for a moment? There are a lot of discussions to be had, and I don’t think by any stretch of the imagination that we are done researching, here.
Nolting: Yes. The places I have really seen modular and emporium work is at schools where they have integrated study skills or successful math labs. They discuss the learning process, rather than just having students turn on a computer and maybe ask questions to one or two people who are walking around trying to help.
Moving on, I’m wondering how you envision the future of developmental education—especially now that first-credit math courses are now directly integrating developmental aspects. What do you think will happen in this regard, and what would you like to happen?
Phelps: I’ll approach this as an instructor. I am currently teaching a first-credit course, and I am teaching it as an intensive, so I’m combining intermediate and college algebra as one six hour course. With this senate bill, I have students that are at so many levels. This is the first time as a professional educator that I have such a big difference between students at the low end and students at the high end.
I have students that have taken and passed calculus, but because they didn’t have to take a placement test, they were placed into intermediate algebra (because they chose to do so). Then I have students who chose not to take a placement test, and they haven’t taken a math class in two years. Now they are taking a math class, and without a calculator, they can’t effectively add, subtract, multiply, or divide.
My job, and I think this is how I envision curriculum in general, is to get all these students to want to learn math, to want to use math to make a difference. I’m thinking of my current class in particular. We can do fun things that show how and where algebra is actually used. We can get them out of the fixed mindset that says, “curriculum math is curriculum math and real-world math is real-world math.” We can relate everything to quantitative literacy. That is my whole goal now. Because I am a math educator first, I believe that my main focus for redesign is to help students become quantitatively literate and to make informed decisions when they read the newspaper or watch the news. There are so many things that are false in the digital world. Students know how to play digitally; they don’t know how to learn digitally. So I think quantitative literacy is where we need to go. Therefore, math curriculum should be redesigned to create a quantitatively literate society.
Nolting: What is happening across the country, is that more and more students are taking classes above their ability level—either by choice or by design. What are some strategies, outside of the math department, to help these students, especially those that are placed into their first intermediate algebra course? SI? Tutoring? Study Skills? Co-requisite courses?
Phelps: I think that part of the job administrators and educators have to do at institutions is to remove the stigma that is attached to tutoring. There is less stigma attached to supplemental instruction because the wording involved usually implies, “this is a hard class, so we are giving you mentors in the class who have already been successful and are willing to show you the ropes.” This makes it more like an apprenticeship, and that removes the stigma.
Study skills are also important. Getting students to realize that studying math is different than studying poetry is critical. Math study skills and time management are incredibly important. I’ve really enjoyed studying the effects of mandatory supplemental instruction. This organically embeds math study skills.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to train tutors and supplemental instructors in motivational theory and study strategies in addition to content. Content is only one part of their job. They need to be able to motivate students, help them figure out how they learn, and assist them accordingly. Students need to feel connected to the content in order to figure out the direction in which it will be applied.
Nolting: Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers of the blog?
Phelps: Pay attention to students! Learn from them. If a student presents an answer, and you don’t know how they got there, ask them how. I once asked a man who came back to school in his thirties, how much would you tip on a fifty-dollar check? He counted on his fingers for a second, then he said, “10 bucks!” He explained, “If I count by fives to get to fifty, I know that generally works.” This started a whole new conversation about why that would always work. If you are tipping a dollar for every five, what percentage are you tipping every time? It was really cool. All of a sudden, I saw my class get hyper-excited about learning from this older gentleman (who, by the way, thought he was never going to succeed at math). He said, “I’ve always heard people talk about moving the decimal point, but I could never figure it out. But I learned if I count by fives until I reach the dollar amount, I’ll always leave the correct tip.” The students were excited about this. It blew the entire class’ mind.
So what I am saying is: always try to learn from your students!
Hello readers! A lot of exciting and interesting things are going on right now in the world of college mathematics. With this in mind, we thought we'd share links to a few recent news articles that caught our attention.
"Award-Winning Documentary Series Explores Why Math Matters" (Penn State News)
The Pennsylvania College of Technology (at Penn State) is set to release an interesting documentary this Fall about the real-world applications of mathematics. Entitled, Working Class: Game On! Why Math Matters, the film includes an appearance from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who describes how to better market math-based careers to college students.
