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Response to the U.S. Department of Educations Request for Information
About Promising and Practical Strategies to Increase Postsecondary Success:
Modular Math at University of Detroit Mercy
Contact: Cate Caldwell, Director of Sponsored Programs
4001 W. McNichols Road
Detroit, MI 48221-3038
(313) 993-1544
HYPERLINK "mailto:caldwecr@udmercy.edu" caldwecr@udmercy.edu
Signing Official: Pamela Zarkowski, Vice President for Academic Affairs
(313) 993-1585
HYPERLINK "mailto:Pamela.zarkowski@udmercy.edu" Pamela.zarkowski@udmercy.edu
ABSTRACT
Prior to 2007, a large number of students at the University of Detroit Mercy had difficulty earning a passing grade in MTH 1010, Intermediate Algebra. MTH 1010 is the course the majority of students take to satisfy the mathematics requirement. To address this concern, the Mathematics and Computer Science Department developed a sequence of three one-credit courses (MTH 1020, MTH 1030, MTH 1040), covering content identical to the three-credit MTH 1010. Students were required to earn a grade of C or better in one module in order to move to the next. A three-credit hour MTH 1010 course also continued to be offered. In 2005 and 2006, prior to the modular math courses, 32% and 39% of students did not successfully complete MTH 1010. It was demonstrated that a greater number students were successful in both the three-credit course and the modular sections in subsequent years. Students with weaker math skills were encouraged to take the modular version, so it was expected that the success rate of the three-credit course would also improve. In 2007, 23% of students in the three-credit MTH 1010 were unsuccessful, and 25% of students in the first modular course were unsuccessful. This represents significant improvement over 2005 and 2006, when only the three-credit version was offered.
CONCERN
As part of the Core Curriculum, students at the University of Detroit Mercy must satisfy a mathematics requirement. For students in the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Health Professions, the majority of students take one course - MTH 1010 Intermediate Algebra. For a variety of reasons, the student success rate in this class has been problematic. In 2005, 32% percent of students were unsuccessful in completing the course (21% of the students withdrew from the course, 11% received a grade of F). In 2006, 39% of students were unsuccessful (22% withdrew, 17% received a grade of F). There were also a worrisome number of students that repeated the course more than twice.
A STRATEGRY TO ADDRESS CONCERNS
To address these concerns, the Mathematics and Computer Science Department developed an alternative to the three-credit MTH 1010 Intermediate Algebra course. A sequence of three one-credit courses, MTH 1020, MTH 1030, MTH 1040, covering identical content to the three-credit MTH 1010 was developed and offered to students beginning in the fall of 2007. Students were required to earn a grade of C in one module to move on to the next. One advantage to this approach was that the material was chunked into smaller pieces, which was particularly helpful for students that found mathematics intimidating. This approach allowed students to focus on successfully completing a smaller amount of material at a time (one credit worth, rather than three credits). After taking the exam on the approximately four weeks of the first module, if the student did not earn a grade of C, they repeated only that four week module instead of the entire 14 week term. In addition, because they were required to earn a grade of C before moving on, they theoretically had a better grasp of the material on which to build. When a student repeated a section, they repeated the module with other students who were also repeating. The repeater class always had a smaller enrollment which allowed the instructor to give students additional attention and support. After successfully completing a module, students earned the grade and the credit for that module, successfully completing that portion of the course, without a need to repeat if the student has trouble with later material. This helped create an environment that encouraged students to build on their success. An additional incentive for students to take the modular version of the course was that there was no cumulative final exam. An unexpected advantage of the modular approach to the course was that the phenomenon of students increasing their effort in the class as the final exam approached occurred three times during a 14 week semester, rather than just once.
