Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pathways progress!

I've been traveling every weekend for the last two months, giving several talks and workshops on the pathways course we're teaching, Math Literacy (MLCS).  It has been exciting to see the tremendous amount of momentum and progress being made in regards to courses like this.  Many faculty are excited to see a new offering that is not algebra remixed and truly does something different for the developmental student.  I've heard more than instructor say, "This is long overdue."

So what progress is being made?

First, we have begun to see very promising data.  Carnegie has recently released their results, which are very encouraging.  I'm a big supporter of all pathways courses, not just MLCS. Fundamentally, I believe in this type of course and the philosophy of it, even with slight differences amongst the various pathways options currently available.

Like Carnegie, the results of our 2 year pilot are exciting.  Typically 55 - 70% of our students pass the Math Literacy course.  It is not an easy course by any stretch, so there aren't lots of A's.  But many students do pass.  If they will work, they can pass.

Additionally, we've been tracking students in their outcome courses like intermediate algebra, statistics, and liberal arts math.  And the data has so far has supported our hypothesis:  there is no statistically significant difference in the performance in outcome courses when comparing MLCS students and students who take the traditional algebra courses.  There is enough algebra for students to pass traditional intermediate algebra after MLCS.  And there is enough rigor (and mathematics) for students to pass liberal arts math or statistics after MLCS.

Our sample sizes are not large yet, so we will continue to track students for likely 2 more years.  As a veteran course redesigner, I know that redesign is not done when you roll out or even after a year or so.  Time has to pass, more faculty have to teach the course, and bugs will need to be worked out.  But I have seen that come to be over and over, so I have faith that will be the case with this course too.

Another point of progress are states allowing and considering allowing courses like MLCS to be piloted and accepted as an alternative to intermediate algebra.  There are already several states who have changed their policies.  Illinois has not yet, but we vote in less than 2 weeks.  I will post on the outcome.

Definitely there is a shift going on in the U.S.  Two years ago, the talk on redesign centered around emporium models.  While that is a valid approach for certain students, many faculty are concerned about that model of redesign across the board.  I believe the pendulum swung too far with using that approach at a very large scale, and am glad to see it swinging back to a balanced approach to redesign:  models that support STEM students and skill remediation and models that support non-STEM students and their outcome courses.  Faculty like seeing the emphasis on conceptual and applied understanding that exists in MLCS.  And really, both redesigns can live happily in a department.  We have modular (not emporium) algebra courses, an accelerated algebra course, and MLCS at our school.  Different timeframes and options for the variety of students and instructors who work with these courses.

Another point of progress is materials.  Our text, Math Lit, will be the first textbook for pathways courses published by a major educational publisher.  It releases in July of this year.  All the major publishers have projects in the works.  Some educational foundations are also making progress on materials.  While some of these projects have remarkable similarities on the surface, the functionality varies.  Our goal when writing was not just to create a product with a new content approach in mind, but also to create a product that works in the classroom for all levels of educators.  Pedagogy matters but more than that, instructor support is crucial.  Our goal was to provide a product that works for faculty made by faculty who know what today's classroom is like because we are in it like they are.  And we are in those outcome classes, so their specific needs are addressed too.  We want students to enter a college level non-STEM class and be completely prepared for what will be expected of them.

We're already looking down the road at what needs to be created based on instructor requests.  So we are planning our next projects, of which there will be several.  I'll post when decisions are definite.  But in the meantime, I can say this:  we are committed to providing materials and support to schools with a variety of needs, be it a smaller version of our course or this approach with other content.  Really, our work in this arena has just begun.

Our training and talks will continue.  The online pathways course that Heather and I will teach for Canvas will be open for registration next month.  I'll post info then.  We have started building the course and are so excited to teach it.  It will be engaging, informative, and also just fun.  The platform, Canvas, is amazing.  And we've really focused on working with students in that course the same as we do with our MLCS courses:  engaging activities, lots of interaction between everyone in the class, and putting in practice the ideas so that you can successfully and confidently teach a pathways course.

It's certainly an exciting time to be in mathematics!

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