"Several Departments at USU Remove MATH 1050 as a Degree Requirement" (Utah Statesman)"
In recent months, we have kept track of the changes major universities are making to their math curriculum regarding developmental math and degree requirements. Here is yet another story on the subject from a college newspaper—this time at Utah State University.
"Adult Education Classes Teach Reading and Math to Thousands for Free--including Adults with Diplomas" (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch reports on a fascinating adult education initiative intended to help former students pass high school equivalency exams. Free of cost, the program also takes on struggling high school graduates who do not want to pay for remedial classes at community colleges.
Thoughts on Alice Kolb and David Kolb's "Learning Styles and Learning Spaces: Enhancing Experiential Learning in Higher Education."
As a part of an overall effort to augment and diversify his consulting work, Dr. Nolting often takes time out of his busy schedule to keep up with recent journal scholarship and revisit classic articles, which have been of use to him in the past. In this spirit, a few months ago, he returned to a classic 2005 entry from Alice Y. Kolb and David A. Kolb in Academy of Management Learning & Education, which brilliantly describes the ins and outs of experiential learning.
Calling for the use of learning style assessments, the authors encourage teachers to establish “learning spaces” capable of servings students who prefer any one of four major learning styles (Concrete Experience, Active Experimentation, Reflective Observation, and Abstract Conceptualization). This goal resulted in one of the most famous extant learning styles surveys.
During a recent training seminar at Indian River State College, it struck Dr. Nolting just how well this research gels with the math-specific learning styles and modalities he describes in his own research and consulting. This considered, he wanted to share a few thoughts on the importance of educating tutors and professors on how learning styles affect learning in the classroom, tutoring centers, and beyond.
"I cannot stress enough," Dr. Nolting says,
how important it is to help students and faculty understand the concepts of learning styles and how they affect math learning; especially in the era of math redesigns. I see this more and more as I travel the country.
For more, please read the original article, which is available at JSTOR.
Alice Y. Kolb and David A. Kolb, Academy of Management Learning & Education Vol.4 No.2 (Jun. 2005) pp 193-212)
The Math Anxiety-Performance Link: A Global Phenomenon (Allen, Herts, Borgonovi, Guerrerio, Levine and Beilock)
Following up on last week’s post about the physical pain some students feel when anticipating a math class or math test, we thought we’d pass along another fascinating study—this one from earlier this year. A team of psychologists from the University of Chicago recently teamed up with the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development to explore the “global phenomenon” of math anxiety. Their results are very much in line with Dr. Nolting’s work and offer a fresh take on an issue that grows increasingly relevant with every passing year. We strongly encourage you to read the entire article (available here).
The importance of this study—published in Current Directions in Psychological Science—cannot be overstated. As argued by the authors, math anxiety will only continue to grow in significance as multinational efforts steer entire generations toward STEM-based professions. This means that “the fear of apprehension about math" should be “considered when trying to increase math achievement, and in turn, STEM career success.”
Among other key takeaways, the authors demonstrate that childhood development plays a major role in math anxiety and that parental units often pass down their own math aversion to their children. The article also cites studies that show how math anxiety negatively affects math performance by “depleting working memory resources.” These difficulties are prevalent in all countries around the world—including those that highly value math achievement (particularly those in East Asia).
As for treating math anxiety, the authors suggest that “self-regulation, emotional control, and reappraisal of physiological threat responses hold promise.”
Dr. Nolting recently used the information in this article while training faculty and students at Miami Dade College in Peer Assistant Learning (Tutoring). His own thoughts on how its findings can be used on college campuses and particularly tutoring centers are as follows:
"PAL students (tutors) need to be sensitive to students with anxiety. Many STEM students have math anxiety, and tutors need to be able to provide suggestions on how to handle it. With this in mind, at Miami Dade, I taught PAL students about the two types of anxiety: emotional anxiety and worry anxiety. I trained them to help students with various anxiety reduction techniques (discussed in my Winning at Math textbook), as well as effective test-taking strategies. Students with extreme anxiety, of course, should be referred to a supervisor. Still, PAL students are capable of providing basic anxiety reduction techniques, test-taking strategies, and homework strategies even as they tutor students on content."
Again, we strongly recommend reading this entire study, which only confirms how important it is to equip math anxious students with the tools they need to overcome their struggles.
