The WCET Outstanding Work (WOW) Award recognizes exceptional efforts by WCET members in implementing technology in higher education, especially in outstanding innovation, quality improvement, or achievements in using educational technology tools, techniques, or services.  Guest Blogger Claudia L’Amoreaux describes the award-winning work of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education and its National Repository of Online Courses for its program to help financially disadvantaged students pass developmental math courses.

The NROC team is honored to receive the WOW award. We appreciate the opportunity to share with Frontiers readers some background about “Developmental Math—An Open Program,” the team behind it, and the students and educators piloting it in classrooms around the country.

Unique Solutions to a Critical Problem

If you have any involvement with high schools, community colleges, and universities today, you’re probably aware that math is the primary reason students don’t make it into or through college. Half of all freshmen entering community colleges are required to take up to two years of developmental math before they can take credit-bearing classes. That’s a staggering statistic with serious, wide-reaching consequences. Approximately two-thirds of the students referred to developmental math courses in community college do not complete the required series.

With grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the NROC project set out to create “Developmental Math—An Open Program” as a solution to this escalating crisis. From the start, the NROC team went directly to students and instructors for input and feedback on what they need to be successful, running a series of focus groups at schools throughout the United States.  Based on the student, instructor, and administrator feedback, the NROC team tailored “Developmental Math—An Open Program” to meet their expressed needs. The first pilots started in Fall, 2011. To date, fifty schools and seventy instructors have piloted the course in a wide range of settings that include community colleges, high schools, and middle schools.

Innovative Pilot Programs

Photo of students at Renton Technical College in a welding class
Renton Technical College students in a welding class

Renton Technical College in Renton,Washington was one of the first schools to pilot the program.  RTC Math Coordinator Marty Cooksey initially tested the course with two part-time instructors in three Fundamentals of Mathematics courses. They used an “emporium model” where students worked independently in a computer lab with individualized instructor assistance as needed. Based on their success in the initial pilot, Marty’s goal today is to customize and integrate the program across the entire college curriculum—tailoring the course for welding, engineering, nursing, legal assistance, culinary, and adult basic education students.

On a recent trip to RTC, NROC Pilot Coordinator Eileen Akin had an opportunity to talk with students in the pilot and hear firsthand their experiences with the program.

“Talking with RTC students inspired me. The students I was speaking with were mostly returning students, in their 30s and older. They were really honest about how hard it was to be back in school. One of the oldest students volunteered that he had struggled in school. He shared that using the NROC course helped him feel better about school. He realized he could get math. He’s now getting As. I could see the difference these materials were making in people’s lives.”

At Chattanooga State Community College, pilot lead Judy Lowe and her faculty colleagues are concerned about the additional financial burden developmental courses place on students: “Our current system delays their course of study so we’re looking for an alternative. We don’t want students to have to pay for a developmental course.” Chattanooga State Community College serves six counties in Southeast Tennessee and bordering counties of North Georgia and Alabama. The school is participating in the NROC Developmental Math pilot to provide support for students preparing for the COMPASS placement exam.  They started piloting informally in August, 2012 with ten students. The students used the resources independently at home or in the computer lab with assistance as needed for one to three weeks before re-taking the COMPASS test. Seven students completed and six have achieved their goal of increasing their COMPASS scores

For the Fall 2012 pilot, Chattanooga started offering the course in their Academic Learning Center. Facilitators are counseling students who score less than a 17 on the COMPASS to use the NROC resources. Students must achieve a score of 38 or higher to enroll in a college-level math course.  Facilitators will request student permission to track their use and to collect further data. In exchange, the college will offer to pay for the student to take the placement exam a second time.

Ruth Rominger, the NROC project’s Director of Research, is excited about seeing the positive reception from students and instructors in so many different scenarios.

“The stories we get to hear are so rewarding.  Like from Chattanooga… a returning veteran who was discouraged about not finding work and placing into a developmental math course when she attempted to return to school was given access to the NROC materials to prepare for retaking the test.  She studied with the NROC program for two weeks, retested, and scored so much better that she got to go straight into her college courses, saving her a year of remediation time and expense.”

Claudia L’Amoreaux

To read more stories about “Developmental Math—An Open Course,” please visit the NROC Math website.

Claudia L’Amoreaux
Curator, NROC Project’s Connected PD

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