In 2007, the first year of implementing the program, students had the option of taking either the traditional three-credit MTH 1010, or the three one-credit modules MTH 1020, MTH 1030, MTH 1040. Improvement in terms of reducing the number of students who were not successful was seen in both the MTH 1010 sections and the modular sections. In the three credit MTH 1010, 23% of students were not successful (13% withdrew, 11% received a grade of F). Advisors were encouraged to direct students with weaker mathematics backgrounds to the modular math sequence, so improvement in MTH 1010 was expected as it was likely to have a greater number of students with a better chance of success. There was also improvement from previous years for students enrolled in the first module MTH 1020. In this class, 25% of students were not successful (8% withdrew, 8% received grades of F, and 10% received grades of D, D+, or C-). This was an improvement from the 2005 and 2006 rates of 32% and 39%, respectively. Please note that for MTH 1020 and for MTH 1030, students must earn a grade of C or better to successfully move on to the next module, so the standard for success is greater. (Students can successfully complete MTH 1010 and MTH 1040 with a grade of D or better.) Students that were not successful only had to repeat the one-credit module rather than the entire three-credit course. It may be presumed that student may have a better understanding of the material given that they must have earned at least a grade of C on 2/3 of the material covered in MTH 1010. See Table 1 below.
Table 1. Rate of Students Not Successfully Completing Course
MTH 1010MTH 1020MTH 1030MTH 1040200532%xxx200639%xxx200723%25%24%17%200822%24%27%13%200916%22%33%16%Source: UDM Institutional Research Office
IMPLEMENTATION
A team of three instructors were identified to teach the modular MTH 1020, 1030, 1040 sequence. The team of instructors developed a common final exam for each of the three modules, and graded those exams together. Each module was approximately four weeks, and a calendar was created to keep the material covered roughly in sync.
Each module was offered twice in the term. See Table 2 below.
Table 2. Schedule for Modular Math Courses
Term 1Term 2Section 1 equivalent to MTH 1010MTH 1020MTH 1030MTH 1040MTH 1020MTH 1030MTH 1040Section 2 equivalent to MTH 1010MTH 1020MTH 1030MTH 1040MTH 1020MTH 1030MTH 1040Section 3 repeater sectionMTH 1040 for students from previous semester MTH 1020 for students who did not get C or better in MTH 1020 section 1 or 2)MTH 1030 for students who did not get C or better in MTH 1030 section 1 or 2
and students successfully finishing MTH 1020 repeaterMTH 1040 for students from previous semesterMTH 1020 for students who did not get C or better in MTH 1020 section 1 or 2)MTH 1030 for students who did not get C or better in MTH 1030 section 1 or 2
and students successfully finishing MTH 1020 repeater
THE NEXT PHASE
In 2009, the department began offering another option for students - MTH 1010 online. Then in 2010, the modular MTH 1020, 1030, 1040 sequence was offered online as well, allowing students a choice for satisfying the Core Curriculum Mathematics requirement in way that fit a number of different learning styles.
CHALLENGES
There is additional administrative overhead for the modular math sequence. A course coordinator was needed to managing record keeping, content sequencing, adding/dropping students that needed to repeat a module, and communicating enrollment changes with advisors and students. Over time, the cooperation between the different instructors of modular sections lessened. The practice of modular math instructors grading exams together gradually faded away. There are some scheduling difficulties with the modular math sequence as well. To allow students to move freely between the MTH 1020, MTH 1030, MTH 1040 modules for students needing to repeat, it was necessary to run three sections of this sequence all in the same time key. Finding a single time key that worked for a large number of students was a challenge. In 2011, the success of the modular math sequence led the department to reduce the number of MTH 1010 offerings to just one day and one evening section, and to offer a second time key for the MTH 1020, MTH 1030, MTH 1040. Advisors and students have requested that the modular math sequence be offered in the evening for non-traditional students. Unfortunately, the number of students registering for the evening class is not large enough to support three sections, and therefore the modular math sequence was not viable for the evening class. This was somewhat mitigated when the modular sequence began to be offered online; however, many non-traditional students have expressed a preference for an on-campus class.
Keywords/Tags:
Modular Curriculum
Persistence
Retention
STEM
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