For more, see: Current Directions in Psychological Science 2017, Vol. 25 (1) pages 52-58
Authors: Alana E. Foley, Julianna B. Herts, Francesca Borgonovi, Sonia Guerrerio, Susan C. Levine, and Sian L. Beilock.
Over the past few months, California officials have made waves in the national media with several systemic adjustments to the math requirements in their state colleges and community colleges. While we will reserve our own commentary on these changes for a later date, we thought it might be helpful to guide our readers to various news articles published throughout the summer, which detail what the state is doing to help non-STEM majors get through their general education requirements.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Cal State plans to drop placement exams in math and English, “as well as the noncredit remedial courses that more than 25,000 freshmen have been required to take each fall.” (link)
This elicited a strong reaction from readers. (link)
Here is another piece on the same subject, this one from the New York Times. (link)
One month earlier, the LA Times also reported that the chancellor of the California Community Colleges system aims to eliminate the intermediate algebra requirement for non-Stem majors. (link)
Last week, Dr. Nolting stumbled upon a fascinating article at PLOS One about the physical effects of math anxiety. He and the rest of us at Academic Success Press found it incredibly groundbreaking. In it, two cognitive scientists, Ian M. Lyons and Sian L. Beilock show that math anxiety triggers “activity in regions associated with visceral threat detection.” This causes students who suffer from high math anxiety to feel something close to “the experience of pain itself” when anticipating “math-related situations.”
Given the pedigree of the academics involved—Beilock is now the president of Columbia University’s Barnard College—the article carries a lot of weight. Its authors asked students to complete a word task and a math task while measuring neural activity using fMRI. During these tests, students with math anxiety showed upticks in activity in regions of the brain associated with pain perception.
Lyons and Beilock ultimately concluded that these results may “provide a potential neural mechanism to explain why [students with high math anxiety] tend to avoid math and math-related situations, which in turn can bias [them] away from taking math classes or even entire math-related career paths.”
Fascinating, fascinating stuff.
For more, the entire article is available at:
Lyons IM, Beilock SL (2012) When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math. PLoS ONE 7(10): e48076. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048076
Also, if you would like to know more about how physical environments affect human behavior, check out one of Sian Beilock's books (listed below). Both are well-received and serve as good introductions to the indelible link between the human body and mind.
Nolting: I know a lot about your background, having worked with you on different projects
and seeing you at conferences, but for our readers, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your mathematics background and your current position.
Rineck: I currently have a master’s degree in mathematics. I’ve been teaching math for eleven years at [The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee], and I am currently also working on my Ph.D. in math education. At UW-M, I teach and coordinate Math 94—Foundations of Elementary Mathematics. We start with students who have an ACT level of less than 16, and we go from basic math all the way up to beginning Algebra.
Nolting: I know you have attended and presented at AMATYC and NADE conferences. Can you describe what you spoke about?
Rineck: I have talked quite a bit about the course I teach and coordinate. It is a unique course in that it is a vertical redesign—so we don’t teach material in the same order we would normally teach math in. We teach it in a modular design, where we talk about definitions of all the items we are using, then we do operations, then we do solving—we solve inequalities and equations together—then we do applications. I have also talked about how to incorporate manipulatives and formulated assessments into courses. Manipulatives are not just for elementary and middle school students, they help conceptual understanding for adult students also. I have had a number of students really enjoy [manipulatives], as they can finally understand why integer operations work the way they do.
Nolting: Yes. I have had the same experience with manipulatives. You started talking about the design of your course. Can you go into a little more detail—specifically the types of students who are taking your class?
Rineck: The math course is a six-credit course. It is all developmental mathematics, so it is six-credits for financial aid and payment, and it is zero credit toward graduation. It is accelerated, so students do two or sometimes three classes in one semester.
It is designed in a way that we define everything thing. So in the first module, we define what a number is, what types of numbers there are, how to plot things on number lines and coordinate graphs. But we also discuss complex numbers and how to plot them on complex grids; the properties of real numbers; exponents and exponent properties, even rational exponents. The second module is operation—with all these [same] topics. For instance, in our addition section, we add everything: integers, rational numbers, rational expressions, polynomials, complex numbers, and radical expressions—all at the same time. This way students actually see the connections with all of these topics. They have been taught so often “This is how you add a fraction” and “This is how you add a polynomial” and “this is how you add a rational expression” but they don’t see the continuity between those three things. We try to reinforce that continuity.
