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
Today, we are proud to present part two of our conversation with Dr. Fitzroy Farquharson about online learning and his new website, eMathReady.com. Once again, the interview was primarily conducted over email. Enjoy!
ASP Blog: I know a lot of what you do involves debunking myths about online math courses. Would you mind listing a few of these myths?
Farquharson: A myth that exist among students is that online math courses are for students with busy schedules. Unfortunately it usually takes more time generally to complete an online math class than a traditional one. Students will more than likely need more time to learn the material before they attempt to complete homework, quizzes, or exams.
Another myth that seems to be common among online math students is that due dates are not important. If an instructor teaches online, then chances are he or she will receive an email from a student requesting an extension for an assignment. What students do not realize is that although online math courses offer more flexibility for them to work on their courses any time of the day or night, there will usually be strict due dates for homework, quizzes, and exams.
One of the most popular myths about online math courses is that an online math course is easier than a traditional course. In truth, online math courses cover the same material as traditional ones. However, unlike traditional classes, some online classes do not offer the opportunity for face-to-face interaction with the instructor, which can make taking an online class challenging. The good news, however, is that there are usually many resources available for students online. They can customize these resources to their specific needs, like watching videos as many times as they like.
ASP Blog: You also quite often focus on the necessity of an online math readiness survey for students who are thinking about taking an online course. You have said that you think math departments should require students to take such a survey before enrolling. Why is this?
Farquharson: For the student, an online readiness survey is not only needed to assess his or her likelihood for succeeding in an online math course, but also to give the student an indication of the degree to which he or she possesses the attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as an online learner. Even when students are given online math surveys, in many cases, the faculty do not have access to the students' readiness assessment results. They need to have access to this information so that they are able to assist their students in the most effective and efficient way, which will allow them to restructure learning within the online environment to meet student needs.
In addition, teachers also need some type of readiness tools and/or tools and questionnaires that help them to assess and determine what skills they will need to make the transition from teaching face-to-face to teaching in an online learning environment. I concur with Cecilia Mercado who once said that faculty/instructors must also “possess personal attributes to perform online teaching and administration of the online environment successfully“. A successful online learning program must include a systematic process of planning, designing and creating environments where learning is actively fostered and supported (Mercado, 2008, pg. 18.2).
ASP Blog: What has your experience been with conducting these surveys?
Farquharson: Initially, when I began the work of trying to help improve the success of online math students, I discovered that little research supports the thesis that readiness questionnaires lead to better learning outcomes for students, without providing students with the necessary remediation/support in areas of deficiencies to promote effective online learning. However, there is consensus that student readiness surveys, at the very least, emphasize for students and instructors the expectations and demands of learning and teaching in an online space, encouraging the survey-taker to take the necessary steps and actions to prepare in an effort to reduce the learning curves associated with technology and teaching approaches. (See: Gascoigne C. & Parnell, J (2014). "Distance education readiness assessments: An overview and application. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration", Vol. XVII, IV).
A good online readiness survey needs to assist students with determining whether they possess the attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as an online learner. Ultimately, an online readiness survey should be designed to empower institutions with the ability to make sure that their students who are planning to take an online course are actually online ready.
ASP Blog: What skills do students need to become online ready?
Farquharson: Students who are planning on taking an online math course need to understand the dynamics of an online setting, how online learning works; interaction, relations, perception, role of students and instructors, etc. Online math students need to also be independent learners, have good computer skills, and have sufficient prerequisite skills. They also have to be able to learn how to structure learning math online to match their own learning style and master competencies in a set period of time. They must have
excellent organization skills, not procrastinate, and have better than average math study skills. They must also have low math anxiety and not be fearful of taking math tests.
ASP Blog: Did you create eMathReady.com to help students achieve these skills?
Farquharson: This program has been a significant help to myself and my students. With the eMathReady Online Readiness and Support Program, I am able to, in advance, more accurately determine what students are at risk. This allows me to initiate earlier interventions to prevent some students from dropping out or not succeeding in their course. For example, being able to review all of my online students' “Online Readiness Summary Reports," along with their individualized “Online Readiness Surveys” enables me to devise an individualized engagement and support plan for at-risk students. With this program, I am also able to pinpoint reasons for student success (or lack thereof) in my online math courses.
The program is divided into three parts: a student online learning readiness survey, learning support modules, and general online learning information. The program measures a student’s readiness to take an online course and provides learning support to promote effective online learning. The program helps students to make the transition from traditional to online learning. It also provides my students with an indication of the degree to which they possesses the attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as an online learner.
