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
Jane Tanner, current president of AMATYC, was kind enough to speak with Dr. Nolting early last week and the ASP Blog is now proud to present the first segment of their lengthy conversation. For the sake of context, we have provided links throughout the text for particular documents discussed during the conversation.
We particularly encourage you to download and read the Common Vision report, which was a joint effort between AMATYC, AMS, ASA, MAA, and SIAM.
Also, please visit AMATYC's great Webinar website!
Nolting: Let me start by asking a question we like to ask to all of the national experts we interview for this blog: How do you see the current state of Developmental Mathematics at the national level?
Tanner: My opinion is that it is in a state of flux. That is my opinion, not necessarily that of AMATYC or anyone else. A lot of colleges out there know we need to change what is currently being done, because the current success rate in developmental mathematics is not very great for students. These schools know something needs to be done—these are the forward thinkers that are willing to try new things and take risks. There are others out there who want to continue to do the same old things, because that is what they are used to, and they are not as willing to take risks. My opinion is that you need to be willing to try something different. You need to keep in mind what is best for your school and students, not what is easiest for you. My college at Onondaga, which is part of the State University of New York system, was one of the first to take part in the Quantway pilot, and we are still quite active in doing that. We are hoping to convince more of our faculty to develop the strategies so that they will be able to teach these classes for us. I know that this is a priority for our provost. I had a conversation with her a couple of weeks ago, and she wanted to know how we could encourage more of our faculty—specifically adjunct faculty—to get turned on to teaching these courses. The answer to that, is that you need to have training available. When these teachers start to see results, they’ll want to teach these types of course.
Nolting: I know what you are saying. Some colleges believe that no change is progress. Other colleges believe progress can't happen without change.
Tanner: Yes. One thing that is in the Common Vision report, is that the status quo is unacceptable. I happen to agree with that. We have had a curriculum redesign group going on in my college for at least five years. Sometimes it feels like we are going around and around and around in circles. We are very fortunate that we are doing the Quantway pilot, but we are also still investigating other things (like the emporium model) for our students so that if they start a course, and they can get done faster in it than the traditional class, great. Then they can start the next class afterwards. Or, if they need more time, they can take it another semester and not have to start over again, so that they can just pick up where they left off the previous semester. So we are trying to do different things, always with the students in mind.
Nolting: You’re totally right. Research shows that you have to offer [redesigns] in several different ways. One way doesn’t really work, but a variety of ways does. I also want to ask you a quick follow up question. Some developmental students are now being placed directly in first credit courses. You see this across the country. How do you see the current state of these first credit courses?
Tanner: Well, the term “first credit course” is kind of hard to define. It may be one thing at my college, and a different thing at another college. What we are trying to do is make a student’s pathway from a developmental math class to a first credit math class as painless as possible. That is what some of these new strategies are doing. To get them through so that developmental math is not a stumbling block. There is a lot of data out there that talks about developmental math being “the killer of students’ dreams.” [They say this] because students can’t pass developmental math and therefore they can’t major in whatever they want to major in, and then they drop out of college, and they don’t achieve their dreams. That is not a good reputation to have. We want students to be successful, and that is why we have to consider a number of different ideas on different classes, both at the developmental level and at the first credit level. If a student is going into something like criminal justice, they probably don’t have to take a course where factoring polynomials is crucial. I would rather have them have a better understanding of the math in their everyday life or whatever they need to do to do well in their job performance. But I don’t think factoring polynomials or the quadratic formula helps them with that.
Nolting: One of the things we discussed with Tanya Paul last year involved how the redesign movement has shifted the paradigm for developmental mathematics by opening up formerly rigid pedagogical programs for adaptation, or by making room for entirely new plans and strategies. It seems one byproduct of this is that we now have countless intelligent and forward-thinking people offering solutions, which don’t always line up with one another. How do you think institutions should go about choosing a new design, or, for that matter, what should institutions do if they are torn between different designs? How do we avoid chaos as pride and conviction inevitably seep into this process?