Nolting: So they take six-hours, but they can complete one or two courses during that time?
Rineck: Right. If they complete their online homework before the middle of the semester, we actually let them accelerate into a credit-bearing class. They stay in the same classroom and do the material we are working on, but we do have time built into the class for reviews and working with manipulatives, so that during those same class periods, the students who have accelerated work on their credit-bearing material.
Nolting: You teach at a university. I’m wondering how these courses play out with the types of students you have?
Rineck: It works really well. UW-M is virtually an open-access university. I think right now 85-90 percent of applicants are accepted. It is an urban university, so we have a lot of commuters and non-traditional students. About 35 percent of the students in my course are international. We have twenty percent students of color. Five percent are veterans. The course is designed for student success. We try our best to make sure all students succeed. To that end, we require that all students be eligible to take exams. We require students to do their homework to be eligible to take an exam. Some of them get upset, but when I explain, “Why do you want to take an exam you aren’t ready for? Then you don’t do well and hate math even more. Let’s do our homework, let’s be prepared,” then all of a sudden they start succeeding in mathematics.
Nolting: I visited your classroom a few years ago, and I know the curriculum has changed. How has the success rate changed between then and now?
Rineck: Before our redesign, we had below a fifty percent pass rate for our developmental sequences. Currently, my course has a seventy-five to eighty percent pass rate, depending on the semester. Typically Fall semester is better than Spring—because in the Spring semester, we have a lot of repeaters. Frankly, that is my next goal: trying to figure out how to help these repeaters.
Then we also have a quantitative literacy pathway that also has a 75 percent pass rate. I think currently our algebra pathway, which is right above where I start, has about a sixty-five to seventy percent pass rate. My course is doing very well because it is very comprehensive. Students are required to be there—so the more math you do the better you get at it.
Nolting: I know that some institutions are really struggling to increase pass rates in modular course designs. Yours is about the highest I’ve ever heard of. Getting seventy-five to eighty percent—that’s higher than regular classrooms. What I’d like to do, is go step-by-step to describe the changes you made to your courses. First, can you explain the unique challenges of the modular design?
Rineck: The modular design typically requires mastery at each module. That is a little bit different than just getting a “C.” With modular design, teachers aren’t used to requiring mastery at every level. The pushback from students, and from teachers for that matter, can be hard.
Nolting: What would you tell students about what is uniquely difficult about modular courses?
Rineck: They have to be aware that this is not how they’ve ever learned mathematics before. I would hope that they have the support they need. A lot of times, I find that students are missing just one or two components. Then, all of a sudden, when they understand these components, they just fly. But they have to understand that this is a little different from how they’ve learned before, and they have to be open-minded to that. That is one of my great struggles right now. I keep hearing: “Well that is not what I’ve been told before,” or, “That is not how I’ve learned it.” Sometimes you just want to say, “Well…that may not have worked for you in the past, so let’s see if this way works for you.” So that open-mindedness really helps, for a lot of reasons.
Nolting: Right, so you are building confidence among students in both you as a professor and the design of the course itself. I want to get back to the step-by-step design of your course. Can you explain the curriculum—particularly how you flip the classroom with study skills and other materials.
Rineck: Yes. So the entire classroom is actually flipped. For the math materials—not the study skills materials, but the math materials—I have created videos and a workbook that goes along with the videos. Students watch these videos outside of class and attempt their homework and workbook work. The workbook has multiple points of entry. For the most part it goes from pretty basic material to pretty challenging material. What I am looking for is that students have tried the material and attempted the work so that when they come to class we can discuss where their difficulties were. Instead of going through the simple procedures, I’d rather have them try it, then we can talk about, for instance, what the difference is between a negative number and a negative exponent (as well as their similarities).
Then, for the math study skills component, I have them watch some videos on growth mindset at the beginning of the semester before they come into class. Once the class starts, I have them read your Winning at Math textbook. This is part of their outside homework. They do the study skills assessment, the locus of control assessment, and also complete some questions about what they’ve read. I find that students typically don’t have a problem with this, as it isn’t a math textbook, and students do actually like reading the book versus actually doing their math homework.
