Texas College Finds Success With Learner-Centered Math Package

Each semester, more than 3,000 students at Richland College in Dallas, Texas, enroll in developmental mathematics courses. As is common in community colleges elsewhere, many of these students -- between 30% and 40% -- fail such courses the first time.

Some students end up having to repeat the course over and over again. Many others drop out, never able to complete their mathematics requirements and earn a degree.

The Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD), well-known for its leading efforts in the use of technology in education, has found solutions to help students learn in a variety of subject areas. But the district as a whole, and Richland specifically, had for years been unsuccessful in applying technology to significantly benefit their developmental mathematics students.

A Frustrating Search

Jackie Claunch, Richlandís vice president for academic and student development, says she spent nearly 10 years searching in vain for math courseware that had extensive lessons tailored for at-risk learners.

Now, however, faculty have a new tool to improve studentsí academic success: a network-based, multimedia course series called Interactive Mathematics, published by Academic Systems of Mountain View, Calif.

Richlandís faculty unanimously agreed last summer to begin a partnership with Academic Systems, which is working with nearly 50 campuses nationwide to offer Interactive Mathematics courses. The software provides a learner-centered, faculty-guided instructional environment that enables more individualized support.

Interactive Mathematics follows a model of instruction called Mediated Learning. The model allows students to get the type of assistance they need, right when they need it -- from the instructor, from the accompanying print materials, and from the software.

ìI believe and the faculty believe that student success and retention will be improved by using the Academic Systems materials,î says Mary Darin, dean of the collegeís human and academic development division. ìThe way itís set up is just excellent.î

In August 1996, Richland started offering six sections of Interactive Mathematics in a learning center with 25 Pentium-class PCs running Windows 95 within a LAN. A consultant from Academic Systems helped faculty align their syllabi with the new course materials.

Unprecedented Support

ìWeíve used various software in other disciplines, and weíve never before had the support weíre getting from Academic Systems,î Darin says. ìWe have a partnership, and that is a marked difference from our past experiences.î

Instructors report that they can now better track their students through the packageís built-in Instructional Support System, which allows them to monitor individual progress, including the amount of time spent on each lesson.

ìYou see them when they have troubles. You see it right away,î says instructor Celeste Carter. ìYou no longer have to watch students nodding their heads through your lectures only to realize three to four weeks later that theyíre not following what youíre talking about.î

Carter and others note that the benefits of adopting the new technology far outweigh the initial discomfort caused by the change. ìThis is a mode of learning that will work for a lot of people, many of whom havenít been successful in the past,î says instructor Sam Tinsley.

Students, meanwhile, say they are indeed learning more and feeling better about mathematics. They can progress at their own pace, reviewing material as many times as necessary. The use of video, audio and real-life examples keeps them interested in lessons.

"I Used to Dread Math"

"I used to dread math because it was difficult, drawn-out, boring. Math for me was always like trying to shove a bed through a doorway the wrong way," says student Sarah Corekin. "But now I feel like it's one of my best subjects. It's like this class rotated the bed that was stuck and now it's sliding easily through the door."

This semester, Richland College expanded the use of Interactive Mathematics to 13 sections, including four sections of college algebra. "Last semester, I had 11 of 14 students pass. Thatís just incredible. In the past, six of 14 would have made it through," says Carter. "What I have found with Academic Systems is everything that an instructor would want, rolled into one."

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.