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.

Black Hills State University, SD
4 Year University / Public

Scenario: I use ALEKS in a traditional course with a textbook.
Purpose: Homework
ALEKS Course: College Algebra

Gary Hagerty, Associate Professor
Since starting ALEKS in 2002, our College Algebra pass rates have improved from 50 percent to 70 percent; when including students who received a passing grade of D, the College Algebra pass rate is approaching 90 percent. Furthermore, the state of South Dakota requires all college Sophomores to take the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) test. Student scores on the CAAP test have increased overall from about 57.4 points to 58.3 points - a standard deviation of about 3.8 points. These CAAP scores increase when you only look at students who were enrolled in College Algebra with ALEKS prior to the test. This leads students to realize they are learning better with ALEKS and to feel better about their progress in math.


Scenario

What challenges did your students or institution face prior to using ALEKS?
Prior to using ALEKS, we had a 50 percent pass rate for our College Algebra course. We struggled with a wide range of student skills in mathematics; this usually meant starting the course beyond some students' skill levels, while boring others.

Was ALEKS used in your course with all students or with targeted students?
ALEKS was used with all students enrolled in the course.

Number of students who used ALEKS for the course and term:
Number of sections: 5
Number of students per ALEKS section: 75
Total students enrolled in this ALEKS course: 360

How do you structure your course periods with ALEKS?
Our courses were structured with one day per week spent in lecture, one day per week in cooperative activities that address applications of math topics, and one day per week using ALEKS.

How often are students encouraged or required to use ALEKS?
Hours per week: 4

For the sections that do NOT use ALEKS during this specific term, what do they work on in place of ALEKS?
All sections used ALEKS.


Implementation

Please describe how you implement ALEKS into your course curriculum.
We began using ALEKS in 2002, prior to the availability of Textbook Integration and Intermediate Objectives features. As a result, we found that a drastic change was required, so we wrote our own accompanying textbook which we still use today. Now, we set up Intermediate Objectives for every two weeks in ALEKS, which correspond to the course work for those weeks. Our students have a variety of reasons for taking College Algebra, so the Intermediate Objectives are selected to prepare students for Calculus, and to meet the general educational needs of all students. As a result, our expectation is that a C student will complete approximately 75 percent of the total assigned objectives.

Do you cover ALEKS topics in a particular order?
Topics are covered in a standard College Algebra order.

Do you integrate a textbook with your course using ALEKS Textbook Integration? Please describe how you set up your chapter completion dates.
No, we started using ALEKS prior to the availability of this feature.

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

How do you modify your regular instructional approach as a result of ALEKS?
Early on, we realized the effectiveness of ALEKS, and its ability to free up course time. To fill this time and enhance the College Algebra course, we developed cooperative activities to reinforce applications of mathematics and cultivate a stronger relationship between mathematics and other subject areas. Our experience indicates that traditional and reformed approaches to mathematics instruction can coexist. I believe that with ALEKS providing the traditional course content, a significant amount of time can be delegated to reform activities without removing any content.

How do you use information from ALEKS to focus your teaching?
I use the available ALEKS reports to track student progress. This allows me to identify struggling students and provide additional support to help them be successful. I am also able to identify quality math students to encourage further math study. Additionally, I use the Average Report Pie Chart report to locate skills that need to be discussed in lecture, based on the students' needs. It helps to know exactly what has been done prior to lecture so that I know what topics to discuss and what students have already completed.

How do you use ALEKS in conjunction with any other learning management systems, course management programs, etc.?
We recently switched from WebCt to Desire2Learn (D2L), so our progress in connecting ALEKS to this tool has been slow. We plan to use D2L quizzes to create test questions based on conceptual understanding.


Grading

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

How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?
We have seven Intermediate Objectives, each one consisting of two grading components. The first component is the overall number of objectives completed by the student as a percent of the overall number of objectives available. The second component is the amount of time spent in ALEKS over the two week period as a percent out of eight hours. The grade given to the student each grading period is the lesser of the calculated objective grade and time grade. The rationale for this grading method is that student habits evolve as they become familiar with ALEKS. Early in the semester, students need to be asked to spend time on ALEKS to adapt to the new delivery method; by requiring four hours of use per week, this occurs. Later in the semester, however, the four hours per week assists in ensuring that students spend a significant amount of time on each set of Intermediate Objectives and thus, they become experienced in each set of skills. Weak students, however, can spend four hours per week in ALEKS and not be successful; these students must be pushed to complete objectives.