So that’s how I flip the classroom. It takes a lot of time, a lot of prep-work. But I’ve found it is very successful for the students who really try. For the students who struggle, they are able to keep watching the videos and reading the book until they finally get what is going on—this versus us going really, really fast in class, where students are just copying what teachers are putting on the board.
Nolting: How does the math study skills evaluation help students?
Rineck: It helps the students because they get a report at the end of the evaluation that tells them where they have good study skills, and where they need some help. It identifies the chapters in the book, which they can go to to get the help they need. It also identifies some pretty good warning signs for me, so that if a student has consistent scores except for one, I can stop and talk to that student and say, “I am pretty concerned about your test-taking strategies. Let’s talk about this so that you understand how to prepare for a test, and let’s see if that helps you in the future.” Or, if it is their learning and memory scores, I can ask about what their challenges have been in the past, and figure out if there are things I can do to help them ensure success.
So the study skills assessment is something I really push students to do—actually it is one of the requirements for students to take the first exam. This way, I know where students are coming from, and they know where they are coming from and what they need to do to help themselves.
Nolting: It sounds like the evaluation pinpoints the areas students need help in. They learn some of those areas outside of the classroom, and you probably teach some of those areas within the classroom as well. But what I am picking up from you is that you are able to go up to a student and say, “Hey, it looks like you are good here, but you need help here.” That’s exactly what I wanted this evaluation to be—a math diagnostic. You can go right to the study skills—often just one or two areas—and fix those things so that students can be successful in math.
Rineck: Totally. It has been such a valuable tool for me to use. If the scores for a whole class are low in say test-taking strategies, then we can set aside time to talk about test-taking strategies. We can talk about what we can do to improve test-taking. If the scores are low in note-taking, then we can talk about note-taking.
I do have to tell you a little anecdote: One of my students from last spring came up to me. She was really excited at the beginning of the semester because I email students and call everybody, and before they come to class, they have to watch videos on the “growth mindset.”
When she came to class, she immediately said, “You get me!”
I said, “Thank you! I hope so!”
Then she started with the study skills book, and she comes in like two weeks later and she says, “You know…I’ve never taken notes in math class. I have taken notes in all my other classes, but never in math class. I started taking math notes like the way the book describes, and I’m really starting to get it!”
I looked at her and I said, “Huh! Do you think there is a correlation there?” And she laughed.
I don’t think students realize that there are specific things you have to do to be successful in math, and if you do them you can be successful.
Nolting: I have some instructors tell me that they don’t have time to teach study skills. It sounds like this student may not have passed your class without reading about them. What would you tell instructors who are reluctant to incorporate study skills into the classroom?
Rineck: In my experience, having taught a lot of things now, I’m starting to learn that if you go slow, you wind up going fast. Taking time at the beginning of the semester to teach study skills, to teach test-taking strategies, to teach how to reduce test anxiety, students build the base they need. I teach this material during the early part of the semester and by the second half of the semester, they actually start going faster because they have the tools they need to learn the material. So yeah, it does take time, but eventually, because they start doing what they are supposed to be doing, it takes less time in the end. You do actually make up the time.
As promised, here is Part Two of Dr. Nolting's conversation with David Arendale. In the previous installment, the pair discussed the history of developmental education and how it led to present practices. Part Two explores what developmental education might look like in the future. Enjoy!
Nolting: What do you think we have learned about developmental education in recent years?
Arendale: I think that developmental education was not very responsive to change, and I think it was in a bad position about ten years ago, when the debate began to change regarding its role, its cost, and whether or not we ought to have developmental courses offered at all institutions or limit them to two-year institutions. There was not a lot of widespread, innovative work going on in developmental education. We were really slow to respond to the demands of legislators and public advocacy foundations like the Gates Foundation, College Completion America, and all of the others. We didn’t have a lot of great research, and we didn’t have lots of models. The thing is, we were doing good work, but we weren’t doing a good job of publicizing it, and I think because of the storm of criticism we are doing much better now.
