MCCC’s math redesign stirs debate

The overhaul of the math program has MCCC’s campus abuzz, leaving many with mixed reviews of the redesign.

While the college cites increased success rates, some students have expressed concerns for the fees, the workload, and the independent learning style that is required.

With the redesign, tuition for developmental courses – Math 090, 092 or college-level Math 151 – was $310.

The fee covers the cost for the college to purchase a “package” from Pearson, the publisher, said Vinnie Maltese, dean of the mathematics division.

A “package” is what the college provides each student on the first day of class. It includes a netbook computer, the MyMathLab access code, and the workbook, he said.

“The college’s package price from Pearson this semester was $310.82 per student, not including shipping,” Maltese said.

Students pay the same lab fee each time to help the college absorb some of the additional cost, he said.

“I don’t understand why I’m being charged the exact same price for Math 151 as I did for 092,” Environmental Science major Jennifer Dayvolt said. “I’m not getting another computer. I’m not getting another book, so why am I paying that much?”

The amount the college pays overall, Maltese said, adds up to more than the cost for each student.

“If you have a student who is paying the fee a second time, it averages out so the college doesn’t lose money,” he said.

The college uses that money to pay for training of the faculty, training of adjuncts, extra netbooks, extra outlets in the classrooms, and so on, he said.

Other costs to the college include upgrades for the wireless connectivity, hardware and software, Maltese said.

“That’s how we keep the fee as low as we do,” he said.

Vice President of Instruction Grace Yackee said few students come to her with concerns about the costs unless they already have a computer.

“They wanted to know why they needed another computer,” she said. “Well, they don’t, but part of the math redesign is a lock-step.”

When a student is provided a notebook for the course on that first day, then all the tools are provided to them, Yackee said.

“All courses you implement this, all courses you distribute a computer, all courses cannot diverge from the model,” Yackee said. “Because then, you can’t use the research to say it works.”

The demands of the redesign are high, especially in comparison to the “chalk-and-talk” method that was taught for many years prior to the redesign, Yackee said. The new method requires an extensive amount of time devoted to the material, she added.

“This method is called a “flip classroom,” Yackee said. “It’s where the student guides the learning process.”

She said the very first semester of the redesign was winter 2012, and the number of students who received an A or a B was 61 percent.

“You have to have mastery to pass; that’s receiving an A or B,” Yackee said. “The mastery and independent learning are actually what sold us, and obviously the success rates.”

Dayvolt took Math 092 in the fall of 2012 and enrolled in Math 151 in winter 2013 because she has to have Math 151 in order to graduate.

She began the winter 2013 semester registered for math 151. Her other classes include business math, advanced psychology, and environmental science; all of which are rigorous courses, she said. She said she was very displeased with the method of instruction.

“I don’t like any of it online,” she said. “I like someone teaching me; actually telling me how to do the math.”

Dayvolt said she already had an idea of how time-consuming math was from her experience in math 092, but as for her other classes, she had no idea. The compilation of all of her classes is what proved to be impossible, she said.

Dayvolt had to drop the course.

The math redesign is so much more meticulous in comparison to the “chalk-and-talk” lectures of the past, she said. Students are unaware of this and are not able to take that into consideration when registering for their other classes, she said.

“It would have saved me a lot of time and money if I had been made aware of how implausible my course schedule was,” Dayvolt said.

Dayvolt pays out-of-pocket to attend college. Losing the money from having to drop math and then having to pay it again so she can graduate, is a devastating loss, she said.

Yackee said more students were failing prior to the redesign, so more students would have to pay to retake the course. With the redesign, fewer students are failing and they’re now able to take more than one class in a semester for the cost of one, she said.

In fall 2011, prior to the redesign, only 48 percent passed with a D or higher and the number of students who were mastering the content was only about 40.5 percent, Yackee said.

It is, in the long-run, costing students less this way than it may have otherwise, Yackee said.

The redesign helps students learn critical thinking, organizational skills and independent learning, Yackee said.

“It’s not just the content,” she said. “It’s the structure.”

MCCC student Andrew Brown has already taken math 090. He’s in 092 this semester and needs 151 in order to graduate.

“The structure of the class is awesome,” he said. “The online setup is so simple; watch videos, apply it, and do your homework – it’s simple.”

Brown said he is ahead in the class and doing great, but there are a few things about the redesign he doesn’t like.

“I don’t think you should be forced to take 090 or 092, no matter what you got on your compass,” he said. “I know I would’ve been able to pass 151 without the other classes; I should’ve been given a choice.”

You have to achieve a certain level for reading and writing on the compass test before you can even take a developmental course, Yackee said.

“Math, we haven’t had a bottom,” she said. “We take all the students, even those who are remedial, because math is different.”

Yackee said that math hasn’t been restricted just yet, but they are still looking at the data.

“Remedial education means that you’ve never mastered the content,” she said. “Developmental education is a refresher; we even call it that in our catalog.”

If a student is reading at a second grade level, we’d be lying if we said they would be successful in a developmental class like reading 090, and that’s why we have the learning bank and adult education, she said.

“We want to help our students to be prepared,” Yackee said. “These programs are really successful, if you follow them.”

This is about non-college mathematics that the college doesn’t have to offer; but as a community college and a stepping stone to higher education, we do, Yackee said.

“In today’s world, we have to make sure they at least have a certain competency level where they can go on if they have to,” Maltese said.

The guidelines that were in place before were to simply get students through the class; just to pass it, Maltese said.

“The philosophy years ago was, if you came to the community college and didn’t make it, you still got a job somewhere, because there were plenty of jobs out there for someone with just a high school diploma,” Maltese said. “Well, that’s no longer true.”

He explained that today’s job market is more competitive than it has ever been before and more employers are expecting entry-level employees to continue learning, just to keep their job.

“There are a lot of students, many more than ever before, that need this developmental work to go on,” Maltese said.

People had seen this math before, it was just a matter if needing a refresher, he said.

Maltese said students have to complete a program to get a job, to go to work, or to transfer.

He emphasized that students who have concerns are encouraged to come speak with him.

“It’s crucial that all students know that I am available to them if they have any questions or concerns,” Maltese said. “That’s what we are here for; to see our students succeed and to help them do it any way we can.”

Yackee shares the same philosophy as Maltese. She said when a student comes in with a concern, the system allows access to the students’ progress. It shows exactly where the student is at, which is a very serviceable feature, she added.

“I take students concerns very seriously,” she stated. “I talk to every one of these students’ who will talk to me.”

Professor of Mathematics Khadija Ahmed said the redesign has a strong track record of student success and retention.

“As before, not all students are completing the developmental math course in one semester,” she said. “Under the new model, when a student doesn’t complete a course, they register for it again and continue where they left off in the previous semester.”

Ahmed said this allows students to continue to make progress toward their academic goals and provides more opportunities for success.

Generally, students finish the course in a second attempt, and if they complete the course early, they can continue to work on the next course, she said.

“Every semester, I have students who have changed from being insecure about their ability to do math,” said Ahmed. “To gaining confidence through success, that they can achieve their goals.”

She said the data over the years showed the methods they were using to teach math was so unsuccessful. The redesign has a profound change in a student’s ability to retain the material and remain engaged.

MCCC’s success rates in the developmental math courses were historically very low, but about the same as national averages, Ahmed said.

“The math faculty did not want to continue to teach in the same way as we always have, which meant we would continue to get the same poor results,” she said.

We learned that the Emporium model was applied successfully over and over again, she said. Using all the information we gathered, we came up with what we believe would best meet the needs of our students, Ahmed said