ASP Blog: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Farquharson: There is growing evidence to support the fact that innovative technology-based solutions can lead to more effective teaching and learning models. Technology has great power to influence teaching by restructuring the current learning environment landscape, without fundamentally changing the instructor. Technology also holds the promise of delivering virtual learning solutions in a cost-effective manner, which is crucial in a time of nationwide economic challenges and state budget crises.
Although promising solutions are emerging, most educational institutions lack the strategic vision for the innovative use of technology. Educational institutions are in the business of educating, not addressing barriers to educational technology innovations in teaching and learning. This is why collaborative partnerships are necessary to assist institutions with creating a culture of innovation that focuses on the next-generation of the virtual learning space and/or course management systems.
I am enthusiastic about the potential of technology, in combination with new and emerging evidence-based models of innovative teaching and learning, to significantly improve students’ academic achievements and completion rates in the United States. The future of America depends on us supporting our instructors in the most innovative ways and providing the opportunity for our students to develop their intellectual talents effectively and efficiently. The support we provide for public education is necessary for paving the way for tomorrow’s students with the knowledge and skills they need to find meaningful employment and contribute to their communities.
National Math Summit 2016 Closing Panelists listed from left to right:
Jane Tanner (AMATYC), Hunter Boylan (NCDE), Barbara Illowsky (NCDE), Cinnamon Hillyard (Carnegie Foundation), Rebecca Goosen (NADE/moderator), Amy Getz (Dana Center), April Strom (MAA), Julie Phelps (AMATYC/MAA) and Paul Nolting
Contributed by Julie Phelps
The National Mathematics Summit 2016 was the 2nd summit designed to respond to national crises in developmental education, especially in mathematics. The professional communities (i.e. National Association for Developmental Education (NADE), American Mathematical Association of Two-Year College (AMATYC), Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, National Center for Developmental Education (NCDE), Mathematical Association of America (MAA), and the Charles A. Dana Center) banded together to create a forum that allowed experts who have conducted scholarly research and institutionalized programs to provide training to math faculty and administrators in the promising strategies and assessment practices developed to improve math success at the post-secondary level.
The participants were provided with a unique opportunity to dialogue, discuss, engage, learn and ask questions of national leaders in the field of mathematics and developmental education. They were matched with their mentors by interest level in curriculum redesign and data collection using the following categories: modes of instruction, contextualized learning, acceleration models, learning support systems, study skills, writing measurable outcomes, data collection, and assessment. Those who attended left with a better understanding of empirically proven redesign models that can be used to educate administrators and state legislators on promising curriculum design and academic support that will help students improve their mathematics skills and ultimately persist to graduation.
Hello Readers! Dr. Nolting just wants to remind everyone that he will be taking part in the National Math Summit at NADE 2016. According to NADE's official website, the National Math Summit:
will bring together those in the “front lines” of developmental mathematics education to discuss the different approaches being used across the country. The pre-conference session will begin on Tuesday, March 15 at 1 p.m., with a panel discussion led by representatives of AMATYC, NADE, the National Center for Developmental Education, Carnegie Foundation, Dana Center and national experts. Concurrent sessions will follow that afternoon and all day on March 16.
The information for Dr. Nolting's personal presentation is as follows:
Improving Math Redesign Success: Integrating Math Study Skills is the Solution Thursday, March 17
For more information on the National Math Summit, please visit:
Today, we are proud to present our conversation with Dr. Fitzroy Farquharson. Over the years, Farquharson has conducted research on the effective and efficient usage of technology in education, especially in the math and science areas. Dr. Farquharson is an education software developer and technology consultant who focuses on the application of technology or instructional design in the educational setting. He specializes in UI design, along with the planning, implementation, and evaluation of technology in education. He is currently a tenured Professor of Mathematics at Valencia College and has been teaching online math courses for several years. He recently created emathready.com—an online math-readiness guide and evaluation.
The interview was conducted primarily through email.
ASP Blog: Can you start us off by describing what types of presentations/workshops you have conducted at AMATYC, NADE, ITCTM and other organizations?
Farquharson: Over the years, I have conducted numerous presentations on Effectiveness of Interactive Mathematics at Computer Mediated Learning Symposiums throughout the US. Some of the colleges and universities with which I have presented include Del Mar College, Wharton County Junior College, Texas A&M University, Baltimore City Community College, State College of Florida, and Hudson Valley Community College. I also conducted several workshops on Challenges for Online Math Students, Instructors, and Administrators and Improving Success for Online Math Students at various conferences, including American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC), Sloan C-Conference, Mathematics Association of America (MAA), National Math Summit, 19th Annual Sloan C Conference, and International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (ICTCM). I have also participated in a discussion on the utilization of computer technology in the classroom at the National Symposium on Developmental Mathematics in Boston, MA.