Tanner: You have to buy in to any type of change. This has to be true both of the administration and the department members. I don’t think [a redesign] is going to be successful if it is coming from the top down—in other words that it is mandated from the administration. Sometimes administration does not know what they are talking about in terms of developing students who are successful in mathematics. It is not bad that there are different paths out there. You need to research what is out there. You can visit other schools that are using a certain method that might work for you, or attend the AMATYC and NADE conferences where there are other people going through things that you may be going through. There are a lot of different models out there, all in addition to the pathways focus. What needs to be done is that you spend enough time investigating so that you choose the best thing for your college—but you can’t necessarily take forever to do it, because then you aren’t accomplishing anything either.
Nolting: How is AMATYC helping with this process?
Tanner: As you know, we have our annual AMATYC conference. We have Webinars on pathways. We also provide access to information from other organizations out there like Carnegie and the Dana Center. The AMATYC board is kept up to date on these. As president, I make sure I include agenda items that talk about the different things that are out there. This is so that the board is knowledgeable and can pass this information along at regional meetings, or when any one of the schools in their area contact them. I think the best thing we can do is to stay current ourselves. We come up with position statements. A big one right now, for instance, is that intermediate algebra is not necessarily the prerequisite course for a student’s first credited math course. That took quite a while to get through. But that position statement allows an instructor to go to their administration and say, “Look a student does not need to take intermediate algebra, they should be allowed to take a pathways course of some sort, so that they can move on and be successful in whatever career path they pursue.”
Nolting: You have mentioned a Common Vision statement a few times. Do you mind going into more detail about what, exactly, that is?
Tanner: Yes. It was a report that involved representatives from five different organizations: AMATYC, AMS, ASA, MAA, and SIAM. I’d like to think that these are the key players in undergraduate mathematics education. Whereas AMATYC deals specifically with math in the first two years of college, there is actually math in the first two years in two year colleges, community colleges, junior colleges, universities, regular colleges, etc. We are sort of rebranding ourselves. Even though our name stands for American Mathematical Association for Two-Year Colleges, we like to think that we are actually representing math that is taught in the first two years of college, not just at community colleges. So we are trying to concentrate on getting other colleges involved with AMATYC that would not traditionally be considered community colleges.
Anyway, the five organizations [mentioned above] took part in creating this report. I believe it came out last year, 2015. It features an introduction, existing recommendations, common themes, curriculum, course structure, workforce preparation, and faculty development. It also talks about moving forward—how there should be short courses and workshops, curriculum development, policy initiatives, and public relations. It is a very interesting read. It quotes a lot from different famous documents from those five organizations. Again, I am happy that [AMATYC] is being seen as a player in how math is taught at the college level—even though we focus on the first two years of college. We are being recognized as knowing how math should be taught in the first two years of all [types of] colleges.
Nolting: Right. Because it is the first two years of college that get students into Calculus 1, 2, and 3.
Tanner: Right. You have to get there somehow. So [the Common Vision Statement] is kind of a neat partnership between these five organizations. In the introduction it presents a number of interesting statistics. Each year only 50% of students earn a grade of an A, B, or C in college algebra. That is kind of sad. Women are almost twice as likely as men not to choose to move beyond Calculus I, even when Calculus II is a requirement for their intended major. In 2012, 19.9% of all Bachelor’s Degrees were awarded to underrepresented minority students (9.5% to blacks, 9.8% Hispanic); however, only 11.6% of mathematics Bachelor’s Degrees were awarded to underrepresented minorities (4.9 to blacks, 6.4 to Hispanics). Failure rates under traditional lectures are 55% higher than the rates observed in more active modes of instruction. So all of that is right in the introduction. It is a hook that gets you more interested in how we can address these situations.
That just about wraps up Part One! Click here for Part Two!
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