The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Tough Time with Adaptive Math

About 85% of the incoming students at Essex Community College, Newark, NJ, place in the lowest level of developmental math, and just 10% of the students ever complete a college-level math course. That led the institution to make a $1.2 million investment in new math labs.

Along with the labs, the college designed a “self-regulated” group approach for students featuring two 50-minute classroom sessions a week to discuss their progress with other students, as well as workbooks with learning goals that are worked out with instructors, according to a report in Inside Higher Education. The initial results have not been promising.

The pass rate for the traditional development math at Essex always hovered around 50%, but the adaptive class fell to 35% in 2014, the first year of the program. The rate inched closer to 50% in the spring semester, but is still behind the pass rate of the traditional class.

“Our problem is not content,” said Douglas Walcerz, vice president of planning, research, and assessment at Essex. “Our problem is both student beliefs and behaviors.”

One issue was keeping students using the self-regulated workbooks on pace with instructors, who often were graduate students from Rutgers University and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Essex switched back to having its own faculty members supervise the learning sessions. Faculty also balked after being asked to essentially roam the classroom and offer individual help on computer-based courseware.

However, Essex will continue using the adaptive math approach and is looking at other adaptive learning providers. Walcerz said he believes adaptive learning requires a higher standard of mastery than conventional courses and provides more data on student performance.

“You can’t learn for them,” Walcerz said. “It takes time and it’s hard.”

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