ASP Blog: In general, how do the success rates of online math courses compare to the success rates of classroom courses?
Farquharson: The success rates of online math compared to the success rates of classroom courses. on the whole, is not encouraging. For instance, Columbia University's Community College Research Center produced nine studies covering hundreds of thousands of classes in two states, which showed over and over again that community college students who enroll in online courses are significantly more likely to fail or withdraw than those in traditional classes. A TCC Institutional Brief reported that their online success rate for developmental math courses was 49% compared to a traditional developmental course success rate of 57%. They also reported that their withdrawal rates were nearly twice as high for both college credit (18%) and developmental (21%) online courses compared to traditional courses (10% for both types of courses). It’s time we asked ourselves some serious questions. Are students online ready? And, if not, what can institutions do to assure that students are ready to take an online course?
ASP Blog: How many students are enrolled in online courses? One would think that these courses would continue to grow in an increasingly tech-based university system.
Farquharson: Well, according figures from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Sloan Consortium, an advocacy group for online education, the number of students enrolled in at least one distance education course increased significantly between 2002 and 2007, from 1.1 million to 12.2 million—and the growth spurt doesn't seem to be slowing down. The study, "Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011," also reports that more than 6.1 million students took at least one online course during fall 2010—a 10.1 percent increase over the year before. A little more than 12 percent of all students were enrolled exclusively in online courses or online degree programs in 2012, according to the latest figures released by the National Center for Education Statistics, with another 13 percent taking at least some courses online. On the whole, more than one-quarter — 25.8 percent — students took at least some courses online in fall 2012.
ASP Blog: So what you are saying is that there is and will continue to be a dramatic increase of online courses; however, national research indicates that online math course success is lower than classroom math courses—especially developmental math courses. Given that the redesign movement was meant to improve math success, how do we resolve this problem?
Farquharson: Many institutions currently use a set of Quality Matters standards based upon current literature, best practices, and national standards for online course design. These standards are typically used as a framework to design, revise and improve online and hybrid math courses. That’s good that we have established national standards for online course design; however, this is designed for the static not the dynamic portion of the online math course. Therefore, in order for us to re-assess an online learning environment, especially math, the following needs to occur:
National standards need to be established for evaluating the virtual learning space and course management system being used by institutions. The effectiveness of the learning process and efficiency in the way in which instructors can achieve what he or she does best to support/improve student learning in the virtual learning space will impact not only the quality an online math course design, but the learning outcome of the student. It seems in many cases that the best and/or most important elements that are required for an online math instructor to be effective at what he/she does best are lost when teaching an online math course.
Students, in many cases, are unaware of what will be required of them when they have made a decision to take an online math course. Therefore, it is important that institutions provide prospective students considering taking an online course with the means to assess their level of readiness to learn in an online environment. The purpose of the assessment should be to determine the degree to which they possess attributes, skills and knowledge that contribute to success as online learners.
Institutions need to have a process in place for identifying students who are likely not to be successful with their online math course. In cases where students are at-risk of not being successful, institutions need to provide them with an understanding of the level of risk areas of learning deficiencies and how it is associated with their probable chances of success with their online math course.
Every student needs to be informed as to his or her readiness to take an online math course so that he or she is able to make an informed decision whether an online math course is the best option. Additionally, even if the student does not possess the attributes, skills and knowledge, but he or she decides to take an online math course anyway, the institution should provide the necessary remediation and support in areas of deficiencies to promote online learning.
Online math instructors need to be able to identify students who do not possess the attributes, skills and knowledge to be successful in their course. With this information in hand, online instructors who are dedicated to improving student learning outcomes with online math courses will be able to provide a range and intensity of support to help improve students' learning outcomes in online math courses.
ASP Blog: What are some of the factors that you think contribute to the poor online math success?
Farquharson: Online courses present a number of challenges particular to the format. Besides basic technological proficiency, online courses require students to possess an array of well-developed non-academic skills; students must be able to manage time, stay organized, and recognize when and how to ask for help. Online courses also require instructors to be conversant with interactive technologies that enable them to create a strong instructor presence and engage students in the virtual space.
Researchers have conducted investigations on the lack of instructor presence and its impact on student learning math online. These researchers revealed that social presence is actually a factor that contributes to building a community of learners. Some even believe that social presence is one of the first components that must be established to initiate learning math online.
ASP Blog: Before doing research on the characteristics of successful online students, what did you think was the cause of poor online math success?
