It has been four years since MCCC’s three beginner level math courses were redesigned, yet there still seems to be confusion about the courses.
Last month, a group of students discussed student life at MCCC over lunch with a group from the Higher Learning Commission, who were visiting campus as part of the college’s accreditation process.
Some concerns were voiced on the math redesign courses. Vinnie Maltese, dean of the Science/Mathematics Division, said he wanted to clarify some of the issues raised by the students.
Sometimes when students ask their instructor for help in a math redesign course they are told to repeat things from their lesson plans, such as watching the video tutorials again, or retaking a pretest before a final.
Maltese said he knows of very few cases where that happens, but cited a case where he was informed of a student being told to watch an instructional video once more as it uses step-by-step arithmetic guides.
“There are many things in My MathLab where you can ask for a guided example. You can ask for another problem that’s similar, rather than the instructor lecturing just one student,” he said.
Maltese reiterated that if a student has a specific question about the arithmetic, they should come back to the instructor for guidance on how to work it out.
Maltese also said he wanted to clarify that My MathLab isn’t used in higher level courses. Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry (Math 159) is offered online, but also in face-to-face courses.
“We do that so that students have options,” said Maltese. “It’s never offered just online.”
The only math courses offered in the redesigned format (not to be confused with strictly online courses) are the developmental courses – Math 090, 092 and 151.
“None of the other math classes are in that format,” Maltese said.
“That would seem really difficult. That’s why we offer them face-to-face,” he said.
He also explained how the math redesign courses differ from online courses.
With math redesign courses, students still meet in person, accessing the material online instead of in a textbook. Pencil and paper are used for tests.
Online courses have no scheduled classes on campus, and students sign in on personal computers, where their work is submitted.
Maltese said the My MathLab software usually works without any hiccups.
“Like anything else, occasionally technology goes down. As far as My MathLab being down, there have only been a couple of instances,” he said.
Last year there were some extended problems, he said, but they were relatively minor and just occurred during one semester.
“Most of the times students think it’s down, it’s really not. It’s a problem with the computer, the wireless connection, or something else,” he said. “But really, there is very little down time, especially when you consider that this system is available 24/7.”
As far as success rates with the redesign, Maltese said that last winter semester aboaut 45 students passed the courses, out of the nearly 150 enrolled. About 80 failed the courses, and 18 withdrew.
Although this looks bad at first, Maltese said, looking at the amount of time students logged into My MathLab revealed perhaps why this was the case.
The class is three hours, and students should spend at least an hour working in My MathLab during class, with two hours minimum outside of class. At the end of the semester, students should have logged at least 135 hours.
Of all the students who failed or withdrew, only one had at least 135 hours logged on the course.
“That’s the biggest issue: students are not investing the time in the course,” he said.
“That’s always been the issue. The difference is we’ve never been able to see. I can’t tell how much time you’ve spent on your English course outside of class. As an instructor, I’d have no way to know. But with this, we do.”
Maltese said this is important to have for developmental courses, as one of the biggest problem with those students is they haven’t learned yet what they have to do in order to be successful.
“This gives us the ability to help them. But they still have to seek that help. And when they do, we try to help them because we can,” he said.
Some students can get away with passing the class without spending the recommended time, he said, as every student who has graduated from high school in the last few decades has already covered this material.
“Some can really accelerate. It’s a refresher, and they move through it very quickly,” he said.
MCCC’s Policy and Procedure manual, in Procedure 3.19, says how many hours a student should study for each course.
“Basic to this policy is a commonly accepted minimum of two hours study and preparation time required for every hour spent in class.”
This has been the general rule of thumb for college courses since before 1972 — it’s one thing about higher education that has hardly ever changed, Maltese said.
He noted that it’s human nature for people to try to get away with spending as little time as possible on a course. But not spending the time can lead to a lack of success.
“That’s how college is set up, where the expectation is that the student does more. And the reason for that is we want to make people self-learners. We don’t want you to have to rely on somebody to learn.
“When you get one of our degrees, we want you to be in a position where now you can seek things… you can go to the library, you can go online, you can get information and learn things yourself,” he said.
College is about preparing individuals to be independent learners, he said.
“When something comes up at a job, not often is your boss going to say ‘Let me teach you how to do that’… this is the job you’re expected to do.
“If you don’t know how, figure it out. And that’s where we try to get students. And it’s a painful process, especially when you’re used to the K-12 system where you do almost everything in class.”
Maltese said the $315 lab fee is another complaint he gets from students. He said the fee is closely comparable to the costs of the textbooks used before the redesign.
MCCC contracts with Pearson to receive the workbook material and laptops that are given to students (and kept) in exchange for the lab fee. The college pays Pearson $289 per enrollment for the amount of computers and workbooks needed. This nets the college $26 per lab fee.
“Students think we’re getting all this money,” he said.
Every semester, the access code to My MathLab is included in the lab fee, which would stand alone at $120. The workbook is around the $75 range. When adding these up, the lab fee is less than what these materials cost.
“This was the least expensive way – for the student – for us to go with this system,” Maltese said.
If a student registers for a third math redesign course, they will at that time be paying more for their laptop and fees than needed.
This extra cost, plus the $26 left over from each enrollment, goes toward paying the tutors (student assistants who have completed these courses) in MCCC’s Math Den, which is available Monday through Thursday, open nearly each of those days from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The college worked the numbers to compare other options and found that if a student registered for two classes, paying the lab fee twice, it would still be less than what the materials and access would cost for those two semesters.
The Acer laptops, which MCCC continues to receive updated versions of (they used to have an Atom processor but now come equipped with a Dual-core processor), would be in a market price range of $200-300.
“What they get is really a value,” Maltese said.