I think we now understand that everyone doesn’t need to be placed into a developmental education course. Somebody came up with an analogy of a three-layer cake (it’s not mine). It used to be that everyone inside the cake was required to take some level of developmental education. The top layer includes students that don’t really need to take a developmental-level class before they can take other classes. Students in the top layer can probably be successful if they have supplemental education that provides necessary support. Then you have the middle layer, which includes students who have deep needs because they have let their skills atrophy after they have perhaps been in the job force for a decade and have forgotten things. This layer does need developmental education. The bottom level of this cake—and this is the more controversial layer—includes students who, for lots of reasons, are low in their ability to do some of the basic competencies in the areas we would expect: reading, writing, and mathematics. If you have students who have deep needs in all three of these categories, it might not be possible to make up for twenty years’ worth of deficits in one or two semesters. Maybe they do need to think about other options like trade schools and certificate programs. Frankly, some of those programs might give students more employable skills than they’d get while going into deep debt for a liberal arts degree. This seems harsh…but [colleges] might not be able to take care of students who are in the bottom layer, which is really a small minority, only about ten percent.
Nolting: Yes. I did some research on this at my college a while ago. A lot of people in the math department believed that the students enrolled in our lowest level math course, pre-algebra, maybe had deficits in other areas and just weren’t going to be successful in college. I found out that about seventy-five percent of those students were in one or no developmental courses. Students who were in all three developmental classes—we found it very difficult to help them. Especially students who were reading at a third or fourth grade level. That was tough.
A lot of our students are now being placed directly into credited courses. Do you think that these new first-year credited courses are becoming the new face of developmental education?
Arendale: From what I have read, the main case study here is Florida. It seems that a number of teachers have had to change their first-level course into a hybrid developmental course. This has caused them to change curriculum and [scale back] the amount of content they present in order to meet the needs of the least prepared students. They are feeling pressure from high-level students, who believe they are being held back. The instructors feels like they are stuck in the middle of these groups, because they are forced to be bimodal. Some students can handle college-level material and others cannot.
Nolting: Right. I have seen that more colleges are asking for help in first-credit English, and particularly first-credit math courses. What are some of the strategies that can help all levels of students in these first-year courses—you talked a little bit about Supplemental Instruction, and you started PAL as well, correct?
Arendale: No. PAL is the University of Minnesota’s approach to offering peer cooperative learning support for very difficult classes. [At my school] we drew on Best Practices from Supplemental Instruction, as well as peer-led team learning from a national model out of the City University of New York, and the Emerging Scholars program. We built our own model, which has mandatory attendance for students in PAL. We found that the students who needed the most help were not going to the voluntary support sessions because they felt self-stigmatized, and they didn’t like admitting that they were “weak.” For us, for critical courses, particularly math sciences courses, everyone goes. That has been our approach. This was a departure from SI, which was built on voluntary attendance.
Nolting: So how do you envision the future of developmental education, especially accounting for these new first-level courses?
Arendale: I actually teach a first-year course—my global history course. I think the real future involves a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). There are lots of things I can do as a faculty member to increase the success of all students in the class rather than just figuring out from a deficit model who is sick and targeting all services on them. In a UDL model, you apply new approaches for every student in the class. There are probably fifty things I do in my class that help all my students regardless of what their issues are. It isn’t the same thing as a developmental model, and it isn’t a replacement, but my own personal opinion is that all of us who teach first-year courses can learn a lot from universal designs.
Let me give you a few examples of this. A lot of students have trouble keeping up with note-taking. They aren’t likely to raise their hands and say, “Excuse me professor, I can’t write fast enough.” This is difficult to do in front of fifty other people. So what do I do? I record all my class lectures. Everything I put up on the laptop screen—PowerPoint slides, video clips, etc.—is recorded and placed online. I also send them this material before the class begins. I knew an instructor who did this fifteen years ago for immigrant students who were having difficulty adjusting to a different style of classroom. What I have discovered is that about twenty-five percent of my students watch those lectures—some of them twice. This includes some of the best students. They see [this material] as an additional resource when they are not able to keep up for whatever reason.
Another one: I make an audio podcast where we actually review class sessions. I have students come in and provide summaries about a unit, and I provide upcoming exam questions. Probably about forty-percent of my students subscribe to it. This gives them academic resources that they would not be able to access any other way, because they have a difficult schedule, and they don’t have time to go to a tutoring center or they don’t know other students in class. What I have tried to do is make sure that I make resources for the class accessible for everybody.