Farquharson: On December 2010, I was sitting in my office after the closing of the fall term. It was not a regular working day, but I decide to go to work to review overall student performance and go through the emails I had received over the term. After going through over 40 emails I had received from a class of 100+ students, what caught my attention was that 16 students had emailed me with requests to extend the due dates at various times for assignments. Many reasons were provided as justifications for the request. Whether the reasons were legitimate or not wasn’t my main concern at that time. I wanted to learn more about these students. I wanted to find out what they thought about having due dates and why they had requested extensions. I called/emailed these students during the break and discovered that most (3 of the 16) students just did not expect “due dates” to be important before registering for the course.
Many (11 out of 16) just seemed to have forgotten or failed to manage their time accordingly. I also recalled asking one particular student, "Why did you enroll for an online course?" From the responses I received, I got the impression that many students were taking an online math course because they believed it would be easier than a traditional course. I decided to investigate further the rationale of these responses, along with the mismatched expectations between students’ beliefs about online math courses and my expectation for students.
ASP Blog: After doing the research what did you find out?
Farquharson: The key to understanding the rationale for the poor online math success is to understand the vast difference between online and the time-tested traditional learning model with well-defined operating parameters.
Overall, evidence from recent qualitative analyses suggests that online courses may not be providing the range and intensity of supports that instructors need to teach and students need to perform and learn well online.
Interview continued, here.
Thoughts on Wadsworth, Husman, Duggan and Pennington's "Online Mathematics Achievement: Effects of Learning Strategies and Self-Efficacy."
Hello readers! Today, in anticipation of our chat about online learning with Dr. Fitzroy Farquharson, we thought we'd turn your attention toward an article, which was written by the four authors listed in the title to this post and was published in the Journal of Developmental Education in 2007. It is telling that the authors—who published their article when online courses were more or less new—immediately recognized the heightened importance of study skills for online students.
The article explores in-depth how self-efficacy and study strategies affect the success of online math students. Working on the premise that academics have studied these factors at length as they pertain to traditional classrooms, the authors argue that the online environment differs enough from that of the classroom to merit a study on the ways self-efficacy, study strategies, and other affective characteristics specifically affect distance learners. After making this argument, the authors present their own study, which followed 89 students who were enrolled in an online developmental math course. Results indicated that “four types of learning strategies—motivation, concentration, information processing, and self-testing—along with self-efficacy” predicted 42% of the variance in grade achievement."
While presenting this data, the authors argue that “the increased autonomy of an online or Web-based learning environment” makes motivation and self-efficacy particularly important to online students. They also point out that traditional study skills do not always work for online students. “Although students in online courses are implementing many of the same strategies as their counterparts in traditional classrooms,” they write, “there has been little evidence to show what strategies are most useful in this new environment and how some strategies may translate to a new learning environment.”
The authors conclude their study by stating that specific online and computer-based study strategies are needed for students taking online courses. To better the chances for success, these study strategies should be “imbedded within the course work,” so that students “can better use these powerful tools to improve their learning.”
Dr. Nolting has made similar arguments over the past twenty years. It is absolutely vital that faculty integrate study skills directly into classrooms, online or otherwise.
For more, see: Wadsworth, L.M., Husman, J., Duggan, M.A., and Pennington, M.N. “Online Mathematics Achievement: Effects of Learning Strategies and Self-Efficacy.” Journal of Developmental Education, Volume 30, Issue 3, Spring 2007. Pages 6-14.
Good morning readers! So we have hit a slight snag in our feature schedule, but have many interesting posts planned for next week and beyond. In the meantime, we thought we'd pass along more links to interesting stories from around the Web. Enjoy!
1. The Huffington Post published a short article this week from an author who deals with math anxiety. The author, a former English major, describes how she would use humor as a defense mechanism to cope with her symptoms. "While the other students looked on in horror, I continued maniacally to poke fun at every new chapter. I'm not sure they ever realized that right below the surface of this babbling idiot was the bubbling lunacy of a terrified English major, whose worst nightmare was having to repeat a math class."
2. CNET posted a fascinating article yesterday about the combined efforts of numerous organizations to convince more than 100,000 young women to sign up for STEM majors in the next ten years.
3. ScienceAlert also published an interesting article about STEM, citing studies that measured and compared the cognitive abilities of students who graduated with various degrees over the past seven decades.
It's time for Monday links! Once again, we have culled a short-list of interesting articles from around the Web, all of which pertain to college math and math learning.
1. Andrew Hacker interviewed by The New York Times. This article features a short interview with Andrew Hacker, a long-tenured political science professor at Queens College, who claims that most college students do not need advanced mathematics to succeed in their careers. Interestingly, he takes things a step further than most who make similar arguments. He claims that high schools should radically alter their math curriculum and that the ACT and SAT also need drastic overhauls.
