Math courses redefined with technological hand
Contact: Elise Doster
MATHEMATICS SUCCESS -- Sophomore psychology major Ashley Schexneider of Baton Rouge, shown in the Southeastern Louisiana University mathematics lab with instructor Rebecca Muller, right, is one of many Southeastern students who have improved their performance in introductory math courses through the university’s redesign of college algebra courses, which includes implementation of “MyMathLab” software.
“I never wanted to look at a math problem again, but I knew I had to give it another try,” said Schexneider, who is now a sophomore.
Fortunately for Schexneider and other freshmen struggling with math, Southeastern revamped its introductory math classes in spring 2008 by instituting “MyMathLab,” a software program that provides interactive, guided homework, online tutorials and assessment tests proven to increase the success rates of introductory math courses.
Funded by a $136, 905 grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents and a $82,689 match from a Southeastern student-technology grant, the program is demonstrating considerable success in student performance. The math department set up more than 100 computers and two laboratories with access to MyMathLab and plans to provide 100 more computers into the network by the fall semester.
“The program gives students feedback right away,” said Tim Hudson, head of the Department of Mathematics. “A student can go to the lab and see what they’re doing wrong on their homework long before their professor has had time to grade their work.”
“It’s like having your own personal tutor sitting next to you while you’re doing homework,” Schexneider said. “The program shows you in detail what you’re doing wrong and how to work out the problems.”
Math instructor Rebecca Muller said introductory math courses have been a problem area for universities for a long time. Southeastern is now part of an alliance called Colleagues Committed to Redesign (C2R) with 11 other universities through the National Center for Academic Transformation (NCAT) to provide a network for those trying to redesign and improve their freshman course success rates.
“This program is about changing the dynamic in the classroom,” Muller said. “Students aren’t just sitting in classrooms and passively listening to their instructors, they are being forced through required lab hours to actively participate in their learning and seek individualized help.”
Hudson said students are required to attend two hours of regular classroom lecture and then log an additional three hours per week in the math lab, where they are guided through homework and practice tests online and supervised by faculty and student teachers who are available to answer student questions.
“One thing I hear over and over again is that MyMathLab is actually making students complete their homework, a habit that isn’t uncommon in introductory math classes,” said Muller. “Prior to the program, most of my students wouldn’t ask questions about their homework because they either didn’t do it or because they were too embarrassed to ask in front on their peers. With MyMathLab, students are required to take the time to properly complete their homework while also having the opportunity to ask questions in the math lab.”
Muller said students gain access to MyMathLab through their ID cards, which tracks their hours and homework participation grades as well as their progress in the course.
“We don’t make students go to lab at a specific time of the week but we do encourage them to schedule it into their week as if it were a lecture,” said Muller.
“Having MyMathLab the second time I took college algebra helped me so much,” said Schexneider. “I learned to not procrastinate and not put my homework off until the last minute. Having the responsibility to be in the lab three hours a week was hard but it really helped me keep up with lectures and the professor.”
Muller said that since the introduction of the program, more than 80 percent of students are now passing mathematics courses—an impressive statistic compared to student performance before the program.
Schexneider confirmed this fact by saying the program helped her redeem herself the second time around in college algebra.
“I raised my grade up to a ‘B’ with the help of MyMathLab, and if I can do it, anyone can,” Schexneider said. “I’m not saying it was easy, but I made a commitment, and if students are willing to put in the time it takes, they’ll see the benefits of their hard work.”
Schexneider now feels more confident in math and is ready to tackle higher-level courses with a vengeance.
“Now I know what I’m capable of doing,” she said.