Nolting: You seem to believe that UDL is the future of developmental education.
Arendale: Yes. I think that [in the years to come] we are going to be talking more about UDL than we are DE. I think that UDL is the overarching umbrella for lots of things. I think that developmental education fits beneath UDL.
Nolting: So how can universities integrate these strategies into college core curriculum?
Arendale: There was an organizational sociologist, Kurt Lewin, back in the 1950’s. He came up with a model for explaining how change occurs in an organization. There were certain stages. First, you have to be dissatisfied with the current state. If you aren’t dissatisfied, you aren’t going to make any changes. It’s like the flavor of the month. I can’t tell you how many times I have been at an opening meeting for faculty, and the college president came in and told us what the new initiative was for that year. Then, the next year, it would be something different. Well one of the local colleges up here, the president came in and presented data to the faculty regarding students who were dropping out, and he helped them to see how much revenue was being lost. Until faculty actually recognize that there is a problem, nothing will change.
Once you establish that a problem exists, then you have to present models that the faculty can adopt. This can be done through training materials, but frankly, I believe this should be done through personal interactions: teaching circles and workshops. These things are necessary for change to happen. Most faculty, with their heavy work load, aren’t going to make changes without human interaction.
The third part of this: you have to incentivize people to make changes. You have to pay them to participate in the teaching circles and workshops—even if you give them a very small stipend or you provide some money that goes into a professional development account. This also needs to show up on year-end appraisals. Sometimes, administrators say what they want everyone to do, but then they use the same criteria every year to decide whether you get a raise or not. Faculty need to see that there is a relationship between new behaviors and outcomes and some sort of economic incentive.
Finally, you need to have faculty refreeze themselves into the new pattern. This comes from long-term professional development programs that go on for years and years. I think that having a Teaching Learning Center at every college is essential—where you have an experienced faculty member who is running a center for workshops, which allow faculty to reflect, to observe, and to change their behaviors.
The Academic Success Press Blog is proud to present Part One of Dr. Nolting's conversation with David Arendale, former NADE president and current Professor of History and Higher Education at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. In this chapter, Nolting and Arendale discuss history: first Arendale's personal history, then the history of developmental education. Enjoy!
Nolting: Can you tell me a little bit about your developmental education background and how you have helped students become more successful?
Arendale: I started off as a community college instructor in the late-1970's. I was teaching traditional courses. I had a mix of students with different academic preparation levels. I knew that I needed to reach out to meet the needs of some students who weren’t picking up the material as quickly as others. But I was kind of clueless how to deal with them. I had an opportunity to go to work with a Title III grant at my institution, and they needed someone to run a learning center. It looked interesting, but I told them that I didn’t have a formal education in that area. They said, “Well, do you understand how to teach a history class?” I told them, “Well yes.” And they said, “That’s a good start. You understand how to teach, but we need to set up a center with tutors and things like that to help students do better in classes.” So what my background was, was that I went around joining all of the professional associations that I could, in order to review publications and go to conferences and learn on the fly. I didn’t have any formal preparation for another decade. At that time, I went to and participated in the Kellogg Institute at Appalachian State, and that is where I received my formal preparations.
That was really the extent of my formal preparation for developmental education. I always felt kind of embarrassed about that until someone else in the field said, “Well, David, you are a content area specialist.” I answered, “What’s that?” And this person said, “You know history, so you understand how a student should learn history.” I responded, yes but not through a formal preparation. And he said, “There are a lot of people inside of our profession that are transplants from other academic areas.”
Nolting: What is your history with NADE? You were president once, or was it twice?
Arendale: I got involved with NADE because of the on-the-fly learning process I mentioned earlier. I was in Kansas for the first decade of my career, where I was involved with one of the local chapters of NADE. I went to chapter conferences and national conferences, and then I made the decision to go to the Kellogg Institute. When I was there at the conference, at the month-long workshop, a number of us were having lunch one day, and we were talking about our futures. They all nominated me to run for president of NADE. I told them that they would all have to be on my cabinet and my major national committees. We all made an agreement. I went back and became president of my local chapter of NADE, then eventually ran for office after serving as a co-chair for one of the national conferences that was held in Kansas City. Back in the mid-80's, a path to the NADE presidency was helping to host national conferences, and getting some national recognition.