2. Victoria College received an award last month for its successful launch of Texas' new MathWays project. According to the Victoria Advocate, the school has been "focused on accelerating college students through developmental math classes while offering curriculum that helps prepare them for a specific field of study." They also cite extremely positive outcomes for the project.
3. Last week, the Houston Chronicle wrote a fascinating article about the mathematics struggles of a veteran who returned to college at the age of 28. In the article, the student, who attends San Jacinto College, sings the praises of the school's redesigned Pathway system. "Normally, I avoid math," she says. "But I have seven more math courses for my computer science degree. Initially, I felt weak in math, but once I started the Acceleration in Mathematics class, I gained confidence. It was a completely different experience than when I tried at a university. I was acing my tests. What made the difference for me is the level of patience from the San Jacinto College professors. It's not lecture, lecture, lecture, with half the class falling asleep. Our instructors find ways to engage the students with how they lay out the lessons and different ways of teaching."
ASP Blog: Can you start by describing the current state of college developmental mathematics (as you see it)?
Paul: Sure. I think what is exciting about developmental mathematics in general is that people are trying different things. Organizations are involved in efforts to redesign and improve mathematics education, as well as to develop solutions that promote student success and completion. Now there are multiple pathways for success in mathematics, which I think is exciting. I don’t think there is a silver bullet—I think there are different approaches that work for different students based on their needs and learning styles. Colleges and universities are open to exploring options and strategies to help students be successful and are taking math courses that are aligned with their chosen careers path.
ASP Blog: During the past few months, as I have been discussing developmental math with professionals from across the country, what I have found interesting is that the national redesign movement is producing so many answers—answers that many educators have had for years but were incapable, until recently, of putting into effect. Not all of these answers, however, gel together. Because the redesign movement is providing unprecedented channels to voice long-brewing strategies and ideas, I imagine the whole process could devolve into chaos if people aren’t willing to bend or aren’t willing to admit they are wrong when something isn’t working. Do you agree?
Paul: I think that is an excellent point. It shouldn’t devolve into chaos—but at some places there may be many problems. It is clear that as funders, legislators, and organizations have pointed out that changes are needed, faculty across the country have been examining the problems and working to find ways to better address student needs. With this focus on improving success, there are several types of redesign that are showing promise, including acceleration, compression, mainstreaming, and contextualization.
ASP Blog: Right. This brings up another major issue with math redesign and particularly the pathway system. Students often change majors. Many of the experts I have spoken with have vocalized fears that by pushing students away from more complicated math courses, we risk putting behind the eight-ball those students who might later shift to comparably demanding majors.
Paul: I think that is an issue we have to address, but I think it is doable. I think students need options that are appropriate to the major/career they select. Also, if you are talking about basic math, students need to know the basics no matter which major is selected. The next level of math—the one that involves getting students into certain careers—we need to be clear about the pathway at the very beginning when students are advised. I don’t think students will fall too far behind if we give them the basics in developmental math, and then we help them pick their path based upon the career they are choosing.
ASP Blog: Right. At some point you do have to make a decision on a pathway. Students have always changed majors. It is not like these new pathways are creating a new problem.
Paul: Right. The best we can do is advise students based on their selected majors.
ASP Blog: How does NADE, specifically, help faculty, college, and universities to develop math redesigns and/or improve math success?
Paul: One of the major ways NADE helps faculty and colleges is via the Certification Council, which certifies that developmental education programs meet certain approved standards. The NADE Certification Council exists to improve and enhance the success of students at all levels of academic preparation, as well as to facilitate the professional growth of developmental educators by setting standards of best practice, emphasizing the use of theory to inform practice, and promoting effective evaluation and quality research in developmental education and learning assistance programs.
The Council’s goals are 1) to promote quality program practices through professional standards and evaluation; 2) to advance research and evaluation in the field; 3) to create processes by which programs and services use self-study and evaluation to improve and enhance student success; 4) to contribute to the broader integration of theory and research with practice in the field; 5) to provide access to quality program models; and 6) to acknowledge and validate programs that meet or exceed standards of best practice.
NADE also provides three print resources: the NADE newsletter, the Journal of Developmental Education, and the NADE digest in addition to a national conference each year.
ASP Blog: Is this perhaps NADE’s greatest function? Bringing people together, furthering discussion, serving as a nexus point for developmental educators?
Paul: Yes. NADE is the largest professional association in the field who promote and advance the profession, and provide resources and professional development opportunities to improve practice. It is so important to have an organization that directly involves the practitioners. NADE serves practitioners and provides opportunities for professionals in the field to share information—like the National Math Summit. NADE has developed partnerships with key players involved in shaping the reform movement and the redesign landscape of developmental education. Players like Paul Nolting and the Carnegie Foundation, AMATYC, the Dana Center, and others working to promote student success. NADE provides opportunities to get together to talk about what is working, what is new in the field, and the most recent research, thus encouraging conversations among higher education professionals.
