Sunday, September 11, 2011

Quantway and the Complete College initiative

Complete College America is challenging and supporting states in efforts to improve completion rates.  Recently, they awarded ten $1 million grants to ten states.  The grants will help fund initiatives that should allow students to move forward through college towards degrees and ultimately, careers.  One common theme amongst the states who received grants:  initiatives to improve and accelerate the developmental math sequence.  We know that it is often a bog for students and can prevent students from ever getting to college math and therefore, a degree.

Most colleges looking at ways to accelerate the process through developmental math are considering modular models based on the emporium concept of self paced, lab based learning.

But another option, Quantway, could potentially be faster for students and simpler for colleges to implement since it is only one course. 

One of the main reasons we wanted to develop the Quantway course Mathematical Literacy for College Students at our college was the overwhelming number of Associate of Arts degrees awarded each year.  Students need a statistics or general education math class to satisfy the majority of AA degrees.  We saw time and again that when students had a high enough ACT or placement score, they could start in one of these courses and usually complete them.  Both courses have a pass rate of around 70-75%, regardless of instructor, day pattern, or time of day.  If we can get students into these classes, they usually pass and can complete the math requirement for their degrees.

The problem was so many students are just shy of meeting the requirement for entry.  Enter a lengthy developmental math sequence emulating high school math with courses like intermediate algebra that can be more rigorous than the college level courses it feeds into.  There lies the bog.  At our school, we worked very hard to get them over that hump only to get into a class like statistics or general education math that is more accessible and does not depend on the prerequisite skills they worked so hard to get.

Yes, emporium models can accelerate the process.  But they are costly initially (and potentially long term if they are not successful) in terms of both time and human investment.  For the student headed to statistics, they still don't address the skills that student needs to be successful in the course or in their career.

Quantway's MLCS course is not proven yet to work since the pilots are still just beginning.  But as we've already seen, something good can come of this approach.  If it is successful, and that is a big if, schools can have a viable option to redesign that only involves the investment of teachers learning about the course and its pedagogy.  Part of our pilot is to develop all the resources an instructor would need to be successful, not just the materials for a student.  As someone who looked at option after option to try in a large scope redesign that would not be grant funded, it was always encouraging to find ideas that weren't costly and had real potential.  We've already seen that with our combined algebra course.  In one semester, a student can take beginning and intermediate algebra (if they place high enough) and go into college level math the following semester.  We hope that MLCS will do the same for our program, but this time serving a different population with different goals.

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