Is ALEKS assigned to your students as all or part of their homework responsibilities?
ALEKS is the only homework that is assigned to the students.

Do you require students to make regular amounts of progress in ALEKS?
Generally, we require students to spend four hours per week in ALEKS and/or master ten topics. Later in the semester, the number of topics mastered is reduced to seven.

How do you track student progress in ALEKS?
Student progress is tracked using time spent in ALEKS and completed Intermediate Objectives, tracked either through the Average Report Pie Chart or Detailed Progress Report.

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?
This is a complicated issue when one considers it on an individual basis. When comparing two students of equal ability, the student spending more time will complete more objectives and thus do better in the class. However, for two students of varying ability levels who complete the same number of objectives, the student who spends less time is generally the more capable student and thus does better. Students, as a group, however, require extrinsic motivation; considering that, we ask students to use ALEKS for four hours per week over 15 weeks, for a total of 60 hours over the semester. When examining the class as a whole, we find A students average 60.2 hours in ALEKS, B students average 59.1 hours, and C students average 52.5 hours.

Would you attribute any improved student performance in the course to ALEKS methodology or to some other factor?
I have to attribute much of our success to ALEKS methodology. The use of assessments to evaluate and reposition students is a big improvement over other tools. Students are often able to complete a problem on first attempt by following notes, however their understanding is weak. When students continue with this foundation, they begin to struggle. Thus, ALEKS Assessments and reviews are important to develop fluency.


Learning Outcomes

Please describe the learning outcomes your students have achieved using ALEKS.
Since using ALEKS, College Algebra pass rates have improved from 50 percent to 70 percent; when including students who received a passing grade of D, the College Algebra pass rate is approaching 90 percent. Furthermore, the state of South Dakota requires all college Sophomores to take the Collegiate Assessment of Academic Proficiency (CAAP) test. Student scores on the CAAP test have increased overall from about 57.4 points to 58.3 points - a standard deviation of about 3.8 points. These CAAP scores increase when you only look at students who were enrolled in College Algebra with ALEKS prior to the test. Mathematics topics such as linear functions, polynomials, logs, and exponential functions are recognized as useful tools for the sciences, business, psychology, human services, and other fields. We currently have reports that students entering these areas of the workforce are better prepared as a result of their improved mathematical knowledge.

In general, how do the students feel about their progress in ALEKS?
In general, students realize they are learning better with ALEKS and feel better about their progress in math. Occasionally, however, this progress is masked by years of self-doubt and a belief that mathematics is not useful; this type of student struggles with math and works every problem from his notes. In ALEKS, this student is often asked to review topics after progress assessments due to lack of retention. While the student's initial response is grumbling, the student often realizes the need and benefit of the topic review.


Best Practices

What challenges did you encounter when first implementing ALEKS and how can other instructors avoid these pitfalls?
The biggest challenge today is the campus community. ALEKS is different and is not always well understood by the general community. With more support prior to implementing ALEKS, there will be fewer student complaints. Make sure others (Administrators, Student Support Staff, Advisors, Tutors) know that changes are being made for the better.

What will you do differently when you implement ALEKS in your future course(s)?
I am currently evaluating ALEKS to create course flexibility. When evaluating our students who enroll in Basic Algebra, we find that about 20 percent are placed into this course as a result of years away from math, rather than a low math aptitude. Currently, these students are forced to complete both Basic Algebra and Intermediate Algebra. However, our initial research has shown that these students are capable of reviewing both Basic and Intermediate Algebra skills in one semester, then successfully completing their general education requirements the next semester, often at a higher level than the average group.

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

What best practices would you like to share with other instructors who are implementing ALEKS?
We are using ALEKS in an "open" fashion. By incorporating a time component into our grading scale, students can schedule time for ALEKS, and when they have completed their time for the week, they are done. Without this marker in place, the student is always worried about needing to do more - this means the student is thinking about ALEKS all of the time. The time component allows the student to put ALEKS in order to focus on other subjects. We also require students to keep ALEKS notebooks. Additionally, ALEKS prompts students to correct their mathematical notation and procedures without my asking, and the students recognize the importance of this. Lastly, by making ALEKS a large portion of the final grade, students are less likely to complain that another student has a third party to complete the course work.

Additional Insights:
ALEKS is a unique and different approach from the traditional classroom setting. The program even reforms some traditional ideas in order to incorporate them into a 21st century learning environment. I believe ALEKS is an excellent step towards an improved and more unified mathematics community and teaching methodology. This program truly improves student outcomes.