ASP Blog: This brings us to something Dr. Nolting is extremely passionate about: The National Math Summit on March 15-16 at the 2016 NADE conference. What can potential attendees expect during this event?
Paul: The National Mathematics Summit is a response to national discussion in developmental education in mathematics reform and redesign. This preconference forum was created to allow experts who have conducted scholarly research and institutionalized programs to discuss best practices and techniques in the field of mathematics education.
Many organizations, foundations, and centers have developed valuable strategies that have proven to promote student success and completion. This summit will serve as a national forum to discuss issues related to redesign and assessment of mathematics reform. It is designed to allow opportunities for math professors and program administrators to look at what the reform movement has accomplished and consider next steps. Although much of the data are preliminary, it appears that more students are passing remedial math and completing college math courses.
The summit is a great opportunity for educators to meet national experts from various organizations such as the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges, the National Association for Developmental Education, the Carnegie Foundation, the Dana Center, the National Center for Developmental Education, and the Mathematical Association of America. There will be opportunities for discussions with a panels of experts and opportunities to attend workshops specific to certain areas of redesign and assessment.
ASP Blog: In the past, what role has NADE played in these summits?
Paul: NADE has been a partner. NADE’s mission is to promote and advance the profession of developmental education and to provide resources and professional development opportunities to improve the field of developmental education. Redesign is very important in a lot of states, and NADE believes that it is vital to work with other organizations [involved in the summit] to help provide quality professional development for practitioners in the field.
And that just about wraps it up! We also spoke to Taunya Paul at length about specific ways to help institutions improve math success. We will run this second interview sometime in the near future.
Good morning! This week, the ASP blog begins what it hopes will become a Monday fixture. To help our readers keep up to date with national and local news stories pertaining to developmental education, mathematics learning, and learning disabilities, we plan to cull interesting articles from around the web and present them in a short list. This week, we start with stories about Complete College America, Microsoft, and
1. Last week, the website EducationDive ran an interesting update on the activities of Complete College America. The article posts statistics that catalog the success rates of the initiative's suggested "corequisite remediation model." (via Education Drive)
2. Microsoft is including new features in its popular note-taking software, OneNote, which are intended to help students with dyslexia better understand material. According to the Verge, these learning tools include "speaking text aloud as the current word is highlighted, spacing out the letters to make them easier to follow, using a custom font called 'Fluent Calibri' that Microsoft claims is easier to read, and parsing out both syllables or parts of sentences to clarify their sound and purpose" (via The Verge)
3. Earlier this month, the Oxford University Press blog ran an interesting piece on math and anxiety. Much of the post reinforces arguments Dr. Nolting has been making since the mid-1980s. The author provides a few extremely interesting tidbits about racial and socioeconomic factors and how they directly affect anxiety levels in first-year college students. Very interesting stuff! (via OUPblog)
Hello readers! As promised, here is Part Two of our conversation with Dr. Barbara Illowsky. Topics discussed include: the history and efficacy of math redesigns, the general tenor of the current conversation regarding these redesigns, and the benefits and dangers of the math pathway system.
ASP Blog: Can you start by giving us a brief overview of the state of the redesign movement in California and its chief motivations?
Illowsky: California accounts for nearly 10% of all students nationwide and currently has over 2 million community college students. We take the top 100% of everyone who applies, so long as they are 18 years old or 16 years old with a high school degree. So students can come to us at 18. They do not have to have a high school degree or GED. They do not have to have ever even been in high school. They might have been a fourth-grade dropout; they can still enter the California community college system.
California has been very involved in the math redesign movement. This stems from low success rates and the need for students to be able to complete their associate degree and to complete their mathematics course for the bachelor’s degree. Many mathematics and statistics faculty decided that there are topics in traditional elementary and intermediate algebra courses that are not necessary to make a well-rounded and educated person, nor for students to succeed in non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) transfer-level mathematics courses, such as statistics. In the past, students who did not need any mathematics except to graduate typically had to take college algebra or pre-calculus. Much to my delight, because I’m a statistician, California has been one of the leaders in recognizing that ending [math curriculum] on pre-calculus or college algebra is not necessarily valuable. Ending it with statistics or a practical and useful mathematics course is much more helpful.
In addition, many majors require statistics. For example, at my college, we offer about 100 to 110 sections a year of elementary statistics. That and intermediate algebra are our highest offered mathematics courses. Students need statistics [in their fields]—social science majors, pre-med students, business majors, education majors. All these students need statistics but don’t necessarily need college algebra or pre-calculus unless they are moving on to calculus.
