ALEKS - Assessment and Learning

Implementation Strategies

Our success stories encompass a wide variety of implementation models and best practices, from lecture-based to emporium labs to course redesigns. The flexibility of ALEKS made it simple and effective for these schools to improve their student success rates, and they are willing to share their strategies.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, WI
4 Year University / Public

Scenario: I use ALEKS for a summer pre-college program for high school students. The non-credit course is taught by a team for two hours a day for four weeks with no lectures.
Purpose: Core Curriculum, Remediation
ALEKS Course: Basic Math

Eric Key, Professor
I have been using ALEKS in my courses since 2001. It is the flexible tool we need to simultaneously deal with a very different student body. More than 50 percent of the students in our course this summer retested into a higher level mathematics course by using ALEKS. Three students skipped two or more levels of remedial mathematics altogether.


Scenario

What challenges did your students or institution face prior to using ALEKS?
The university uses a system-wide mathematics placement exam that focuses primarily on Intermediate Algebra. The vast majority of our admitted students test at a level of ready for Intermediate Algebra or lower, and the test does not allow us to accurately distinguish students and properly place them. In addition, math through Algebra 2 is required for admission, so our current suite of courses does not allow for the fact that students have mastered various topics. Consequently, the one-size-fits-all nature of these courses uses student and instructor time inefficiently, spending equal amounts of time on topics that students have mastered and topics that require extra time for mastery.

Was ALEKS used in your course with all students or with targeted students?
Our program is open to any students who have completed at least the tenth grade and who have been enrolled in the Milwaukee Public School system. There are no other requirements.

Number of students who used ALEKS for the course and term:
Number of sections: 2
Number of students per ALEKS section: 15
Total students enrolled in this ALEKS course: 30

How do you structure your course periods with ALEKS?
ALEKS is completed entirely in the lab. We have a student-to-teacher ratio of about seven to one.

How often are students encouraged or required to use ALEKS?
Days per week: 5
Hours per week: 10
Hours per term: 40


Implementation

Please describe how you implement ALEKS into your course curriculum.
Initially, every student is given a preliminary version of the University of Wisconsin-System Math Placement test. This indicates that all students should begin with the ALEKS Basic Math course. Two other instructors and I circulate around the lab giving help and asking students to explain their solutions. Whenever a student completes an assessment, it is printed out and the student is debriefed on the information contained in the assessment. Students are asked to review items that are incorrect and to give correct solutions for their attempted solutions.

Do you cover ALEKS topics in a particular order?
No. We did not because in all of our ALEKS implementations we feel it defeats our purpose to put topics in a particular order. Our goal is to identify problem areas student-by-student and help the students master these areas in ALEKS.

Do you integrate a textbook with your course using ALEKS Textbook Integration? Please describe how you set up your chapter completion dates.
No.

How often do you use the ALEKS Instructor Module?
I use the Instructor Module daily throughout the term.

How do you incorporate ALEKS scheduled Assessments into your course?
We have no formal schedule of assessments as this is not a graded course. Students are told that ALEKS assessments are their own reward as they are an indicator of progress; they quickly believe this idea.

How do you use information from ALEKS to focus your teaching?
This project would not be feasible without ALEKS.

How do you use ALEKS in conjunction with any other learning management systems, course management programs, etc.?
I do not use any other system. The best part of the ALEKS system is the feedback on which topics students have mastered. This information is not available in other systems; you would have to import it.


Grading

Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
No.

How do you track student progress in ALEKS?
We use all of the ALEKS tools, such as the individual, class, and assessment reports. It is valuable to see which groups of students are ready to learn the same topic so that we can speak to them as a small group.

Do you notice that students who spend more time in ALEKS perform better in the course than those students who spend less time in ALEKS?
Since we are using ALEKS with students who have seen the material previously, we don't see a strong correlation. As mentioned earlier, our biggest interest is patching holes in student mastery.

Would you attribute any improved student performance in the course to ALEKS methodology or to some other factor?
ALEKS makes it possible to implement mastery learning in heterogeneous groups such as ours.


Learning Outcomes

Please describe the learning outcomes your students have achieved using ALEKS.
More than 50 percent of the students in our course this summer retested into a higher level of mathematics by using ALEKS. Three students skipped two or more levels of remedial mathematics altogether.

In general, how do the students feel about their progress in ALEKS?
Students left the course with the feeling that becoming proficient in high school level mathematics was within their ability and control.


Best Practices

What challenges did you encounter when first implementing ALEKS and how can other instructors avoid these pitfalls?
We have had no challenges for this implementation. Our biggest problems are lab space, finding instructors who buy into the mastery learning concept and individual instruction versus lecturing, and student resistance to having math class every day.

What will you do differently when you implement ALEKS in your future course(s)?
At this point, I wouldn't change anything for this implementation. Our other courses continue to evolve as we seek the right balance between ALEKS and student writing in mathematics.

Which ALEKS course product(s) have you used in the past?
Basic Math, Pre-Algebra, Beginning Algebra, Intermediate Algebra, College Algebra, Trigonometry

What best practices would you like to share with other instructors who are implementing ALEKS?
Be sure to emphasize that the process is part of the solution. Keep track of student progress in writing mathematics through collected and reviewed assignments. Finally, stress checking your work and offer strategies for doing so.