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.

Simpson University, CA
4 Year University / Private

Scenario: I use ALEKS in a blended online/classroom setting without a textbook.
Purpose: Core Curriculum, Emporium Model, Online Course
ALEKS Course: Intermediate Algebra

Brooks Clark, Director of Institutional Research and Assessment/Adjunct Instructor
ALEKS is a user-friendly program and the Customer Support staff is available, knowledgeable, and very helpful.  Both the ALEKS methodology and the increased level of one-on-one help contributed to improved student performance. Students who excelled were not bored by busy work. Students who struggled were given extra practice and were then able to succeed.


Scenario

What challenges did your students or institution face prior to using ALEKS?
A class could consist of students recently transferring from a community college and those who had not been in school for 20 or more years. Meeting the needs of a wide range of student abilities was difficult in a lecture setting. Most of the students had some degree of math anxiety, along with fears associated with returning to school after a long absence; they needed one-on-one encouragement. If a student did not succeed in the course, he or she would not be admitted to the degree completion program.

Was ALEKS used in your course with all students or with targeted students?
All students.

Number of students who used ALEKS for the course and term:
Number of sections: 1
Number of students per ALEKS section: 11
Total students enrolled in this ALEKS course: 11

How do you structure your course periods with ALEKS?
The course is entirely a lab. The only required attendance is for weekly exams which must be taken in my presence.

How often are students encouraged or required to use ALEKS?
Hours per week: 15

For the sections that do NOT use ALEKS during this specific term, what do they work on in place of ALEKS?
The other three Intermediate Algebra courses were traditional lectures with a textbook, taught by other professors.


Implementation

Please describe how you implement ALEKS into your course curriculum.
I spent two years researching ways to teach remedial math and looked at several programs before choosing ALEKS. We began using ALEKS in the traditional undergraduate program, giving the students a choice between the computer-assisted course and the traditional course. The Dean of Degree Completion heard about ALEKS and asked me to develop a "bridge" course for her students who did not have the math credits required to enter the program. I have also used ALEKS twice as a directed study for students nearing graduation who have not yet completed their math requirements.

Do you cover ALEKS topics in a particular order?
For the eight-week course I have developed seven Intermediate Objectives consisting of 20-30 topics each. I divided the topics generally in the order they appear in the ALEKS course content section. I don't require objectives to be completed and they are not graded, but inform the students that each objective contains material they will need to have mastered for the weekly test.

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

How do you incorporate ALEKS Quizzes into your course?
Weekly quizzes taken from the Intermediate Objectives comprise 100 percent of the course grade.

How do you modify your regular instructional approach as a result of ALEKS?
I now work with students individually in the lab and do not prepare a lecture. I am available to my students by email, phone, and in my office for extra help. I no longer spend time grading papers and  instead give that time to students individually. I am able to build individual relationships with the students and mentor them through their return to school.

How do you use information from ALEKS to focus your teaching?
I review all topics available through the course syllabus and alter course content to fit the course requirements. I watch each student's progress and look at how much time they are spending on ALEKS and how many topics they need to complete to be ready for the test. I do not use ALEKS grading, but grade the tests myself, giving partial credit where appropriate. I use the ALEKS Message Center daily to communicate with my students.

How do you use ALEKS in conjunction with any other learning management systems, course management programs, etc.?
I use Excel to set up a grading worksheet.


Grading

What percent of a student's grade does ALEKS make up?
100 percent.

How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?
There are seven tests worth 100 points each; a 70 percent mean score is needed to pass the class.  All seven tests must be completed. This is a pass/no pass course.

Is ALEKS assigned to your students as all or part of their homework responsibilities?
ALEKS is assigned as 100 percent of the students' homework responsibilities.

Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
They must be prepared for a test on one Intermediate Objective per week. Tests may be taken before the due date, but not afterwards without special consideration.

How do you track student progress in ALEKS?
I use the individual student report, progress in learning mode, last log on, total time spent, and weekly quizzes. Speaking with the students about their struggles and successes also gives me important information and helps me understand how to help them. Nothing compares to seeing a student's face light up after a success.

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?
Not necessarily. The correlation between final grade and time spent on ALEKS is -0.44.  Time spent on ALEKS ranged from 19.4 hours to 142.7 hours for the eight-week course. Students who spent the most time on ALEKS were the ones who struggled most with the material. Students who spent the least time on ALEKS probably didn't need the course to begin with.  The top two grades went to 45.5 and 57.3 hours (would have been an A+ had I given grades), and the bottom 2 grades went to 142.7 hours and 62.2 hours (would have been a C- had I given grades.

Would you attribute any improved student performance in the course to ALEKS methodology or to some other factor?
Both the ALEKS methodology and the increased level of one-on-one help contributed to improved student performance. Students who excelled were not bored by busy work. Students who struggled were given extra practice and were then able to succeed.


Learning Outcomes

Please describe the learning outcomes your students have achieved using ALEKS.
This is a pass/no pass course with 70 percent mean score on seven tests required to pass. All 11 students passed. When I taught a lecture only course, there were no classes with a 100 percent pass rate. Eight of the 11 entered the Degree Completion program in various majors and are progressing successfully.

In general, how do the students feel about their progress in ALEKS?
Taking math one small piece at a time and not wasting time on topics they have already mastered helps students to overcome their dislike of math. Students may complete all the work early, which encourages some to work harder. It usually doesn't take long for students to realize they can do math and for some, it even becomes fun.


Best Practices

What challenges did you encounter when first implementing ALEKS and how can other instructors avoid these pitfalls?
There was, and still is, resistance to change within the department. To avoid this, have testimonials and success data available. At first, I allowed students to work completely at their own pace. This led some to leave too much work to complete at the end of the semester and they were not able to pass.  Setting up Intermediate Objectives helps students to stay on track. My first courses with ALEKS were graded; I tried grading based on time spent on ALEKS, percent of objective completed by a certain date, and attendance rate in required labs. This created more work for me and, as I learned after changing the grading procedure, it did not make a difference. In the required labs, freshmen were too easily distracted by other students and the courses were too large. I try to cap my classes at 15 now.  

Which ALEKS course product(s) have you used in the past?
Intermediate Algebra

What best practices would you like to share with other instructors who are implementing ALEKS?
For my classes, the one-on-one help is crucial for encouragement and success.  My students need to know they will not be left alone to struggle through the material.  Frequent contact, by email or phone, is very important.

Additional Insights:
For the most part, my adult students love the program. I have even had a student or two who will continue in ALEKS after the course is finished. When I taught the Math for Teachers course to the same students, the comments on the course evaluation sheets frequently included "Use ALEKS in this course."