So that’s where the movement started. What put me personally in the hot seat, is that around 1999 I initiated a movement about changing Title 5 of the California Education Code. In the past, the minimum statewide graduation requirements to get an associate degree were elementary algebra competency and English at one-below transfer level. This meant that we had mathematics graduation requirements that were lower than most high school requirements. We were almost saying to students, “Can’t pass high school? Don’t worry, come to college and you can get your associate degree.” That did not seem right. So I initiated and eventually worked with many of the associations that were involved in changing Title 5 so that the graduation requirements for an associate degree would be the first level of freshman English, or courses at the same level and rigor, which had the similar prerequisites. On the math side of it, I really felt that [graduation requirements] should go up to a college-level math, but we couldn’t go up two levels—so we went with intermediate algebra or a mathematics course at that same level of rigor and with elementary algebra as its prerequisite.
But here is the part that is really important and led to the redesign movement, and I’m happy that it did. As I said, students could also complete a course at the same level as intermediate algebra with the same level of rigor, so long as it had elementary algebra as its main prerequisite. At the time, there were no alternate pathways. The intent behind all of this was to figure out a way to increase students’ understanding of and competency at quantitative methods, not necessarily that students would all now have to take intermediate algebra. So many schools said, “We are going to have intermediate algebra as a graduation requirement and that is fine.” Other schools said, “Well we are going to have geometry because that is a useful course.” Some schools said, “We are going to give students a choice between geometry or intermediate algebra.”
Pathways weren’t even a part of this discussion because there was no way to lead these innovations while maintaining that elementary algebra had to be one of the prerequisite courses. The truth was, the math courses that were being offered by other departments were really two levels below transfer mathematics. There was concern that other departments would develop a math course and want this to be the graduation requirement, but the math courses would be at such a low mathematical level that they wouldn’t suffice.
ASP Blog: With whom were you working on this at the time?
Illowsky: It was the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges that really took the lead on this. I initiated and brought it in, but it was really the Academic Senate that ran with it and had the votes and then worked with all of the statewide organizations. I certainly don’t want to take any credit for getting this through. Really what happened was that three other people came up with the Basic Skills Initiative (BSI) —I was the first project director, but I didn’t invent the BSI. I was asked to be the project director because the Academic Senate said, “OK, Barbara, you initiated the raising of the graduation requirements, so put your money where your mouth is.” The pre-BSI work included a strong review of the literature that said for the basic skill level courses, success requires strong administrative support, strong student services support, strong organizational practices, and strong pedagogy. This was really what Dr. Paul Nolting and Dr. Hunter Boylan had been saying for years.
I think the work that Dr. Nolting does is fabulous. The same goes for the National Center for Developmental Education. There is increased focus on staff development—which is now called professional development—which doesn’t merely require staff to go to a conference once a year but to keep working to improve teaching and student learning. This also involves increasing focus on instructional practices with collaborative learning, not strictly standing and lecturing nonstop. It is so important to integrate support services into whatever course you have. No matter what program you do (such as pathways or elementary and intermediate algebra), we all need to adopt good pedagogical techniques. What are the good practices? We know what they are. Dr. Boylan and the National Center for Developmental Education have documented these practices. Dr. Nolting knows what they are. Whatever we decide to do – pathways or the algebra route – we need to adopt effective practices.
ASP Blog: How well are the redesigns working? Are we seeing marked, noticeable benefits from these redesigns? How do people feel about them right now?
Illowsky: There is major enthusiasm and major concerns. Mathematics departments, as far as I can tell, are totally split on the types of redesigns. There are several types of redesigns. Some involve embedding student support into the curriculum--not changing the curriculum. I don’t think that anybody is against this. The redesign that uses statistics to determine where you can eliminate certain topics in intermediate algebra—and this is what many of the most well-known projects are doing—is much more controversial. You have great supporters and you have mathematics faculty who feel that [redesigns] water down curriculum. You also have mathematics faculty who believe this is the way we need to go because some curriculum is outdated.
Starting with data analysis and descriptive statistics right on day one, I think is fabulous. I can remember when I first started teaching at De Anza College, and I brought in one of the first changes to intermediate algebra on topics that I believed were no longer needed because of technology. For example, we used to, but no longer, teach how to compute logarithms using logarithm tables. We don’t teach this anymore pretty much anywhere across the country because it is not really needed. Technology has made [reading logarithm tables] an unnecessary topic. There are other topics that the redesign movements are saying, “Well if students are not going to go on to STEM careers—science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or business—but are instead going into humanities, social science, or art, do they really need these particular topics?” What students actually need is to be able to analyze data—not necessarily do the actual number crunching of the data, but be able to read a newspaper and understand what surveys and charts mean, whether they are biased or unbiased.
