A new option for Cayuga Community College students taking developmental math classes is resulting in improved rates of student success. Called Math Redesign or Modular Sections, the restructured classes turn the tables on more traditional teaching methods and philosophies, providing more individual instruction and support and allowing students to progress at a guided self-pace, among other benefits.
In a typical math class, students attend a lecture, take tests and quizzes, and do homework on their own at home. In that traditional model, if students get stuck while working on homework, they have to seek out help, which may be available only during established office hours and tutoring sessions or may need to be scheduled in advance. “In the redesign format, this is switched around,” said mathematics professor Shannon Reohr. Students “attend” lectures by watching a video on their computers at home and take notes on the handouts that accompany each lesson as problems are worked out in the video, just as they would in a classroom setting. “Then they come to class and work on the material from the lesson, while I go around the room answering questions,” said Reohr, who created the videos for the two developmental math courses being offered in this format. “The idea is that the class is more hands-on, and students are working with the material in the lessons while the professor is there with them.”
While the first 15 or 20 minutes of a traditional math class are typically spent reviewing homework, the beginning of the redesign classes is spent going over any questions students may have about the videos. “I like to take time at the start of class highlighting things I know they will need to do the ‘homework,’” Reohr said. “Then I go around the room and help them individually as they do it. We’re also fortunate to have a student tutor from the Center for Academic Success to help.”
Because the courses are set up in modules, students are able to progress at a guided self-pace. The students are allowed to work as far ahead as they’d like; however, there are due dates throughout the modules to guide them to complete the modules within the intended semester. They have the opportunity to take a pretest at the start of each module. If they achieve a score of 85 or higher, they can move on to the next level, rather than spending time on concepts they already understand. “This is another advantage over the traditional classroom, where everyone goes at the same pace all semester,” Reohr said.
Another aspect of the redesign courses is that of “mastery learning,” in which students have the opportunity to correct and learn from their mistakes on assignments, quizzes, and tests, and then try again to earn a grade of 80 or above. “That works well for a student who may have math anxiety,” Reohr said. “Knowing they have the chance to correct their mistakes and try again takes away the stress that can keep them from succeeding.”
Although the idea of Math Redesign is well-known nationally and widely used in the southern United States, the College is among the first upstate New York institutions to work with the concept. “About two or three years ago, we recognized that we wanted to do something new to change the low retention numbers for students in developmental math classes,” Reohr said. “We came across the Math Redesign in our research, and attended the NCAT (National Center for Academic Transformation) workshop in Florida to get some training there. I keep going to workshops to learn more about it, and we update our courses based on what others are finding successful and what we might like to try here.”
Preliminary results indicate increased percentages of students in Math Redesign sections achieving successful grades of C or higher, and decreases in the numbers of students failing or withdrawing from courses. Beyond what is indicated by the statistics, students themselves are voicing their appreciation for modular learning. “I feel this redesign was created just for me,” one student noted. “I have struggled through previous math courses and assumed I would always struggle. The redesign has allowed me to work at a pace that is stress free, allowing me to absorb the information and retain it.” Another student commented, “I like many students have test anxiety. When I start a math test I freeze and all that I have learned is frozen in time. The second time, I am more at ease and it allows me to have a higher pass success rate.”
Plans are underway to follow through on the success of the redesign courses by creating a transitional course, helping students carry over the benefits of modular learning into their more traditional credit-bearing classes. “We want to give students every opportunity we can to succeed,” Reohr said.