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Math faculty win award for exceptional teamwork and teaching

A year ago, a group of seven mathematics instructors set about improving student performance and learning in introductory pre-calculus courses at OSU and achieved encouraging results. Mathematics calculus courses such as college algebra have been identified as having the strongest impact in the success and retention of students in STEM. Since spring term 2017, “Team Math” as they have become known across campus, redesigned college algebra and algebraic reasoning by integrating active learning technologies and other innovative student engagement strategies.

This has resulted in creating a successful teaching and learning environment in precalculus courses that is welcoming to students, empowers faculty to challenge students in their understanding and enhances student participation, a significant achievement in the introductory mathematics classroom at OSU.

For its work in enhancing student success, Team Math has received the 2018 Faculty Senate Student Learning and Success Teamwork Award. The award recognizes departments or interdisciplinary groups at Oregon State that have demonstrated exceptional teamwork in creating and sustaining an exemplary teaching and learning environment to advance the university’s strategic goal of student success and excellence.

The team includes six mathematics faculty, one person from the Educational Opportunity Program and three educators from Ecampus, Academic Technologies and the Center for Teaching and Learning.

“Team Math is working on improving students success at some of the most impactful mathematics courses at OSU,” said Enrique Thomann, head of the Department of Mathematics.

Congratulations to these members of the awarding-winning team:

Sara Clark, Mathematics instructor and advisor
Scott Peterson, Senior mathematics instructor
Lyn Riverstone, Senior mathematics instructor
Daniel Rockwell, Senior mathematics instructor
Katy Williams, Mathematics instructor
David Wing, Senior mathematics instructor
Liz Jones, Mathematics instructor-Equal Opportunities Program
Susan Fein, Instructional designer, Ecampus
Lynn Greenough, Associate director, Academic Technology
Cub Kahn, Hybrid course initiative coordinator, Center for Teaching and Learning

During the first year of implementation, Team Math saw strong outcomes in the following areas:

  • Decreased DFWU rates (grades of D, F, withdrawal and unsatisfactory) in every term compared to previous terms
  • Increased retention of students, and
  • Reduction in achievement gap as a result of improved performance across different student populations, including underrepresented and first-generation college students.

“The group effort to reinvent the learning and teaching environment for this particular course is laser-focused on making every possible attempt at helping students succeed in mathematics and break the old paradigm ‘I am not good at math,’” said Thomann.

Pioneering adaptive learning technology in math courses

Failure rates in college algebra are high across the country and present significant barriers to earning STEM degrees because mathematical sciences courses in the first two years of college function as pathways for many different science and engineering majors. Thanks to the efforts of Team Math, the rate of drops in DFWU (grades of D, F, Withdrawal or Unsatisfactory) in both Algebraic Reasoning and College Algebra courses show progress.

The faculty nominated for this award are pioneers in the use of adaptive learning technology at OSU, creating an effective and innovative learning environment for students in mathematics courses. The mathematics faculty worked closely with Susan Fein (Ecampus), Lynn Greenough (Academic Technology) and Cub Kahn (Center of Teaching and Learning)  to adapt the organization of ALEKS (Assessment and Learning in Knowledge Spaces) modules to enhance students’ performance.

ALEKS provides an environment of interconnected mathematical concepts in which students progress through by passing modules. The organization of these modules and the interconnectivity among them is at the heart of the effectiveness of this approach, requiring curricular expertise as well as technical support. The integration of efforts between the mathematics faculty involved and faculty from Ecampus, Academic Technology and from the Center of Teaching and Learning has contributed to the success of this initiative.

The recent award to this group of faculty to develop open educational resources for College Algebra (MTH 111) further attest to their focus in making the learning experience of our students more affordable as well as successful.  It is natural to expect that similar material will be developed for other courses in the near future further improving students’ access to educational resources.

In spring 2017, Team Math began collaborating to redesign College Algebra in part supported by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities (APLU). With a membership of 237 public and state research universities and land-grant institutions, APLU works as a research, policy and advocacy organization devoted to increasing degree completion and academic success, advancing scientific research, and expanding engagement.

The redesign of College Algebra began in spring 2017 with five sections fully implemented by that fall. The redesign of Algebraic Reasoning also began in fall of that year. Elementary Functions (MTH 112) is undergoing a similar process and will be completed by winter 2018.

Team Math’s efforts will provide a first-year experience to incoming students in mathematics using a unified teaching approach. These courses will also introduce students to the culture of active learning that is growing to include calculus courses and others in the College of Science, supporting OSU’s student success goals.

Team Math’s impact on the learning culture on campus and beyond continues to grow. The team of math faculty has participated in national and regional meetings to share their experience. At OSU, they have shared their experiences in forums and advisory meetings. They have made presentations at the 2017 ORMATYC conference (Oregon Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges) and at a University of Louisville workshop on active learning. The group also presented to science faculty at the College of Science Winter Awards ceremony and to chemistry faculty.  The group is already planning presentations for other academic units at OSU as well as the 2018 ORMATYC conference.

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