The math community is split [on using pathways instead of the algebra sequence]. I think the redesigns are wonderful, but I think there are two big caveats with all of this. First, [redesigns] should not replace providing students with support, study skills, and counseling. These items are all necessary to math programs. For the most part, successful programs focus on these services. Second, we need to make sure that our ultimate goal is not to help students pass elementary algebra or statistics or even earn a bachelor degree. Our ultimate goal is for students to become contributing members to society and to apply mathematical concepts to their own life situations. We also need to makes sure that students are able to achieve their own goals. We need to make sure we counsel students carefully before we direct them into any program. Some students [without knowing it] are reducing the possibility that they can major in a subject matter that offers the highest wages and broadest career choices. This is very touchy because I am not putting any judgment on what it means to get a humanities degree or art degree or psychology bachelor’s, but we do know that the job market is better for some majors and that engineers are paid higher than many other professions. We do know that nurses are paid higher; we do know that bookkeepers are paid higher; we do know that even teachers are paid higher.
Many minority and nontraditional students are not majoring in these high paying disciplines. So there are many state and national programs that work to encourage students in underrepresented groups to major in these careers. At the same time, we are guiding them to an alternate pathway that eliminates being able to major in these careers. Students are often required to make this choice early because they are making it at the time when they are choosing elementary algebra or a different pathway.
ASP Blog: So you are saying that the fact that students have to make a decision so early on in their college careers as to what pathway they will take toward graduation, restricts their flexibility to make changes if they have a sudden change of heart? Students who may choose an easier math pathway before their first semester may decide later on that they want to go into a major that might lead to a more lucrative career, but will not have the knowledge or prerequisite courses to enroll in higher-level math courses?
Illowsky: Right. Some people will say, “Well students may not know what they want to major in, but they do know what they hate.” They know they hate engineering, science, etc. But maybe they don’t hate [these subjects]. Maybe they take a few courses and find out that they really like them. I’m not against pathways. I think they are fabulous. What I do suggest is that we make it really, really clear to students that pathways directly [affect what they can eventually major in]. I know that the Dana Center [at UT Austin], for instance, is working on a bridge for students who decide to change majors.
ASP Blog: Is there anything else that you would like to discuss?
Illowsky: Sure. There are a couple of things that I do want to mention.
First, the University of California now accepts STATWAY for transfer. California State University has said that they will accept statistics if it is a part of certain alternate pathways, on a case-by-case basis. In general, they are in support of the alternate pathways leading up to statistics. One thing that is common to all of these programs, but is not unique to all of these programs, is an emphasis on real-world application and collaborative learning and analyzing problems. One of the great accomplishments of these programs is that they have really brought out into the public the value of non-lecture math courses. They have highlighted the value of working together with groups, with real-world problem solving. Many of us have been doing this for years and years. But the majority [of teachers] still mostly stand and lecture, and their group work is maybe five minutes of, “Do you have any questions for me?”
I also want to talk about one more concern about redesigns—state and national. We haven’t seen the expansion far enough yet to know whether or not [redesigns] will work on a larger scale. We are taking some star faculty, who have all of the resources available to them and are statistically some of the best faculty in their departments—the ones who are innovative and are willing to try new things—and we are using them to represent instructors in general.
But the masses of developmental education courses in all disciplines—mathematics, English, reading, writing—are typically taught by adjunct faculty. Many of our adjunct faculty are our best faculty, but they often do not have access to professional development by the nature of the structure [of adjunct faculty]. This has nothing to do with their desire or abilities, but they are often going from one college to another. The redesigns at these colleges vary. This does not allow adjunct professors the opportunity for strong professional development.
So what we typically see are the great success rates from star faculty. We don’t know how this will scale out to the masses of all faculty. We don’t know if this will work, because we don’t know whether the faculty without professional development or those who don’t want to change or those who are told to teach things one way at one college and a different way at another college are going to [succeed with redesigns].
When I applied for my first teaching job at my college, I applied for a full-time position. I was called on a Friday so that I could start teaching on the next Monday. I was handed a book, I was handed a course outline, and was basically told, “OK, we are going to make this pretty easy on you. Don’t worry. Just do …” This is not that different from the way many adjunct faculty are still hired nationwide right now. So we don’t really know what is going to happen [as redesigns] are scaled out [nationwide].
All of this being said, it is still essential that we continue to offer, research, and expand many of the most successful pathways in order to educate and serve our students.
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