Clemson University, SC
4 Year University / Public
Purpose: Remediation, Supplement, Homework, Assessment
Eliza Gallagher, Lecturer
I taught Precalculus in its existing format for two years, as well as teaching two different versions of the subsequent Calculus I course (single-semester and two-semester versions). During the second year, I began compiling a list of desired changes, which included the flexibility to meet the individual needs of students entering with a wide range of backgrounds, strengths, and deficiencies. That flexibility revolves around the ability to accurately assess the current knowledge of each student, so we needed a format that centered around assessment. I evaluated many different options, and ALEKS provided, by far, the best cycle on assessment and learning to allow for individualized instructional paths.
I have experience with MyMathLab and several different textbooks for this material. In addition, I have used Maple, MATLAB, and Mathematica for supplemental exploration in various mathematics courses. As a self-contained program allowing for individualized learning paths, none matches ALEKS.
We now have about a 70% pass rate, with student performing in subsequent courses at least as well as under the previous format. I believe that we are also much more successful at introducing student to, or encouraging them in, the view of math as a sense-making process, rather than a series of rules to be memorized and applied. Additionally, our students are much more adept at catching their mistakes, or avoiding them in the first place.
What challenges did your students or institution face prior to using ALEKS?
We were using a traditional lecture format (four days per week) with a supplemental lab (two days per week) as a problem session run by graduate students. We used a typical textbook and the online program MyMathLab in addition to written homework. The pass rate was very low (~45%), as were student satisfaction with the course and student performance in subsequent courses. We were able to bring the pass rate up to ~55% by moving to smaller class sizes and incorporating active learning in each lecture session, but that was still much lower than we desired. There is a particular urgency to improve the pass rate in this course the proportion of under-represented groups in the course is much higher than in the general student population or in the STEM majors fed by this course. Thus, we were losing precisely the populations we would like to see more highly represented in STEM fields.
Was ALEKS used in your course with all students or with targeted students?
ALEKS was initially used in a summer pilot course strictly for students who had previously failed the course. At the conclusion of the summer pilot, we implemented ALEKS full-scale in all sections of our Precalculus courses.
Number of students who used ALEKS for the course and term:
Number of students per ALEKS section: 30
How do you structure your course periods with ALEKS?ALEKS is used with our MthSc105-PreCalculus course. It is one semester long and 5 credit hours. The course meets two days per week for 75 minutes per day.
The face-to-face meetings all have three instructional faculty present for the group of thirty students (1 faculty, 2 graduate teaching assistants). During the lab time, we typically have six to eight mini-lectures with groups of 3 to 12 students, each lasting 10 to 25 minutes. There are typically two mini-lectures happening simultaneously, one at each end of the room, while the third instructional faculty member assists students who are participating in neither mini-lecture.
Students work at their own pace. If they finish early, they no longer are required to attend class. We move them to a supplemental module on limits, but they cannot begin the next course until the start of the next regular semester.
How often are students encouraged or required to use ALEKS?
Hours per week: 8-10
Do you integrate a textbook with your course using ALEKS Textbook Integration? Please describe how you set up your chapter completion dates.
How often do you use the ALEKS Instructor Module?
I use the Instructor Module frequently throughout the term.
How do you incorporate ALEKS scheduled Assessments into your course?
We use the ALEKS assessments for verification of mastery by the individual without recourse to notes or external assistance. Two ALEKS assessments are scheduled: one at 40% mastery and one at 70% mastery. They are both comprehensive.
How do you use ALEKS in conjunction with any other learning management systems, course management programs, etc.?
I use the Pie Report to select topics to be addressed in mini-lectures for each class meeting. I also use the Progress Reports to monitor student progress, alert them if they are in danger of not completing the course or congratulate them if they are making particularly good progress. We also use the Progress Reports to schedule Comprehensive Assessments at 40% overall mastery and 70% overall mastery. The Time and Topic Report is used to address problems we see with student work habits impeding their progress in the course.
What percent of a student's grade does ALEKS make up?
How do you incorporate ALEKS into your grading system?The course is criterion-based. To earn a grade of Pass, the student must attain 80% overall mastery, with minimum mastery levels in each wedge. The student must also take two supervised comprehensive assessments to verify the content mastery, satisfy a worksheet completion requirement, and pass a written exit exam. All of these are completed in, or generated from, ALEKS.
Would you attribute any improved student performance in the course to ALEKS methodology or to some other factor?
Yes. The pass rate in the course using ALEKS increased from ~55% to ~70%, with equivalent rates of success in subsequent courses.
Please describe the learning outcomes your students have achieved using ALEKS.
Since implementing ALEKS, we have been able to meet the staffing needs with one full-time faculty member and five full-time graduate teaching assistants. We have also freed up classroom space by meeting twice a week instead of six times a week. The pass rate has increased to 70%. We still only have about half of those who pass persisting in STEM majors, but those who do persist are succeeding in the Calculus sequence at higher rates than under the old format. The workload for the instructional faculty is much lower and the satisfaction levels for both students and faculty are much higher.
In general, how do the students feel about their progress in ALEKS?
Since the mini-lectures in lab are targeted only at those students who are “ready to learn” the given topic, the students who attend are engaged and responsive. Students who are not ready to learn the topic, or who feel they do not need the mini-lecture, are able to continue working independently at their own pace and on the topics of most interest to them. In addition, student confidence builds among
those who put in the time to make steady forward progress.
What challenges did you encounter when first implementing ALEKS and how can other instructors avoid these pitfalls?
The course was already set up to have four units of lecture and two units of lab. We simply flipped the structure, allotting the four units of lecture as an online course and the two units of lab as three face-to-face contact hours per week. The Department Council did request that, in addition to the ALEKS
assessment, we administer a written exit exam upon conclusion of the course. Since the course was already set up as Pass/Fail, we were able to make it a criterion based Pass, rather than a course average based Pass, with no institutional difficulties.
What best practices would you like to share with other instructors who are implementing ALEKS?
Start with an empty ALEKS pie and work through the entire course yourself using the Student View feature. Make sure any teaching assistants also complete the pie, from wherever an initial assessment placed them instead of from an empty pie.