It was a wonderful experience. I like to tell people that my presidency was the greatest personal and professional development activity you can ever do. After you finish up, you look back on it and wonder, how in the world did I keep my day job and still do all of the travelling and do all of the work of being on the board. People ask me, “Wouldn’t you like to do this again?” And I look at them with a funny expression on my face and go, “Are you out of your mind?” Then I smile and tell them that it was a wonderful experience and everyone should get a chance to do it.
Nolting: Can you give us a brief history of developmental education, where it started, where it was 100 years ago, and where it is now? If I remember correctly, this was your dissertation topic?
Arendale: It was one of them. It was what they call “chapter two” of dissertation research, when you are doing your background literature search. I became fascinated with the history part. What I found out was that developmental education has always been with us. If you went back to the very founding of the Ivy League, they all had tutors provided for every single student. All of them were in a developmental grading course. The reason was, there was no formal preparation, no public schools. Before, affluent families would ship their kids off to England for boarding school. So, at the very beginning, 100 percent of students were developmental. This went on for a couple of hundred years. Jump all the way up to the mid-1850's. The University of Wisconsin, which is considered a very prestigious research institution, ninety percent of their students were in what was essentially an academic preparation academy before they were even permitted to take any classes. Why was that? There was no free and mandatory public education at the time.
So this whole thing about how developmental education was created because of the G.I. Bill after World War II—well that isn’t true at all. We have always had these services. Even today, at Harvard University, they have about ten percent of their students in a developmental writing course. Now they don’t call it developmental education, but essentially, because they deem these students below the standard for Harvard-level classes, they require them to take this course. I always like to think about who was initially responsible for developmental education. It was Harvard. They had the very first developmental math and writing and reading courses. Part of the reason was that they were also the very first to offer elective courses. They quickly figured out that students needed these courses to meet the standards at Harvard. Now, the ten percent of students who have to take this course today, they would probably be honors students at my first community college.
Academic preparation is relative. It all comes down to what are the institutions' requirements. One of the things I find disappointing when I look at the history of developmental education is that privileged people have historically had all the advantages. They are now second, third, and fourth generation college students, and they go to well-funded private or suburban schools. Now, you have a new crop of students—students of color, the historically under-represented, the economically poor students—who do not have all of that social capital. So the things that they need are the same things that students needed back in the 1600's and 1700's and 1800's. But public officials say, “We don’t need to provide these services for you.”
Developmental education is a sad political fight that has gone on for a long time. I have written about how the language of developmental and remedial education has been politicized. I think it is really sad that we don’t hold to the concept that all students are developmental. That’s why you go to college. Think of the slogan for NADE: “Helping the under-prepared students prepare, the prepared students to advance, and the advanced students to excel.” Developmental education helps students move along a continuum line.
Nolting: What is one of the most surprising things our readers might not know about the history of developmental education? I remember you talking once about how developmental education was used during the Civil War because they didn’t have enough students to attend universities?
Arendale: Yes. That is correct. We like to use academically under-prepared students as a way to boost enrollment. There were two periods when this really occurred. One was during the Civil War. In fact, there were a number of universities across the nation that set up boarding schools and high schools to bring in enough students to keep the doors open. After the war was over and enrollment started picking back up, they started closing these schools. The same thing happened again during the 1970's and 1980's when there was a decrease in enrollment at a number of institutions. They opened up more access for students, not necessarily out of the kindness of their hearts, but rather for the economic gain they could obtain from those students.
The sad thing that I have seen in a couple of modern examples is that some community colleges think they need to set up an admissions test for students. If they don’t score high enough, they’ll deny them admission. That is a significant discussion. We’ve never talked about closing the door to higher education. We’ve always said that there is always an appropriate place for you to start at. Well now some community colleges are receiving less money from the state, but are being overwhelmed by enrollment because four-year institutions are eliminating students. So community colleges are between a rock and a hard place. They are not receiving the money they need to operate, and they are being overwhelmed by the number of students who want to take classes. So now they are talking about [entrance tests].
This isn’t widespread, but my philosophy is that whenever I look at history, ideas precede actions. You are hearing discussions about how we should limit access to higher education in America, and I think that this is particularly disturbing.
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